OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU researcher releases book on environmental struggles in China

12/01/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University anthropologist Bryan Tilt’s new book, “The Struggle for Sustainability in Rural China: Environmental Values and Civil Society,” documents one rural Chinese community’s battle with environmental contamination, and what local residents are doing to fight pollution.

Tilt’s book, released Dec. 11 through Columbia University Press, sheds light on a growing movement in one of the world’s largest economies to come to grips with its environmental impact.

Though China’s economy is projected to become the world’s largest within the next 20 years, industrial pollution threatens both the health of the country's citizens and the natural resources on which their economy depends. Capturing the consequences of this reality, Tilt conducts an in-depth, ethnographic study of a rural community in Sichuan Province reeling from pollution.

Three local factories — a zinc smelter, a coking plant, and a coal-washing plant — produce air and water pollution that far exceeds the standards set by the World Health Organization and China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. Interviewing state and company officials, factory workers, farmers, and scientists, Tilt shows how residents cope with this pollution and how they view its effects on health and economic growth.

Striking at the heart of the community’s environmental values, he explores the intersection between civil society and environmental policy, weighing the tradeoffs between protection and economic growth. Tilt ultimately finds that the residents are concerned about pollution, and he investigates the various strategies they use to fight it.

His study unravels the complexity of sustainable development within a rapidly changing nation.

Robert Weller of Boston University said of the book: “The first study that really lets us understand China's environmental issues from the ground up.”

Steven Cohen of The Earth Institute wrote: “An excellent book that makes a very useful case study on the fundamental causes and effects of pollution in China. The volume provides a superb explanation of the root causes of China’s incredible disregard for the natural environment as the country rapidly develops.”

Tilt is an assistant professor of anthropology at OSU. His research focuses on economic development and environmental protection in China, and he has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.