Kirkus Reviews QR Code


How China Will Save Mankind—Or Destroy It


Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4165-8076-8
Publisher: Scribner

Guardian Asia Environment correspondent Watts gives a mixed report card on Chinese environmental awareness, region by region.

The author maintains a wry but ambivalent tone in this broad survey of where each region of China—selected “purely by my own experience,” he writes—stands in terms of environmental sensitivity. China is poised to become both a green superpower and a black superpower. As the world’s biggest carbon emitter (coal), China has had a catastrophic effect on other countries in the world, from Siberia’s Taiga, Mongolia’s ore deposits, Southeast Asia’s wildlife, Africa’s mines, the Amazon’s depleted rainforest and the Pacific United States. However, China is also the world’s leader in wind turbines, which line the Silk Road; “the biggest greening campaign on the planet,” in the form of tree planting in the logging capital of Heilongjiang; and the first country in the world where fish-farm output exceeds the oceanic catch. China’s traditional reverence for harmony in nature and Taoist ideals have given way to “Scientific Development,” ruled by efficiency and productivity in order to feed a fifth of the world’s population. The great new technological advances that have “moved mountains”—e.g., the Tibetan Sky Train and the massive hydroengineering schemes that would make Mao proud—have also produced irreparable environmental disasters. To get a complete picture, Watts traveled to the coal-blackened cities of Shanxi and the now-eroded dust bowls of Gansu, Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi. He considers efforts to arrest the alarming global warming demonstrated by shrinking glaciers in Xinjiang; delves into specious eco-city plans in northeast provinces of Tianji, Hebei and Liaoning, bordering the most polluted sea in China, the Bohai; and weighs government and private grassroots green programs. Unfortunately, the big picture is bleak. Devastation vastly overshadows hope, and the present authoritative one-party mandate to increase supply at all costs can only lead to human disaster.

A knowledgeable, in-the-trenches look at China’s environmental impact.