Investigative journalists Kelly and Jacobs again team up in a hard-hitting follow-up to their 2008 environmental page-turner Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. As “self-deputized gumshoes” covering the environmental beat, the authors felt they could not ignore the ugly reality in China. As the air in LA improved, in China, a “nauseating, gray-brown cloud from an oversaturated sky” was darkening the landscape. China’s reliance on coal to fuel its industrial machine depends on coal imports from the U.S., creating a new market for the American mining industry. In 2013, Kelly traveled to China to examine the situation, while Jacobs constructed a dossier on the real story of how the U.S. created cleaner air on the homefront by turning manufacturing plants into shopping malls that sold cheap merchandise produced in China. One of their examples is a “$200 million-plus shopping mall called the Burbank Empire Center [that] rests on the land where Lockheed’s B-1 plant used to be.” China’s adoption of an open-door policy for American manufacturers was a devil’s bargain. The authors have harsh words for the “Clinton-Gore pairing,” which allowed American industry to get out from under environmental regulation and benefit from cheap Chinese labor. Despite Gore’s prescient warnings, they write, they “failed to construct any backstop of ‘ecological accountability,’ especially in the world’s fastest-growing economy.” Kelly provides an on-the-ground report on the new China, which combines an across-the-board improvement in the standard of living with a quality of life made miserable by unbreathable air, polluted water and more. He finds increasing popular unrest with the situation and a central government hamstrung by corruption, struggling to deal it.
A powerful warning that “a growing cloud of toxins aloft [are] swirling in the winds around the world” and recirculating the pollution we hoped to shed.”