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

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9780801442209: The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future

A Council on Foreign Relations Book

China’s spectacular economic growth over the past two decades has dramatically depleted the country’s natural resources and produced skyrocketing rates of pollution. Environmental degradation in China has also contributed to significant public health problems, mass migration, economic loss, and social unrest. In The River Runs Black, Elizabeth C. Economy examines China’s growing environmental crisis and its implications for the country’s future development.

Drawing on historical research, case studies, and interviews with officials, scholars, and activists in China, Economy traces the economic and political roots of China’s environmental challenge and the evolution of the leadership's response. She argues that China’s current approach to environmental protection mirrors the one embraced for economic development: devolving authority to local officials, opening the door to private actors, and inviting participation from the international community, while retaining only weak central control. The result has been a patchwork of environmental protection in which a few wealthy regions with strong leaders and international ties improve their local environments, while most of the country continues to deteriorate, sometimes suffering irrevocable damage. Economy compares China’s response with the experience of other societies and sketches out several possible futures for the country.

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From the Inside Flap:

"Elizabeth C. Economy’s book hits my ‘Top Ten’ list from the day it is published. It is a clear and compelling reminder that no engagement with China--commercial, diplomatic, cultural, intellectual--can afford to ignore China’s vast environmental dilemmas and the deep social, economic, and political structural problems that make environmental salvation an uncertain enterprise at best. The case for international engagement with China emerges even more strongly from this book; the case for ‘irrational exuberance’ is dashed to smithereens."--Robert A. Kapp, President, US-China Business Council

"Rivers run black, deserts advance from the north, and smoky haze covers the country. Elizabeth C. Economy both provides a gripping account of a severely degraded environment and thoughtfully analyzes what could be China's most important challenge in the twenty-first century."—Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China

"Elizabeth C. Economy captures extraordinarily well the complex historical, systemic, political, economic, and international forces that are shaping China’s environmental outcomes. No other volume on this enormously important issue is as comprehensive, balanced, and incisive. True to her deep understanding of the crosscurrents of China's present environmental efforts, Economy is agnostic about which of three startlingly different futures will come to pass. Her book enables us to understand both the potential for each of these futures and the means to lessen the chances of environmental meltdown on the Chinese mainland."—Kenneth Lieberthal, Professor of Political Science and Professor of International Business at the University of Michigan

"Elizabeth C. Economy has written a well-researched analysis of the environmental degradation that has occurred in China and its implications for the rest of the world. This book will provide critical guidance for the U.S. and other nations to pursue enlightened policies that will help the Chinese address our mutual environmental problems."—Theodore Roosevelt IV, environmentalist and Chair of Strategies for the Global Environment

About the Author:

Elizabeth C. Economy is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director, Asia Studies, at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is coeditor of China Joins the World: Progress and Prospects and The Internationalization of Environmental Protection. She has published articles and opinion pieces in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the International Herald Tribune, among others. She consults regularly for the U.S. government on issues related to China and the environment and is a frequent television and radio commentator on U.S.-China relations.

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