China's Environmental Challenges
China's Environmental Challenges
China’s huge environmental challenges are significant for us all. They affect not only the health and well-being of China but the very future of the planet.

In this trailblazing book, noted China specialist and environmentalist Judith Shapiro investigates China’s struggle to achieve sustainable development against a backdrop of acute rural poverty and soaring middle class consumption. Using five core analytical concepts to explore the complexities of this struggle - the implications of globalization, the challenges of governance; contested national identity, the evolution of civil society and problems of environmental justice and equity - Shapiro poses a number of pressing questions: Do the Chinese people have the right to the higher living standards enjoyed in the developed world? Are China's environmental problems so severe that they may shake the government's stability, legitimacy and control? To what extent are China’s environmental problems due to patterns of Western consumption? And in a world of increasing limits on resources and pollution "sinks," is it even possible to build an equitable system in which people enjoy equal access to resources without taking them from successive generations, from the poor, or from other species?

China and the planet are at a pivotal moment; the path towards a more sustainable development model is still open. But - as Shapiro persuasively argues - making this choice will require humility, creativity, and a rejection of business as usual. The window of opportunity will not be open much longer.

Chapter 1 - 'The Big Picture' - is available online.

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  • April 2013
  • 200 pages
  • 152 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
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Table of Contents

Map vi

Chronology vii

Preface x

Acknowledgments xxii

1 Introduction: The Big Picture 1

2 Environmental Challenges: Drivers and Trends 33

3 State-led Environmentalism: The View from Above 57

4 Sustainable Development and National Identity 79

5 Public Participation and Civil Society: The View from Below 103

6 Environmental Justice and the Displacement of Environmental Harm 135

7 Prospects for the Future 167

References 182

Index 195

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. She can be reached through her website,
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"This revolutionary book could be one of the key environmental texts of our age."
Times Higher Education

"A concise and illuminating book."

"An excellent textbook, which I would recommend to any reader interested in a well-written and balanced account of the toll rapid economic growth has taken on China's environment."
The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies

"A well researched and balanced book about one of the great issues of our time."
South China Morning Post

"This is a well researched book for all students of China studies and environmental studies...This book should be of interest to scholars, policy makers and activists who are looking for an in-depth analysis of China's environmental challenges."
Europe-Asia Studies

"Shapiro’s extensive experience living and working in China has endowed her with a deep awareness of the country’s regional disparities, its ethnic and cultural diversity, and the array of state and non-state actors with a stake in China’s environmental future. Her highly accessible style, along with the lists of Internet resources and discussion questions included at the end of each chapter, should make this judicious and thoughtful book particularly useful for undergraduate teaching purposes."
H-Net Reviews

"An excellent introduction to China’s mounting environmental challenges and the prospects for change, and is relevant for students, young researchers and the general public."
China Journal

"An exemplary introduction not only to China's ecological crisis, but also to the analytic tools that might help us to understand and approach it constructively."
China Dialogue

"A well-written book with an astonishingly captivating authorial voice. Fascinating, thoughtful and topical."
International Affairs

"Students new to the topic of China’s environmental politics should find this book a fascinating introduction. China’s Environmental Challenges also has much to offer readers who are familiar with the subject matter, not least Shapiro’s personal insights and the historical and cultural context in which she places current issues."
LSE Review of Books

"This very accessible, well-­written overview is ideally suited to students of global environmental politics or those with interests in contemporary China."
New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies

"An excellent reference for students of international politics and Chinese studies and a pleasant read for anyone interested in learning about China's environmental challenges."
International Spectator

"A very welcome contribution, a valuable source for covering the environment in Chinese politics courses, and an up-to-date text for the political sections of anthropology and geography courses that cover Chinese environmental problems."
China Quarterly

"Very well written and carefully researched - an essential text for anyone wishing to understand the complexities of not only China’s environmental future, but also the realities to the limits to China’s economic growth."
Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia

"Shapiro writes with great clarity and an underlying sense of moral urgency. Each main chapter  concludes with thoughtful discussion questions to prompt further deliberation. Accessible and concise, China's Environmental Challenges is suitable for undergraduate courses in a wide range of disciplines."
Studies on Asia

"Shapiro should be applauded for leveraging her unusual sensitivity to and superb knowledge of China's historical and cultural complexities to generate a fascinating account of the monumental environmental changes currently under way in that country. The discussion questions listed at the end of each chapter should further increase the value of the book as a main textbook for students of environmental politics and contemporary China."
Perspectives on Politics

"Far and away the best source on what is really going on in China. Using a masterful appreciation of contemporary and traditional Chinese values she seeks to understand the relationship between China's generation-long thrust to build a modern industrial society with the price it has paid in present and future environmental challenge."
WAMC Northeast Public Radio

"This book is an ideal primer for one of the world's most complex and important challenges. From governance and globalization to national identity and justice, Shapiro provides a nuanced and comprehensive introduction to the full range of China's environmental problems and frames discussions on how they might be solved."
Jonathan Watts, author of When a Billion Chinese Jump

"China’s environmental future will shape the lives of everyone on the planet in the years and decades to come. Judith Shapiro provides a wonderfully clear, accessible, and insightful account of the environmental toll of China’s explosive economic growth. This unique and revealing account will be essential reading for anyone concerned about the environmental future of China, the planet, and its people"
Ken Conca, author of Governing Water and editor of Green Planet Blues: Four Decades of Global Environmental Politics

"The rise of China’s economy is transforming the world. Judith Shapiro’s spirited analysis is a riveting journey through the environmental politics of China – with lessons and insights that anyone who is striving for a more just and sustainable future urgently needs to know."
Peter Dauvergne, University of British Columbia, author of Timber

"From her years spent in China Shapiro brings a sharp analysis of China's environmental problems, from the Mao years to the present. As a new green movement emerges, she clearly identifies the immense political and economic challenges it will face. She is cautiously hopeful that China could overcome its history, address its environmental problems, and become a leader in green technology. This is essential reading for students, activists and professionals who are trying to understand what China's future holds, for its citizens and for us."
Gary Marcuse, director of Waking the Green Tiger

"Shapiro is one of the world's leading China scholars. In this crisply written, balanced, and insightful book, Shapiro explains the political, cultural and economic factors that shape China's ability to respond to environmental dangers. Shapiro provides a superb overview of China's environmental protection efforts that will inform policy-makers, students and ordinary citizens for years to come. China's Environmental Challenges is the foundational text many of us have been waiting for."
Paul Wapner, author of Living Through the End of Nature and Environmental Activism and World Civic Politics

"This is a well researched book for all students of China studies and environmental studies... This book should be of interest to scholars, policy makers and activists who are looking for an in-depth analysis of China’s environmental challenges."
Kai Chen, Zhejiang University

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