The River Runs Black

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

3.81 (153 ratings by Goodreads)

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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.

This second edition of The River Runs Black is updated with information about events between 2005 and 2009, covering China's tumultuous transformation of its economy and its landscape as it deals with the political implications of this behavior as viewed by an international community ever more concerned about climate change and dwindling energy resources.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 384 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 25mm | 28g
  • Ithaca, United States
  • English
  • 2nd edition
  • 1 Maps
  • 0801476135
  • 9780801476136
  • 407,470

Table of contents

1. The Death of the Huai River2. A Legacy of Exploitation3. The Economic Explosion and Its Environmental Cost4. The Challenge of Greening China5. The New Politics of the Environment6. The Devil and the Doorstep7. Lessons from Abroad8. Avoiding the CrisisNotesIndex
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Review quote

"The statistics and the anecdotes recounted in The River Runs Black are worse than ominous: China has six of the ten most polluted cities in the world; just by breathing, some children are smoking the equivalent of two packets of cigarettes a day; acid rain affects a third of the territory; more than three-quarters of the river water flowing through urban areas is unsuitable for drinking or fishing; each year, 300,000 people die prematurely as a result of air pollution; in one part of Guangdong Province, where circuit boards had been processed and burned, level of lead in the water were 2,400 times the guideline level set by the World Health Organisation." * Financial Times * "In Taiyun, a coal-producing region, water scarcity meant the city had the stark choice of moving 3 million people, shutting down heavy industry, or diverting a major river. It chose the last option. Water shortages also mean crop losses. In Qianghai, some 2,000 lakes and rivers have dried up, with serious implications for the flow of the crucial Yellow River. Already a quarter of China, about the size of the United States, is desert. Air pollution is also serious, creating health problems that mean days lost on the job. Beijing roads carry 2 million cars now, with 3 million predicted for next year. Traffic cops, breathing foul air, live 40 years on average. That's some of the environmental damage toted up by Elizabeth Economy, author of The River Runs Black." * Christian Science Monitor * "Economy examines the historical, political, cultural, and bureaucratic issues that will affect China's ability to meet the needs of its people and its environment.... She concludes that China's environment has paid 'a terrible price' as the country has turned from a nation in poverty to an economic power. It is possible, but by no means certain, she says, that it will be able to repair the damage or even to slow the degradation." * Chronicle Review * "As described by Elizabeth Economy, the scale of China's environmental degradation is shocking. Her book is particularly strong in its examination of the peculiarly Chinese reasons-beyond the country's rapid development and huge population pressure-that lie behind this: the leadership's obsession with short-term growth to preserve social stability, whatever the ultimate cost, is one; the weak rule of law and a tradition of devolving power to the regions, where watchdogs and polluters are often in collusion, is another." * The Economist * "According to The River Runs Black, an outstanding new book by Elizabeth Economy,... five of China's biggest rivers are 'not suitable for human contact.'... According to Economy, Li Xioping, executive producers of 'Focus,' a Chinese investigative news program, says peasants now come to the 'Focus' studios to beg them to investigate environmental problems caused by local officials." -- Joshua Kurlantzick * The New Republic *
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About Elizabeth C. Economy

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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Rating details

153 ratings
3.81 out of 5 stars
5 22% (34)
4 44% (67)
3 28% (43)
2 5% (8)
1 1% (1)
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