Book review by Edward Wong
March 12, 2013
BEIJING — The rapid degradation of the environment in China has become a central topic of discussion this year. Air pollution in Beijing and other parts of northern China hit record levels in January. Water pollution was thrust into the spotlight this week when official news reports said that nearly 6,000 dead pigs had been found floating in a river that slices through the heart of Shanghai. Meanwhile, environmental advocates are pressing the government to release data on soil pollution, which officials have categorized as a state secret.
It is no wonder, then, that delegates to the National People’s Congress, which is holding its annual meeting now in Beijing, are debating environmental issues, even if the congress is largely a rubber-stamp legislature charged with giving Communist Party policy a veneer of popular legitimacy.
Just as worrisome, if not as hotly discussed among Chinese, is the impact that China is having on the environment in other parts of the world. It is not an easy thing to gauge, but Craig Simons, a former Asia correspondent for Cox Newspapers, set out to do exactly that. He documented his findings in his first book, “The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World,” which was published March 12 by St. Martin’s Press. Mr. Simons spoke recently about his reasons for embarking on this project, how Chinese officials assess climate change and what the United States can do to mitigate China’s environmental effects. These are excerpts from that conversation.
Read the full text of the review in The New York Times
Book review by David Wilson
Back at the dawn of the 19th century British scholar Thomas Malthus sensed mankind’s future: the “power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race,” he said
Malthus was right to despair, judging by a gripping new assessment of China’s rise in the wake of some dire planetary precedents. First, The Devouring Dragon recounts, those twisted twins the United States and Europe hammered the planet, clear-cutting forest and burning fuel in an orgy of “development”. Next came China’s turn. In 1976, when its rise was just starting, it chewed through only 550 million tonnes of coal.
“By 1997, its demand had exceeded that of the United States, but it still used what now looks like a quaint number: 1.4 billion [tonnes]. Then – in the 13 years from 1997 to 2009 – China added over 2 billion [tonnes] of annual coal demand, the equivalent of two new nations as voracious as the United States, which – until China surpassed it – had been the world’s biggest coal consumer,” writes author Craig Simons, who has reported on the environment from a dozen Asian nations for Newsweek.
Read the full text of the review in The South China Morning Post