As a young child, Jonathan Watts believed if everyone in China jumped at the same time, the earth would be shaken off its axis, annihilating mankind. Now, more than thirty years later, as a correspondent for The Guardian in Beijing, he has discovered it is not only foolish little boys who dread a planet-shaking leap by the world’s most populous nation.
When a Billion Chinese Jump is a road journey into the future of our species. Traveling from the mountains of Tibet to the deserts of Inner Mongolia via the Silk Road, tiger farms, cancer villages, weather-modifying bases, and eco-cities, Watts chronicles the environmental impact of economic growth with a series of gripping stories from the country on the front line of global development. He talks to nomads and philosophers, entrepreneurs and scientists, rural farmers and urban consumers, examining how individuals are trying to adapt to one of the most spectacular bursts of change in human history, then poses a question that will affect all of our lives: Can China find a new way forward or is this giant nation doomed to magnify the mistakes that have already taken humanity to the brink of disaster?
Asian environmental correspondent for the Guardian, Watts travels to the four corners of China, from the southwest Himalayan region, rebranded as "Shangri-la" to attract tourists, to Xanadu (Shangdu) in Inner Mongolia, exploring how Beijing is balancing economic growth with sustainability and whether China will "emerge as the world's first green superpower" or tip our species "over the environmental precipice." What he finds is both hopeful and disturbing. Wildlife refuges, rather than focusing on biodiversity, breed animals for meat and traditional remedies like black bear bile. The city of Ordos plans to build a huge wind farm and solar plant, but these benefits are offset by its coal-liquification mine, "an environmentalist's worst nightmare" of greenhouse gases and water exploitation. The Chinese dictatorship, envied by other nations for its ability to enact environmental changes without the slow democratic process, turns out to be ineffective, with power lying with developers and local bureaucracies. Readers interested in global warming will appreciate the firsthand information about China, and Watts's travels are so extensive and China is changing so fast, some material is likely to be fresh and new even for Sinologists.