“Outstanding … accessible … a well-rounded portrait” – 5 heart (or stars)

UnknownThe rapid industrialization of the world’s most populous nation has far-reaching effects for the world’s environment and economy, and in The People’s Republic of Chemicals, journalists William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs detail how extreme China’s pollution problem has become. The authors do a nice job of mixing firsthand journalism with history and using a reporting style that thoroughly explains an important but potentially wonkish in a way that should make it accessible and interesting to a large audience. (Link)

Kelly and Jacobs trace China’s current situation back centuries, from the East–West connections formed during Marco Polo’s journeys there, through the growth of China’s coal industry, up through the export-driven economy that has grown in recent decades—and the constant increase in new factories to feed that demand. While industrialization has exploded, it has also created a series of crises in public health, with millions of Chinese adults dying prematurely due to air pollutants. The pollution has obvious implications for climate change worldwide and for health in other nations in the region, and how China deals with the problem will clearly impact the future of international trade and energy policy.

The reporters help tell this story by introducing readers to people directly impacted, from villagers dying from illness to activists trying to get accurate information about China’s smog to citizens. A good deal of their reporting involves the 2008 Beijing Olympics, during which many observers got to witness the true extent of Chinese air pollution for the first time, from athletes skipping events due to breathing problems to the visible smog televised around the world. They capture citizen voices by covering large-scale protests, including both marches and social media campaigns. And they report on how industrialization is forcing a country once dominated by agriculture to abandon that for bigger cities and more industry, and therefore more pollution with more dangerous consequences.

Using these kinds of examples effectively depicts the human costs of the problem, but Kelly and Jacobs don’t skimp on either the hard science or the policy analysis. They detail how the smog got so bad, using previous smog disasters in California and Japan for context, while explaining why this disaster presents a greater challenge. Similarly, the pair do an outstanding job of showing the causes and effects of the interdependency between American consumers and Chinese manufacturers.

The result is a well-rounded portrait of China’s current crisis, how it stretches far beyond its geographic borders, and how crucial it is to solve.

Luminous review & Chip talks Emissions Frankenstein of a Microwaved Planet As the PRC Finally Gets Ready to Roll

Booklist awards “The People’s Republic of Chemicals” a starred review. Breathe it in while you can.

November 15th, 2014 · No Comments

Riots cops with shields at Qidong protest agailnst industrial waste pipeline

BOOKLIST magazine awards our sequel to SmogtownThe People’s Republic of Chemicals, a starred review!: The Smogtown (2008) authors return with a look at China’s air pollution problem, and it is a doozy. Combining a crash-course history lesson that includes everyone from Confucius to Chairman Mao with a withering rant about the country’s nonexistent environmental policies, Kelly and Jacobs give readers everything they need to know about why China is ground zero for the planet’s future, including its coal bases serving as “global warming daggers.” There is a lot to take in here, and the narrative’s power is as much due to its style as substance. The prose is sharp, vivid, and direct, leading readers through hard-hitting chapters about the Beijing Olympics, America’s Walmart, made-in-China addiction, and the casual way in which ecostatistics are manipulated. Kelly and Jacobs pillory the actions of as many American politicians as Chinese, noting policy missteps and political weakness with a take-no-prisoners attitude that readers will find refreshingly candid. While the tone can sometimes seem a bit glib, its bracing nature will likely be a tonic to those seeking a straightforward take on this urgent subject while also making for a surprisingly enjoyable read. — Colleen Mondor

* Back from the Big Apple book tour, Part I. Here are the links where I talk Frankenstein of emissions on The StreetAOL-Huff Post Live & Brainstormin’

People – Get Ready for Liftoff! With Book about China’s Environmental Pompei a Few Weeks from Launch, We Bring You Another Terrific Review & Mixed Links for a Sweltering Planet

china_smog_pollution_ap_img-1– BOOK REVIEWS TO DATE

* BOOKLIST magazine awards our sequel to Smogtown a starred review in a humdinger of a critique that we have to embargo for now. Check back soon to read it.

* KIRKUS review that lauds the book as “hard-hitting” and “powerful” as a “scathing denunciation” of the hideous downside of free-trade — for those who might’ve missed it before.


– “China’s Battle Plans in War on Pollution on Air Pollution Under Scrutiny” – Los Angeles Times … “Chip Jacobs, coauthor of the Southern California pollution history, “Smogtown,” who has a book coming out soon on China’s environmental woes, said the nation is in only the beginning states of truly tackling smog. “The court system is lacking, people don’t really have to assemble and organize freely, and the 1st Amendment doesn’t really exist there.” But Jacobs sees flickers of hope. “In L.A., really after about 10 years of smog, citizens got riled up,” he said, “and I think that kind of what’s going on in China now too.”

– “China Seeks to Fight Smog by Brainstorm: All Ideas Welcome,” – Los Angeles Times …. We’re seeing the exact thing in China that we saw in L.A. — crazy ideas coming out of the woodwork, says Chip Jacobs, coauthor of Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. “It’s like people all have to go through the same stages of grief – numbness, then anger, bargain, depression, acceptance.” 


* “China Just Got Serious about Global Warming. Now We’ve Really Out of Excuses,” – Mother Jones

* “Smog Cloud’s Shanghai’s Drive to Become Global Financial Center,” – Bloomberg

* “Dirty Deeds: The World’s Biggest Polluters by Country,” – The Global Post

* “Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty,” The New York Times

* “Why Obama’s Challenge to China on Climate Is Too Little, Too Late– The Nation 

* “How to Build a Green Economy Without Sacrificing Jobs,” Billmoyers.com 

* “County Unlocks Secret to Making Plastic Out of Air,” –CBS

* “Hinkley: No Hollywood Ending for Erin Brockovich’s Tainted Town,” – San Jose Mercury News