- Series: China Today
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Polity; 2 edition (December 21, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0745698646
- ISBN-13: 978-0745698649
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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China's Environmental Challenges (China Today) 2nd Edition
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"This revised edition has much to offer students of China’s environment."
Pacific Affairs Book Review
"Judith Shapiro has given us an indispensable book: Vibrant, levelheaded, and up-to-the-minute, the new edition of her superb chronicle of China's environmental struggle encompasses both the global impact - reaching from Alberta tar sands to Kenyan farms - as well as the nuanced domestic politics that will shape the future. Amid her sober accounting of today's crisis, she gives us reason to hope that a country that can "make rivers flow uphill," as a Mao-era poem put it, may play a vital role in tackling climate change."
Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
"In this revised and updated edition, Judith Shapiro continues to show why she is one of the foremost experts on China and its environmental challenges. She provides an insightful and accessible account of the drivers of pollution in China, its consequences for all of us, and the needed national and international reforms to address these pressing problems. Highly recommended."
Ken Conca, author of Governing Water and editor of Green Planet Blues: Four Decades of Global Environmental Politics
"The scars from China's economic rise run deep through the earth. Yet, as Judith Shapiro reveals, China is starting to surprise the world by pursuing some innovative, even farsighted strategies to try to slow the escalating global environmental crisis. Understanding the potential of China to do both great harm and great good is essential for anyone searching for pathways toward a more sustainable future. No other book offers such a skilled and subtle analysis of this potential as the second edition of China's Environmental Challenges."
Peter Dauvergne, University of British Columbia [and coauthor of Eco-Business (2013) and Protest Inc. (2014)]
"There is no better book available [In English] on evolving environmental policies, activism and struggles in China from the 1990s to 2015. It is highly recommended"
Journal of Contemporary Asia
About the Author
Judith Shapiro is a professor in the School of International Service at American University, Washington DC. She is the author of Mao's War against Nature and the co-author of Son of the Revolution and other books on China.
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The book structures its discussion of Chinese environmental challenges on the themes of "globalization, governance, national identity, civil society, and environmental justice." This book is intended for college students: it is a well-researched, broad primer on the subject. It is a book chiefly about the impact of Chinese industrial activity and governance on the environment. It is a book about the near past, the present, and the near future; it is not a book which attempts to look ahead 50 to 100 years, or more. It is principally a book on domestic environmental issues within China; however, certain important international issues are also addressed. While this is mostly a book about environmental issues, it sometimes addresses food and industrial safety problems.
I would judge that there are no prerequisite learning requirements for this book; thus, anyone from any background can read it. Dr. Shapiro conscientiously provides the reader with required background information when needed. Having said that, I recommend that students first read Managing the Environment, Managing Ourselves: A History of American Environmental Policy, Second Edition by Richard Andrews. I also benefitted from having previously read The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985 and Public Policies for Environmental Protection.
According to the author, this book was "written primarily for students of global environmental politics and contemporary China, it is also intended for any thoughtful person who seeks a better understanding of some of the core issues of our time." Keep this target group in mind as you read the book. Experts will benefit from this book as well, as it will give them a general overview of Chinese environmental policy issues.
The book is smart, well written, and eminently quotable. Judith Shapiro has a talent for explaining very complicated issues very effectively, yet succinctly. The main chapters of this book are admirably well written. I am amazed at the mass of information Dr. Shapiro has included. I am more amazed at her ability to effectively communicate her expert understanding of broad, complex issues. Her writing style is very clean, lean, and lucid. She never wanders. I also appreciated her meticulous citation of references.
Dr. Shapiro helps her readers achieve an understanding of the highly complicated, real-world, practical issues and activities that impact the domestic Chinese economy and environment. She examines the environmental policy differences between rich countries and developing countries. She discusses how environmental protection goals often seem to be at odds with activities to alleviate poverty. She relates how adequate environmental policies are promulgated by the national Chinese government, but then circumvented at the local level. She provides lengthy discussions about the concepts of "face," national identity, citizen activism, and environmental justice. She discusses such issues as corruption, bribery, and nepotism. She also makes the reader aware of the complexity of economic decision-making in this former command economy.
As a textbook for an introductory college course, this book succeeds admirably. I imagine that the class discussions associated with such a course would be lively, informative, and thought provoking. Any student who could take a course from Judith Shapiro would be most fortunate indeed. Considering the population of China, the growing power of China, and the potential global environmental impact of Chinese industry and activity, everyone around the world should read this book. And, of course, all young people should be learning Mandarin.
The book explores how the rapid growth in China in the past few decades has led to adverse environmental consequences both within China and around the world. This rapid growth is being driven by the demands for a modern standard of living within China, as well as by the demands of developed countries to out-source manufacturing to China. It is not at all surprising that the Chinese people aspire to achieve the same standards of living as exist in the West. The Chinese middle and upper classes are growing rapidly: the newly affluent are now demanding the same material goods and symbols of status as folks in developed countries. The question is: Can the Earth sustain the activities required to maintain so many people at such a standard of living?
I am in awe of the Chinese people for the impressive changes they have implemented in just a single generation. At a time when other countries are trying to avoid economic collapse, the Chinese economy has been booming. The material standards of living in China have improved dramatically in recent years. The amazing success in China is a tribute to the brilliance and hard work of the Chinese people. Yet in achieving this great success, China has been exploiting the environment in a manner and at a rate that is unsustainable. The adverse environmental impact includes such well-known issues as air, water, and ground pollution, but it also extends to other countries where natural resources are being extracted at an unsustainable rate to meet Chinese industrial demands (demands often created in developed countries, such as the U.S.).
The Chinese national government recognizes the environmental challenges associated with the rapid changes in their country. The Chinese have taken a leadership position at the global level in their desire to promote sustainable environmental policies around the world. At the national level, the Chinese government has promulgated admirable environmental goals, policies, and regulations. Unfortunately, environmental regulations are being intentionally circumvented at the local level. Local and regional officials and enterprises find it is much more rewarding to ignore the national environmental regulations, since such regulations impede growth and profit. Historically, locals have been rewarded based on metrics of output and growth, not on metrics of environmental impact. Many have adopted the philosophy of "pollute now, clean up later." This same philosophy was followed during the earlier industrial revolutions in England and America; however, the populations of those countries were substantially smaller than the population of China. With a population in excess of 1.3 billion (and growing), many folks believe that environmental collapse will certainly result if the Chinese do not alter their current, unsustainable practices.
Now that the Chinese people are enjoying higher standards of living (with the lucky few now enjoying private cars and better apartments), many Chinese are beginning to see the environmental price that is being paid for their improving fortunes. The air is conspicuously filthy; lung cancers are on the rise; water is polluted; food is suspect. A growing minority of Chinese is beginning to protest for better environmental protection and improved food and water safety. It seems unlikely that there will be any changes unless the Chinese people reject the philosophies of the West that glorify conspicuous consumption. Also, a system of rewards and severe punishments needs to be employed to change behaviors at the local level. Call me a pessimist, but this outcome does not seem realistically possible (in spite of some recent executions).
Dr. Shapiro quite appropriately uses the terms "sustainable development" and "sustainability" quite frequently. Sustainability is, perhaps, the most important concept in a book of this kind. She first introduces, and briefly discusses, the term on page 11 of the first chapter. She seems to be assuming that her readers are already completely familiar with this concept. To serve to a potentially broader readership, I would suggest that the author include an entire section in the "Introduction" chapter to thoroughly explain this potentially new concept to the readers. On the very first page of the book, I think she should ask the question: "Can the Earth sustain ten billion human beings (one-fourth Chinese) at a standard of living currently enjoyed by those living in developed countries?"
I did not see the term "livability" used in the book. (I first had this term explained to me by the late Dr. Shirley Friedlander Weiss of the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning). Dr. Shapiro once used the phrase "intangible aspects of sustainability"; but she should have introduced her readers to the concept of "livability." "Sustainability" and "livability" should be mentioned together in such discussions.
If China emulates Western behaviors, environmental collapse is inevitable. China cannot follow the path to industrialization previously taken elsewhere (including America). Instead, China needs to "leap frog" forward in its development (not to be confused with the ghastly "The Great Leap Forward"), employing high-tech, environmentally-friendlier methods to achieve better standards of living. Also, such a "leapfrogging" strategy can save billions of dollars in capital costs in addition to reducing adverse environmental impact. The Chinese people could jump ahead two generations in technology without following the same paths of development as the West did. Could the Chinese people lead the world in embracing the values "livability" and "sustainability" over Western-style materialism? It would be pretty to think so.
The penultimate page of the first chapter poses the most important questions of the book:
- "Do people in developing countries such as China have an inherent 'right' to the same living standards as those in the developed world?"
- "Can China develop first and clean up later, as much of the developed world did, or is this no longer an option given the limits on the planet's resources?"
- "Does the developed world's standard of living have to change if we are to keep from planetary ecological collapse?"
These are (of course) excellent questions. Since this seems to be a textbook for college students, the author sometimes poses questions that seem intended to spark thoughtful class discussions. Therefore, she does not always provide the explicit answers to such questions.
The chapter on "environmental justice" is quite well written. Every student of environmental policy should read this chapter. The author seems to have written this chapter for those who already share her views (i.e., she is "preaching to the choir"). She should have included more insight into the thoughts of the rich and powerful men in China. I suspect that many powerful Chinese men would consider much of this chapter to be the idealism of a naïve school child. And so, I would like to see a version of this chapter written in manner to convert the sinner.
While the book shares the views of scholars ("thinkers"), bureaucrats, activists, complainers, and the common folks, it never included the views of "doers." We never hear from the managers of large-scale projects within China. I would have been quite interested in hearing from project managers who have spearheaded multi-billion dollar construction projects such as new cities, roads, bridges, dams, power plants, transmission lines, chemical plants, paper mills, textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, etc., etc. It is one thing to have knowledge gained through study; it is quite another thing entirely to have knowledge gained through personal experience. This book seems to present "doers" as corrupt environmental criminals, instead of as remarkable men and women who are trying their best to transform a country.
There is another group that the author should have tapped for her book: young Chinese men and women who have obtained graduate degrees from American universities in the fields of Environmental Science & Engineering and City & Regional Planning. I would very much like to hear what such highly-educated professionals have to say five to ten years after returning to, and practicing in, China.
I disagree with the author's assertion (quoting Qu Geping) that environmental regulations require "supervision from the ground up." Environmental regulation by "mob rule" would be a disaster. In my own experiences with the impressive staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as the world-class researchers who support the EPA, environmental regulations are best promulgated by specialists with a rare combination of intelligence, education, experience, wisdom, and rationality. Without such people, half of the mob would probably vote to party hard today, with no concern for future consequences. This does not mean that U.S. environmental regulations are promulgated without input from the citizens. Regulations are based on Acts of Congress. Politicians, sensitive to the voting triggers of the other half of the mob (admittedly pressure "from the ground up"), are prone to use "no risk" language in Acts. It is then up to the EPA to quantify risk and establish cut-offs for abatement mandates. Also, in the U.S., regulations require a public comments phase and public meetings. Environmental policy created by experts using risk-analysis, risk management, and risk communication, and with due consideration for the feelings and needs of citizens, produces far better results than mob rule. Of course, "supervision from the ground up" may become the only option when an anti-environment government takes power.