Last Updated: March 26th, 2019

“When the last tree is cut and the last fish killed, the last river poisoned, then you will see that you can’t eat money.” So says John May in the book he co-authored with Michael Harold Brown, The Greenpeace Story. One group of people who are quite familiar with river poisoning are the people of Linfen, China. This city, according to Vice magazine’s 2012 documentary film, The Dirtiest Place on Earth (directed by David Feinberg and produced by Santiago Shelley), is the dirtiest city in the world.

The video outlines how the coal exporting industry, which brings much of the economic revenue into China, pollutes the soil, the air and the water. Since Linfen has many factories and therefore experiences a great deal of transport traffic, the contaminating effects are worse here than throughout the rest of the country. While many citizens are able to live normal lives, many others develop health problems such as heart and lung difficulties, high blood pressure and two forms of cancer (stomach and lung) due to breathing in the polluted air and ingesting the polluted water. Though recently some factories have been closed and some transport traffic has been rerouted, there’s still a long way to go to make Linfen a healthy place to live.

The documentary’s main focus is China, but Linfen is just an extreme example of a global problem—despite not having a city that’s singled out as being “The dirtiest place on the planet” the United States still produces more pollution per capita than any other nation. The major global dilemma highlighted during the film is how to effectively balance economic development with environmental preservation and sustainability. The clear solution, offered up by the film’s end, is to promote economic development which utilizes environmentally friendly industrial practices; for example, using natural gas, wind power and solar power for energy instead of harmful substances like coal and petcoke.

If citizens and businesses in all nations alike make it a priority to preserve the fruits of our Earth, we will mitigate the risk of people having to (try to) sustain themselves in the future by eating $5 bills.

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A Step in the Right Direction:

The Canadian province of Manitoba plans to phase out all use of coal and petcoke for heating purposes by 2017. Read the CTV News article, published January 1, 2014, here.

Watch The Dirtiest Place on the Planet below:   

image: Sheila (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND—no changes)