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When a Billion Chinese Jump: Voices from the Frontline of Climate Change Paperback – 1 Apr 2011
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'Watts unveils the human realities behind the statistics.' --Nick Rennison, Sunday Times
'Not simply an indictment of China's development path: it is a lesson for us all in the dangers of how we live.' --Isabel Hilton, Guardian
'Fascinating, engaging and beautifully written ... A masterpiece.' --George Monbiot
Full of astonishing personal stories, When a Billion Chinese Jump: Voices from the Frontline of Climate Change by Jonathan Watts is an essential and incisive discussion on China today - a country on an environmental precipice that will affect the entire world - and a compelling look at the lives of its people.See all Product description
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Divided into 16 chapters each based on a different region of China and a slightly different environmental/social issue, each section balances hard, often jaw-dropping, facts and figures with interesting, often amusing and compassionate, accounts of individual lives and interviews. The result is a persuasive, highly educational book which uses human interest to bring the issues to life and still ensure this is a genuine pleasure to read and never hard work for the reader.
It's also a very fair book. Watts presents views of differing sides of each issue and, though passionate about environmental issues and the need for humanity to change its culture, doesn't lecture the reader nor side against one factor, be it Chinese rulers, consumer culture, capitalism or historical Western practices. Not without well explained reasoning, anyway.
This is a book that could and should interest someone with an already substantial knowledge of China and the issues concerned. But it is also a book written in such a way that is very accessible to a more casual reader who has enjoyed the odd Sunday papers world news article. For the latter, if 400 plus pages seems like too much of a commitment, each chapter would stand up pretty well on its own for more casual dipping into. If you need more convincing, maybe read some of Watts's online Guardian/Observer articles as a taste. Not that they quite do justice to the scale of the project he has undertaken here.
Journalism at its best.
The book follows Jonathan Watts as he travels through regions of China, some regions being a chapter by themselves and others being combined together. Each chapter combines a potted history about the region(s) presented alongside the current state of the region(s), astounding facts and figures and personal testimonies about the effects of economic development upon the environment.
As stated by previous reviewers, this book is non-judgemental in its assessment of China. It does state the environmental pitfalls of economic development and as said, gives some astounding facts and figures in doing so, but also states quite clearly the progress that China is making towards green development. In doing so, you are allowed to come to your own conclusion about China's green credentials and whether China is seeking dominion or stewardship over their (and others) environments.
An eye-opening read.
'When a Billion Chinese Jump' is the book that makes sense of China's role in a world of climate change, and what an excellent book it is too. The title comes from the author's childhood fear that if everyone in China jumped at once, the earth would tilt off its axis. Now, he reasons, a billion Chinese have jumped - economically speaking - and the earth needs to rebalance.
The book is written as a travelogue. Jonathan Watts makes his way across the country from West to East, investigating a variety of environmental issues along the way. It's a great travel book in itself, full of local characters and exotic places, both pleasant and unpleasant. Watts travels to disaster zones, goes down coal mines, and is shown around eco-city building sites and model communist villages. Each chapter in the book covers a different region of China, and also a different issue: deforestation, pollution, erosion, conspicuous consumption, carbon emissions. It is at times a little terrifying, more often tragic - the price of China's industrial success is misery for millions of ordinary people.
Watts puts this all in its historical context, from the peasant culture of rural China to Mao's 'Great Leap Forward', and teases out the cultural trends behind China's actions. He also sees China's role as crucial to the future of the planet. "The planet's problems were not made in China," he writes, "but they are sliding past the point of no return here."
China can never extend an American way of life to every one of it's billion citizens - the climate would be destabilised in the process, and resource limits breached. If it is to succeed, China must re-invent industry and follow a different development path. With its huge reserve of labour and remarkable ability to pull off national projects, it may well pull it off. Through that great project, the book's tagline suggests, `China will save the World - or destroy it'.
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