In This Review

China Goes Green: Coercive Environmentalism for a Troubled Planet
China Goes Green: Coercive Environmentalism for a Troubled Planet
By Yifei Li and Judith Shapiro
240 pp, Polity, 2020
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It is tempting to hold out China’s environmental record as a reason for optimism. The country is expanding its use of renewable energy, creating state parks, planting massive numbers of trees, and curbing the global trade in endangered species. But Li and Shapiro ring some alarm bells. The government pursues its environmental goals with the authoritarian tools it has available: mandatory targets, mass campaigns, top-down bans, factory closures, forced relocations, and even household trash inspectors who can ticket offenders. These efforts sometimes produce counterproductive results, such as desertification and ecosystem disruption. China’s overseas projects often damage the environment as well. The authors argue that coercive enforcement makes the system even more authoritarian than it already is, stifling the cooperation with civil society that alone can make environmentalism effective. But they acknowledge that so far, Western capitalist systems are not doing any better.