A comprehensive study of how China is tackling the multiple issues of environmental pollution brought about in part by its rapid economic growth, and assessing its prospects for ultimate success, has just been published in Beijing by a state publishing house.
The Greening of China is written by two British experts who have spent many years studying China's social, industrial and economic development: Geoffrey Murray, who has worked in Asia as a journalist and author for over 40 years, including the past 14 in China, and Professor Ian Cook, who teaches human geography at a university in Liverpool and has been a frequent visitor to China for the past two decades.
The two men had previously written a detailed, but more academic study on China's environmental issues published in Britain in 2002.
China Intercontinental Press, publishing arm of the State Council Information Office, then suggested that they produce an entirely new book written in much simpler terms that could be read and enjoyed by a more general type of reader.
In their preface, the authors state that both books recognize that China is "tackling a wide range of serious environmental problems within the context of her rapid industrialization, urbanization, transition to a market economy and growing consumerism" that will have great impact not only on the lives of its own vast population but also on those of its neighbors -- for pollution is a readily exportable product that is no respecter of international boundaries.
The book is broken up into six sections. The first considers the roots of China's environmental concerns, dealing with the country's physical geography, the historical developments that led to certain ecological degradation, and then a brief examination of the modernization process since the founding of the PRC.
The following four sections then go on to consider air pollution (with separate chapters on industrial pollution, the use of coal and its alternatives as an energy source, and the rising threat from traffic congestion in major cities), water-related issues (pollution of waterways, sharing limited water resources around the country through ambitious diversion schemes and the Three Gorges Dam), consumerism and waste disposal, and efforts to recover land lost to desert or other causes.
In the final section, the two authors then consider the future through two alternative scenarios, one bleak and one optimistic.
The Chinese government, they note, is committed to creating a clean environment, but this will require very heavy investment for a prolonged period.
At the same time, no amount of money can achieve ultimate success, unless the vast population of the country is equally committed to good environmental practices, which means educating everyone that it is individual actions that lie at the root of any environmental disaster; grassroots activism also needs to be encouraged.
They also suggest that the environment has to be factored into every economic planning decision. Thus, for example, local government leaders who achieve or surpass economic growth targets would only be rewarded (with higher pay or a promotion, for example) if they did so without any proven damage to the environment.
An environmental impact assessment, the authors also suggest, should be part of every new construction project, and they cite the example of the current Qinghai-Tibet Railway project as a fine example of how a sensitive environment has been carefully protected at all stages of construction.
The Greening of China is written in very straightforward, non-technical language that it is thought to appeal to a wider audience than just the environmental specialist. The authors include many small boxes where they provide a variety of case histories and background data to supplement the main text.
Unlike an academic work, there are no direct references for any of the information provided, but at the end of each chapter the authors provide a brief section on 'sources and resources' in which they mention some key potential sources for any reader wishing to research the subject further.
"We see this book as a primer for the general reader who has a deep interest in China and in all aspects of its development," said Geoffrey Murray. "We approached the book in a positive way, wishing to give China credit for the work that has been done in recent years on reversing environmental degradation, while also revealing some negative points and stressing where we think more work needs to be done.
"Hopefully this will help promote debate and get more people involved so that China will have a bright future, where the ills of deforestation, soil erosion, water and air pollution and the like are effectively controlled by the concerted efforts of everyone.
"That's one reason why we chose an essentially optimistic title for the book."
The book, which is published in English, French and Chinese versions, also contains 16 pages of photographs.
[The Greening of China by Geoffrey Murray and Ian Cook, China Intercontinental Press, Beijing, English version Rmb69. ISBN 7-5085-0586-7]
(China.org.cn January 13, 2005)