Routledge Handbook of Environment and Society in Asia

Routledge Handbook of Environment and Society in Asia

Editors:      Paul G. Harris, Graeme Lang

ISBN:           978-0-415-65985-7

Publisher: Routledge

Year:           2015

Price:          $215


Reviewed by Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi, School of Languages, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Katra, Jammu

Reviewed by Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi, School of Languages, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Katra, Jammu

Harris and Lang book argues that environment is seldom degraded by itself, and it is “human and social behaviour that determines environmental health” (p. 3). The authors have reviewed this relationship between society and the environment in this edited volume, focusing primarily on the societies and environments of East and Southeast Asia. They claim that “the future of global environment will be determined in Asia” (p. 4). With this in the mind, the contributors and editors explore the role of Asia in shaping relationships between environment and society. The authors describe and analyze these relationships and contexts, and highlights chief “environmental problems, locate their causes and help to identify ways of possibly overcoming them” in near future (p. 4).

In this carefully edited handbook, the editors, focus on providing a comprehensive overview of actions and interactions of people, particularly of East and Southeast Asia, pertaining to natural environment. To do so, they have included twenty six chapters, written by researchers, policy analysts, professional environmentalists, university professors across the globe. This book is organized into seven parts.

The editors provide an introductory chapter in part 1 (“Introduction”) that introduces the text briefly. Part 2 (“Human contexts”) has three chapters that focus on human contexts of environment and society in the region. Part 3 (“Politics and policy”), consists of four chapters, questions policy and politics while taking into account the roles of democratization, policy institutions, corporations, and civil society.  Pollution and waste are dealt in the six chapters of part 4 (“Air, land and water”). Part 5 (“Fisheries, forests and wildlife”) has five chapters which are dedicated to understanding the social implications of wilder places. The climate change is the theme of six chapters of part 6 (“Energy and climate change”). Besides this, the editors draw conclusions in the final section (“Conclusions).

The text demonstrates a close reading of the environment issues, and all the authors have incorporated facts and figures into their examinations and discussions. The handbook is supported with figures, tables, photographs, maps, graphs, surveys, and case studies. The overall text is informed by the growing scholarship and references on various themes on environment and society.

Chapter two, “Human rights and the environment,” makes the connections between human rights and the environment. Anna Riddell, the author, argues “that environmental protection is a method of fulfilling human rights standard” (p. 21). Riddell’s analysis is largely based on the body of environmental laws, including at the regional and international level. She claims that by reducing the human impact on the environment we can gradually improve people’s wellbeing, particularly of the people living in vulnerable groups, poor, and indigenous communities. The author states that the environmental protection can be achieved through environmental legislation, human right principles, or through “a substantive recognition of the right to the environment” (p. 34).

In chapter three, Piya Pangsapa seeks to underline the connection between social and environmental justice. For that, she provides a “comparison and analysis of activist and civil society groups in Southeast Asia in relation to a range of social and environmental problems” (p. 36). She draws on case studies in Southeast Asia, particularly from Cambodia and Thailand, and examines how environmental and social injustices are connected in the context of rapid development in the region. Further she states that development-driven agendas should be reconciled with the maintenance of community livelihood, and it should be in the light of regional relations and processes, such as local traditions and religions rather than on state centric policy decisions implementing the views of outside experts. She argues for a balance approach between nature and development to achieve environmental justice.

Karen L. Thornber, in chapter four, discusses ways in which local literature reflects environmental thought in the Southeast Asia, chiefly its ambivalent attitudes towards nature; confusion about the actual condition of the nonhuman; contradictory behaviours toward ecosystems; and “discrepancies among attitudes, conditions, and behaviours that lead to actively downplaying and acquiescing to ecological degradation” (p. 53). She points out that writers have been using different genres, styles, and approaches for the same concerns about the human-environment relationship. She claims that the environmental concerns raised by East Asian authors, particularly from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam are different from the official authorities which she calls as “ecoambigiutiy” (p. 53). She states that the interpretations and expressions in these literatures can change the way we conceive the environment.

Chapter five overviews policymaking processes in East Asian countries, looking at environmental policy institutions in comparative perspectives. Sangbum Shin examines how policy institutions, including government and nongovernment environmental organizations, have tackled environmental problems and issues. The author suggests that more cooperation and participation by nongovernment and local actors can help to make environmental policy more effective. In the next chapter,Paradoxes of democratization, Haddad examines the role of democracy and democratization in environmental politics in East Asia. The author recognizes the rapid industrial expansions in the region which resulted in environmental crises and civil unrest. She compares and explains the process of political development in China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, and concludes that the time taken by environmental development in the process of ongoing political development is rather important than explaining the variations in different democratic set ups and their environmental politics in the region.

In chapter seven, Wu and Wen, examines environmental protests and nongovernment movements in three dimensions, such as public environmental awareness, policy responses, and long-term institutional reform in East Asia. The authors argue that environmental activism has been the part of political development and specifically to the process of democratization. They compare the environmental governance in China, Japan and South Korea, and demonstrate that the differences in environmental activism can be explained by political culture in each country. Wu and Wen conclude that nongovernment organizations are not properly organized in China, whereas in South Korea and Japan they have been succeeded in raising public awareness. Philip Stalley, in chapter 8, examines the responses and responsibilities of business to environmental challenges in East Asia. The corporations in the region have bigger responsibility of promoting green industry. The author suggests that that stringent environmental governance may improve the environmental behaviors of corporations through various strategies, such as stronger environmental regulations, market-oriented policies, and increasing environmental schemes.

In section 4, the authors look at specific threats in East Asia, including air pollution, municipal solid waste, water scarcity and pollution, the problems of larger dams, and the problem of food and agriculture security. In chapter nine, Maria Francesch-Huidobro addresses a number of issues, such as economic growth, population pressures, demand for transport, and increasing consumption of energy that resulted in the decline in air quality in Asian cities. The author shows the connection between the ways in which government and nongovernmental actors’ network to develop policies for improving air quality in two cities, namely Hong Kong and Singapore. The chapter draws conclusions about this policy adequacy in dealing with acute and chronic air pollution situations. In chapter 10, Angel Hsu introduces complex forces “that make environmental governance in China challenging” (p. 161). Premakumara and Maeda, in chapter 11, reviews the broad trends related to municipal solid waste (MSW) management in Southeast and East Asian countries. The authors recommend “some policies regulations as well as good practices in promoting 3R (reduction, reuse and recycling) in establishing a sound material-cycle society in the region” (p. 177).

Chapter 12 and 13 examine two prominent aspects of the issue in Asia. First, it focuses on the scarcity and pollution of water, and second by looking at how it is controlled via dams. In chapter 12, the authors states that Southeast Asia and South Asia are suffering from the water-related effects of climate change. They suggest that “South Asian countries could learn a few lessons from Southeast Asia taking cues from the recent joint initiatives between ASEAN and Mekong River Commission” in developing plans for development and management (p. 214). Moving on to the related aspects of the issue of scarcity and pollution of water, Darrin Magee in chapter 13 argues that though dams can solve water problems by controlling and managing supplies, dams have significant impacts on the environment by altering river courses and sometimes they have resulted in social unrest. The author also presents the positive output of dams in terms of kilowatts of electricity generated, hectares of land irrigated, and reduction in carbon emissions in the region. In chapter 14, Amy Zader examines food and agriculture, and she points out that food security has been a central concern of governments of East Asia. The author warns that climate change might pose the greatest threat to agriculture in the region.

Section 5 is devoted to the issues concerning fisheries, forests and wildlife. In chapter 15, Mallory explores marine resources with respect to the political, economic and security challenges of fisheries in East Asia. The author argues that the vulnerability of fisheries requires greater cooperation among governments and other regulatory bodies. In the next chapter, Exton, Simonin and Smith examine artisanal subsistence fishing among reefs and efforts toward community-based management of reef resources. In chapter 17, Manhart looks at pollution of the marine environment and provides suggestions to protect the Coral Triangle, emphasizing particularly on holistic and multi faceted approaches to reducing society’s impact on this vital marine resource. Chapter eighteen throws some light on trends in how forests are being governed. The authors observe that regional forest governance has evolved into collaborative partnerships among local institutions. The last chapter of this section looks into cultural and environmental values affect the consumption of wildlife in China and some Southeast Asian countries.

Section six is dedicated to energy and climate change. Chapter twenty provides an in-depth analysis of climate change and society in East Asia. It examines the causes and impacts from a regional perspective, and explores options to mitigate it. In chapter 21, Sovacool examines how vulnerabilities, such as flooding, storms and droughts can be lessened through adaptation measures. The next chapter expands this theme by looking at challenges of flooding in coastal East Asia. In “East Asia’s renewable energy strategies,” Dent looks at the evolution of industrial policies and related state capacity, particularly identifying the importance of renewable energy programs and strategies in the region. Chapter twenty four provides a case study of China while explaining low carbon development in Asia. Basrur, Chang and Koh recount lesson learnt from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan. The authors warn against the dangers of nuclear energy, though it has many attractions but its future is not bright.

The editors look back at the chapters in the conclusion. The handbook brilliantly encapsulates the lessons about environment and society in Asia. This text will be helpful for students, scholars, policy makers and workers working on environmental issues in Asia.

Suggested citation: 

Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi (2015), Review of “Routledge Handbook of Environment and Society in Asia” by Paul G. Harris and Graeme Lang, ed., East Asian Integration Studies. Vol 8, no. 4,

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