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Reviewed by:
  • Energizing China: Reconciling Environmental Protection and Economic Growth
  • George P. Jan (bio)
Michael B. McElroy, Chris P. Nielsen, and Peter Lydon, editors. Energizing China: Reconciling Environmental Protection and Economic Growth. Cambridge: Harvard University Committee on Environment, distributed by Harvard University Press, 1998. xvii, 719 pp. Paperback $25.00, ISBN 0-674-25329-9.

The choice between economic growth and environmental protection has become a pressing issue for our times. How to achieve the former without damaging the latter has become a great challenge to the developing nations. Of course, this is not a new problem; many Western countries experienced the same difficulty during the Industrial Revolution. They did not pay adequate attention to the problem of pollution caused by the inefficient use of fossil fuels until they became more technologically advanced and were able to afford the considerable cost of environmental protection. Fortunately, at that time only a small number of Western nations were going through the industrialization process, with all its accompanying environmental degradation, and thus the problem of pollution was not, in the beginning, a global one. Now the situation has changed. In addition to the developed countries, which continue to pollute both inside and outside their borders, a large number of developing nations are joining the "polluters' club" in the wake of rapid economic development. Our small planet is suffering from the consequent abuse by its occupants as never before.

China is now the world's most populous country with the fastest-growing economy, despite the recent Asian economic crisis. China is also a major contributor of pollutants, especially carbon dioxide. If China continues to expand its economy at the current annual growth rate of about 7 to 8 percent without improving the efficiency of its use of energy resources—especially coal—it will become the world's largest polluter before the middle of the twenty-first century. At present, in aggregate terms China ranks second only to the United States in greenhouse gas emissions. The problem of global warming through the creation of greenhouse gases will not improve without an improvement in China's ability to control the levels of its own pollutants. As a developing country, China does not have the necessary capital and technology to solve this problem alone without seriously affecting its economic growth, and a slowdown in economic growth will adversely affect China's political and social stability. Therefore, it is imperative that the advanced countries assist China to achieve sustainable growth without further damaging the environment.

The China Project of the Harvard University Committee on Environment is an attempt to ascertain the feasibility of international cooperation to improve the pollution problem in China. It is an ambitious effort, and Energizing China: Reconciling [End Page 497] Environmental Protection and Economic Growth is an important and much-needed study. The project will be carried out in two phases. The goal of phase 1 is "to take stock and exchange perceptions of what was currently known about the topics of interest, in order to guide new ambitions under the Project's phase 2 of original research" (p. iii). The present volume consists of the studies made during phase 1.

There are nineteen essays, grouped into six sections: "Introduction and Overview," "Energy and Emissions," "Environment and Public Health," Energy and the Economy," "The Domestic Context," and "International Dimensions." The essays, written by American and Chinese specialists in the field of environmental studies, reflect a multidisciplinary perspective, ranging from philosophical discussion to scientific and technical analysis. The methods used by the authors are also diverse, ranging from normative and traditional approaches to behavioral and quantitative modeling. Apparently, the project designers attempted to put together a comprehensive study of all the relevant aspects of the subject.

The "Introduction and Overview" points out that energy-derived air pollution is pervasive and should be ranked near the top on a list of priorities (p. 2). China is still a relatively poor country and cannot afford to tackle its costly pollution problems alone (p. 2). The policy framework developed for Western countries should not be imported into China wholesale with the expectation that such a framework will automatically yield the same results unless adjustments are made to meet...


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