Every year, China’s pollution causes an estimated 3.5 million deaths.

January saw a fetid smog trap Beijing under pollutants from the region’s 200 coal-fired power plants where concentration levels hit 40 times what the World Health Organization deems safe. Outside China’s urban areas, disease rates in communities near chemical, pharmaceutical or power plants hit five times the national average.

For 30 years, China’s formidable economic expansion has been laced with corruption and negligence. The country’s politics are made up of crafted stability and censorship. Individual voices proclaiming the “human price” of pollution have been lost in the din or explicitly quashed by a wall of denial and intimidation.

Now, China’s first watershed opportunity for change is emerging. February, 2013 saw the first state acknowledgment of prevalent and deadly ‘Cancer Villages’. $350 billion was allocated to tackle air and water contamination, and in March, premier Li Keqiang declared an all-out “war on China’s pollution”.

Every day, as the human toll continues to rise, we must insist on and engage with the truth. We must investigate whether individual victims continue being treated as collateral damage; whether government policies and funds trickle down to genuine effect; and indeed, whether coming developments can empower China’s increasingly educated, global population to face up to the very real human and ecological consequences of its growth.

—Souvid Datta

Editors’ note: Souvid Datta was chosen as a LensCulture Emerging Talent in 2014—see his work alongside the rest of the 50 Talents on their own dedicated online exhibition page.