When a Billion Chinese Jump

Voices from the frontline of climate change

When a Billion Chinese Jump is a stunning and eye-opening travelogue that takes the reader from the Tibetan Plateau to Inner Mongolia via tiger farms, melting glaciers, cancer villages, science parks, coal mines , eco-cities and a Barbie Emporium. Watts’ superb journalistic style allows the reader to  witness the climax of two hundred years of industrialisation and urbanisation close up and in glorious technicolour,  playing at fast-forward on a continent-wide screen.

When a Billion Chinese JumpDivided into sixteen compelling chapters each based on a different region of China and each dealing with another aspect of the complex environmental and social issues facing her people , 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 stories from the grass roots to bring the issues to life.

China has been performing massive experiments on its environment for many decades. Its river systems are the most highly regulated, dammed and engineered in the world. Its industrial pollution, smog and creeping desertification are quite literally eye-watering. The meteoric rise in living standards for hundreds of billions of people is breathtaking.   A choking dependence on  coal sits side by side with world-leading green technologies. 

Watts puts this all in its historical context,  from the peasant culture of rural China to Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ and on to the complex present day mix of state communism and rampant free enterprise, sensitively teasing out the cultural strands  that bind and shape  China’s actions.  He  sees Cthe country’s  role as utterly crucial to the future of the planet.

“The planet’s problems were not made in China,” Watts writes, “but they are sliding past the point of no return here.”

China has now overtaken the US as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon, although its per-capita emissions are still far lower.  Large swathes of her landscape  are utterly destroyed by out of control industrialisation in pursuit of growth,  but at the same time  China boasts  more installed wind and solar capacity than any other country,  has the biggest high speed rail network,   and is pioneering green technologies from carbon capture and storage to electric vehicles.

‘When a Billion Chinese Jump’ is a compelling, immensely readable and well-researched journey  that carries the reader to the heart of the Chinese dilemma.  The  world’s biggest country is at the pivot point of  rapid climate change, caught between playing catch-up with the West or re-interpreting the future and leading humanity out of the smog –  and apparently determined to do both.


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