China Goes Green: Coercive Environmentalism for a Troubled Planet
What does it mean for the future of the planet when one of the world's most durable authoritarian governance systems pursues "ecological civilization"? Despite its staggering pollution and colossal appetite for resources, China exemplifies a model of state-led environmentalism which concentrates decisive political, economic, and epistemic power under centralized leadership. On the face of it, China seems to embody hope for a radical new approach to environmental governance.
In their thought-provoking 2020 book, Yifei Li and Judith Shapiro probe the concrete mechanisms of China's coercive environmentalism to show how "going green" helps the state to further other agendas such as citizen surveillance and geopolitical influence. Through top-down initiatives, regulations, and campaigns to mitigate pollution and environmental degradation, the Chinese authorities also promote control over the behavior of individuals and enterprises, pacification of borderlands, and expansion of Chinese power and influence along the Belt and Road and even into the global commons. Given the limited time that remains to mitigate climate change and protect millions of species from extinction, we need to consider whether a green authoritarianism can show us the way.
About the speakers:
Yifei Li is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU Shanghai and Global Network Assistant Professor at NYU. In the 2021-22 academic year, he is also a China-US Scholars Program (CUSP) fellow at the Institute of International Education. His research concerns 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.
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.