Environmental triage is particularly difficult in China, which can be afflicted by drought, floods, dust storms, and pollution disasters in a single week. That is not the only reason this is no ordinary developing nation. China is a 3,000-year-old civilization in the body of an industrial teenager; a mega-rich, dirt-poor, overpopulated, underresourced, ethnically diverse mass of humanity that is going through several stages of development simultaneously; a coal-addicted powerhouse attempting to pioneer new energy technologies, and a communist–led, capitalist-funded economic giant traveling at unprecedented speed. If that is not enough of a challenge, environmental pressures have forces the leadership to attempt something unprecedented in the world’s history: to reengineer an economy before it has finished industrializing.
This is the view of China’s present put forth by Jonathan Watts in When A Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind– Or Destroy It. The book places China’s current environmental challenges within the contexts of its contradictory past and threatening future.
Published in 2010, the book is already out of date in some respects, but so would it be if it were published last year. The issues at play are no less relevant. Air pollution may be sinking due to impressive (really impressive) renewables investment, but there are plenty of other massive challenges, from pollution to water shortages to soil degradation. Can China tackle them without addressing its growing consumer addiction? Find the book online or at a local bookstore here.
Read a more in-depth review here