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Here's a state of things
Local Ecologies
Grand Histories
Modern Predicaments
What next?

Local Ecologies
Grand Histories
Modern Predicaments
What Next?

Readings for Unit 4: MODERN PREDICAMENTS

If there was an uneasy conflict between, on the one side, sustainability and resilience as embodied however imperfectly in the ethnoecology of traditional local communities, and on the other side the aims of the imperial state, the conflict became much sharper and unequal, and the interval of sustainability much less, when the Communists took over determined to "develop" China. This section first looks at the ideals of the Communist Party-State and then at some of the environmental consequences at the national scale.

Thursday, May 5: Socialism, Reform and Intensification

Whatever the Chinese Communists were thinking, they were, in James Scott's words, "Seeing Like a State." So start out reading his chapter from that book on Authoritarian High Modernism, and then, with this in mind, read the Introduction to Judith Shapiro's Mao's War Against Nature as an example of high modernism.

In the first hour of class, we will discuss the relationship of socialism to other types of High Modernism, and try to figure out if what happened in China is significantly different from what happened in capitalist countries when they trashed their own environments as they industrialized.

While the Maoist state's socialist developmental programs caused environmental havoc, if anything the turn to more capitalist forms of development after 1979 accelerated both the economic growth and the environmental degradation. For the second hour of today's class, we will go over the patterns of economic growth in the Reform Era. In preparation, please read Barry Naughton's account of the various stages of this process.

Tuesday, May 10: Energy and Water

Energy and water are overlapping problems, nowhere more than in the area of dams. So you should be reading Bryan Tilt's Dams and Development in China; a review of this book is due on Monday, May 16. In addition, there are the areas where energy and water don't overlap quite as directly:

  • Energy One thing that is necessary for economic growth is of course increased energy consumption, and in the first hour today I will review the past, present, and future of China's energy use. For background on this, begin with the comprehensive (though somewhat oil-centric) analysis from the US Energy Information Administration, or the informative (if not terribly scholarly or analytical) overviews on ChinaFAQs.

    Then go to some contentious debates about nuclear power, with position briefs both pro and con.

    Finally, you might want to read about energy and the built environment; if so, please consult the interesting blog from James Connelly, a student in this very class in Winter 2010, about the increased use of energy in urban buildings. Summing it all up is a handy presentation

  • Water Water supply and quality may be the bottleneck that stops every other factor in China's economic development. Begin with a piece of unashamed advocacy, but one that contains a lot of useful summary information, Keith Schneider's China's Other Looming Choke Point: Food Production. You may also want to poke around on the Circle of Blue's Choke Point: China web feature more generally.

    For a more scientific account of the problem of ground water overuse, read F. Huang et al.'s Overexploitation status of groundwater and induced geological hazards in China, and for assessment of a possible solution to water shortages, which brings more problems along with it, read Darrin Magee's analysis of The South-North Water Transfer. After reading these, please post 200-300 words on whether you think building the South-North Water Transfer project was a good idea or a bad idea.

    In the second class hour I will present an overview of water issues, and we will discuss the best ways for solving China's water problems.

Thursday, May 12: Food, Agriculture, and Soil
We look at questions of food and agriculture from three different angles: production, consumption, and soil health (which has implications for both):

Tuesday, May 17: Environmental Health

Almost all of the attention in the foreign press to environmental problems in China deals with pollution. Well, fair enough; pollution isn't at the root of anything, but it is obvious and it is bad and, unlike some other aspects of the environment, it seems to be out of control and getting worse. As Tom Lehrer once sang,

Like lambs to the slaughter
They're drinking the water
And breathing the air

The most fun preparation for class will be watching Chai Jing's controversial documentary Under the Dome, about air pollution. Then there are some readings. Start out with a very general overview of current pollution problems and then read some specifics: an assessment of the health effects of water pollution, by Changhua Wu, et al., Water Pollution and Human Health in China, and surveys of the health effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution. Then read along with Anna Lora-Wainwright's The Inadequate Life.

When you have finished watching the film, please post a 200-word or longer critique. We will discuss the film in class for the first hour, and for the second hour I will try to summarize the current situation of pollution and environmental health in China generally.

Thursday, May 19: Forests, Deserts, and Landscape Change

We are going to concern ourselves primarily with forests, since that's what I know more about. But there is a good discussion of desertification, among just about everything else, in a recent article from Mother Jones by Jacques Leslie, and Dee Williams has a nicely deconstructive chapter on Land Degradation and the Chinese Discourse.

With regard to forests, please begin with a general account of forests and forestry in the reform period, by Alicia Robbins and me. Then read an optimistic account of the overall situation, based on national statistics, in Zhang Yuxing and others' article on Deforestation and Reforestation and two more skeptical accounts, based on local research, one by Horst Weyerhaeuser et al. on Local Impacts and Responses and one by Chrstine Trac and some other authors you might recognize, on Reforestation Programs in Southwest China.