China's Environmental Challenges (Student review)

February 28, 2013

Author: Judith Shapiro
Edition: First
Publisher: Polity Press
Price: £45.00 and £14.99
Pages: 205
ISBN: 9780745660905 and 60912

This book offers a thought-provoking insight into the serious environmental challenges we are facing in the 21st century and the difficulties that occur in our pursuit of sustainable development. Although it is not an introductory-level text, it nevertheless touches on all the key concepts that any geography undergraduate student would expect to find in a single book.

This revolutionary book could be one of the key environmental texts of our age

Of all the world’s nations, China faces the biggest challenge in meeting the energy and resource demands of its rapidly growing population, while also combating climate change and working towards sustainable development. What is more, China’s environmental challenges are significant for us all.

Judith Shapiro’s aim is to investigate the likelihood that China will achieve sustainable development against a backdrop of acute rural poverty, globalisation, urbanisation, climate change and soaring middle-class resource consumption.

The result is a text that is engaging and easy to read. At just over 200 pages, it is both attractive and accessible to students who have a keen interest in environmental challenges. Shapiro has chosen to divide the book into seven digestible chunks, presented in a coherent and chronological order that makes it easy for readers to engage with the concepts being discussed. It also encourages students to re-evaluate their preconceived ideas about global environmental complexity.

The drivers of climate change - namely globalisation, governance, national identity, civil society and environmental justice - are key themes throughout the book. Shapiro spurs readers on to read more, offering useful follow-up links after each key concept rather than merely providing a daunting list of references. Although the environmentalism debate is hotly contested, the author offers an unbiased and informative account of the issues, via a broad and insightful overview of key points.

But what sets this book apart from other environmentalist texts is that, rather than simply describe how the world has come to be so environmentally unstable, Shapiro focuses on the future and outlines proposals to change our destructive relationship with the planet through participative steps aimed at reducing our environmental burden.

Overall this book would be a worthwhile investment for any student who is undertaking a degree that focuses on environmentalism or who has a keen interest in what impact China’s development will have on the rest of the world. Indeed, this revolutionary book could be one of the key environmental texts of our age.

The only downside, in my view, is that it might have benefited from the use of supplementary diagrams or pictures to break up the text and to assist with understanding some of the more complex arguments. However, this should not overshadow Shapiro’s achievement.

Who is it for?
Geography undergraduates, and postgraduate students who may find it useful as a background resource.

Attractive, contemporary and challenging.

Would you recommend it?
Yes, highly. A great read and very reasonably priced.

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