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  • Will China Save the Planet? by Barbara Finamore
  • Cong Cao (bio)
Barbara Finamore. Will China Save the Planet? Cambridge, UK and Medford, OR: Polity Press, 2018. x, 145 pp. Paperback $12.95, isbn 978-15-09-53264-3.

In the early 2010s, I taught a course, "Environment and Development in China." In one of the lectures, I said to my students that China's level of environmental degradation was so dire that its environment might reach a "point of no return," which simply means that China's environment might be irreparable or it is too costly to fix the problem as there were social and health damages as well. But the situation seems to be changing toward a different direction. In the last decade or so, having realized the unsteady, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable nature of the economic development model, China's political leadership has mobilized its citizens to pursue an ecological civilization.

In fact, rapid economic development has not only transformed China's, and the global, economic landscape tremendously but also afforded China opportunities to make efforts to clean its environment. China's experience proves the inverse U-shaped relationship between economic development and the environment—as the environmental Kuznets curve suggests a country may be able to pay attention to and take care of its environmental problems only after it becomes economically affluent and its citizens feel the environmental pain.

Will China Save the Planet? was written again such a backdrop. In addition to an introduction and an epilogue, the book has five chapters, analyzing, respectively, China's evolving diplomacy of climate change, tenacious war on coal, joining a global clean energy revolution, burgeoning new energy vehicle (NEV) industry that is both promising and struggling, and foray into green finance. Taken together, Finamore provides a provocative account of how China [End Page 126] has taken action to address the environmental and climate change challenges, which have led to its competition with the United States for a global climate leadership. The book also looks into what the future may hold as the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement.

Four overarching themes—public policy, market, technologies, and transformation—crosscut the book. Overcoming environmental degradation and reducing greenhouse gas emission require very focused and consistent public policy to make economic growth compatible with an improving environment. On the one hand, the Chinese government recently revised its Environmental Protection Law, setting higher standards for the environment and stipulating more severe penalty for the individuals and corporations violating the law (pp. 53–56). Environmental well-being of a region also has become a key criterion in the performance evaluation and promotion of the region's government officials. On the other hand, not only has China become decentralized, but also over the years, whenever China was in an economic downturn, the government often sacrificed the environment. Such building block industries as steel, glass panels, and cement are the most coal-intensive and energy inefficient (chapter 2). China still uses coal to generate two-thirds of its energy, which, from time to time, puts China "under the dome,"1 exposing its citizens to severe health hazards.

Having stringent policies and laws is necessary but not sufficient. Meeting the environmental and climate change challenges, which is as political as it is economic, could be the biggest opportunity of the twenty-first century. Al Gore, former vice president of the United States and an environmentalist, once lamented that to solve the climate crises, human beings would have to put in place "a combination of the Manhattan Project, the Apollo Project, and the Marshall Plan."2 The green-tech industry itself is bigger than the Internet, whose economic and financial implications are obvious. As having their counterparts elsewhere, the Chinese government also has introduced various market-based mechanisms. However, some of the measures, as the book reveals, have been misused or abused. For example, China would pay some $60.7 billion between 2015 and 2020 to subsidize the development of NEV industry (p. 89), although annual sales of the NEVs are almost negligible.

There is no doubt that technologies and innovation are key to combating pollution. Returnees, or those Chinese with international experience and critical...


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pp. 126-128
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