The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future

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The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future

By Elizabeth C. Economy
Cornell University Press, 2004
368 pp. $29.95
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Anyone who has visited China recently knows how serious air pollution is in its major cities, but few people realize that children in these cities inhale the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes a day just by breathing. Economy has packed this book with an awesome number of such horrifying facts, covering every dimension of China's environmental crisis-the effects of which go well beyond China itself. With its surging economy, China has depleted its own natural resources and is now draining resources from other states as well. Its insatiable demand for wood, for example, has already deforested much of the country-leading to erosion and flooding-and is now threatening the tropical forests of Southeast Asia as well. By 2020, according to predictions, 25 percent of China's arable land will be gone, water needs will be up by 40 percent, wastewater will increase by almost 300 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions will be up 150 percent. As Economy documents, Chinese officials are aware of the problem but have responded inadequately-in large part because the demands of continuing economic growth supersede environmental considerations. The only hope, as Economy sees it, is that China's desire to be seen as a modern member of the international community will lead to better environmental protection. And she makes a solid case that the rest of the world, in particular the United States, has a strong interest in encouraging such progress.