china goes green

China Goes Green with Yifei Li and Judith Shapiro

As liberal democracies fail to address environmental problems, what solution does the Chinese model offer? China Goes Green peers under the hood of the authoritarian state's ambitions to pursue "ecological civilization." Chinese scholars Yifei Li and Judith Shapiro join me to discuss their cautious optimism and deconstruct this developmental environmentalism.

In September, Polity Books published this thought-provoking book called “China Goes Green” which Juidth co-authored with Yifei Li, a Chinese professor of environmental studies. Yifei and Judith unpack the geopolitics and the internal campaigns of coercive environmentalism to show how "going green" helps the state to further a complex environmental agenda of cleaning up pollution, conserving wildlife, combatting desertification, regulating the wildlife trade, pacifying borderlands, resettling people, and expansion of power across the vast county and along the ever expanding Belt and Road. This influence even creeps into the global commons AND outer space. Yifei and Judith expertly explore both China’s promises and successes as well as the risks and perverse side of China going green.

Unlike liberal democracies, the country exemplifies a model of state-led environmentalism that focusses political, economic, and epistemic power under centralized leadership. Like any superpower, China has a gigantic hunger for natural resources and a growing desire to legitimize its environmental work to its populace and the world. The evocative question posed by the book is “What does it mean for the future of the planet when one of the world’s most durable authoritarian governance systems pursues “ecological civilization”? I am going to explore this principal question and closely tangential issues with the authors on this episode.

Yifei Li is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU Shanghai and Global Network Assistant Professor at NYU. He received his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Bachelor’s from Fudan University. In the 2020-2021 academic year, he is also Residential Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich. His research concerns both the macro-level implications of Chinese environmental governance for state-society relations, marginalized populations, and global ecological sustainability, as well as the micro-level bureaucratic processes of China’s state interventions into the environmental realm. He has received research support from the United States National Science Foundation, the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, and the China Times Cultural Foundation, among other extramural sources.

Judith Shapiro is Director of the Masters in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development for the School of International Service at American University and Chair of the Global Environmental Politics program. She was one of the first Americans to live in China after U.S.-China relations were normalized in 1979, and taught English at the Hunan Teachers’ College in Changsha, China. She has also taught at Villanova, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Aveiro (Portugal) and the Southwest Agricultural University in Chongqing, China. She was a visiting professor at Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University. Professor Shapiro’s research and teaching focus on global environmental politics and policy, the environmental politics of Asia, and Chinese politics under Mao. She is the author, co-author or editor of nine books.

China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative

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