By Lobsang Wangyal
KO PHA NGAN, Thailand, 21 December 2014
Tibet has long been known as the “roof of the world”. It has now become more known as the “Third Pole”, with the realisation that Tibet holds the maximum amount of glacially-stored freshwater in the world after the North and South Poles. Tibet is the source of many of the major rivers of Asia as well. Awareness of the importance of Tibet’s ecology has risen along with worldwide concern over the drastic changes in the global climate.
Michael Buckley’s new book Meltdown in Tibet gives vivid and alarming descriptions of the destruction of Tibet’s environment and its effect on all of Asia. Mr Buckley has strong credentials for handling this subject, as an award-winning Canadian journalist and photographer who has travelled extensively in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges, and throughout Southeast Asia. He is author or co-author of ten books about them, along with dozens of feature stories, and has also made two short documentaries about major environmental issues in Tibet.
The book poses big questions to all who have a stake in Tibet’s ecosystem about their future, as well as predicting the likelihood of water wars in the coming decades. He also explores the connection between the environmental degradation in Tibet, the impact on the native people, and the threat to the peoples and ecology of downstream nations. The book discusses the current and future water problems Asia will face due to China’s greed in damming, diverting, and polluting the rivers of Tibet.
The damming projects, such as on Yarlung Tsangpo River (Motuo Dam with a projected capacity of 38 GW and Daduqia Dam with a projected 44 GW) to double the output of the Three Gorges Dam, could wreak havoc on the ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau. The megadams will displace tens of thousands of indigenous people from their ancestral lands, cause irreversible damage to biodiversity, stop the flow of silt essential for human agriculture and nature’s ecosystems, and even trigger earthquakes.
On the upper Yangtse, a cascade of 15 megadams is under way, and 26 dams are planned on the upper Mekong River. The Yangtse flows for 6,300 kilometres, from the glaciers in eastern Tibet, eastward across eastern China, before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. The Mekong flows from Tibet through Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea. If an upper dam were to burst, there would be an inland tsunami, which would affect people in many countries.
Needless to say, when the head is damaged, the rest of the body will suffer. If the headwaters in Tibet are polluted, rivers downstream will be polluted. This will put the lives of nearly 2 billion people in jeopardy. Water and food security are the major concerns for downstream nations.
And Tibet’s water resources are being developed for whom exactly? Buckley writes that Tibetans don’t need dams of this size. “It is not Tibetans who benefit from the dams — the power is generated for mining and Chinese industry in Tibet, and eventually the power from dams will be exported to distant Chinese cities on a national grid.”
After the notable waves of genocide in Tibet since the Chinese invasion in 1950, Buckley says Tibetans are now facing ecocide. Through first-hand experiences from many clandestine travels in Tibet, gathering a vast amount of data from reliable sources, Buckley writes about how China’s reckless policies are destroying Tibet’s fragile ecosystem, threatening lives of the native Tibetans as well as millions of people who depend on the water from Tibet.
China’s invasion of Tibet has already caused untold suffering to Tibetans, with over a million Tibetan deaths out of about six million people, tens of thousands imprisoned and tortured, an environment devastated, natural resources exploited, and wildlife depleted to extinction. Tibetans have now become a minority in their own land.
Now the nomads are worried about their future. They are feeling the pressure from having to sell their animals and settle in shoddy housing facilities in semi-urban settlements. Being a nomad is being free and self-reliant, one nomad told Buckley. It is not a job you apply for; it’s a job you are born into. With the destruction of the Tibetan ecosystem, there is no place for that job, and for a basic element of Tibetan life and culture.
In one of the chapters, Buckley tells about the desertification of Inner Mongolia, and who is responsible for it. A Gobi Desert dust storm alarmed the Chinese authorities and demonstrated that their disastrous experimental policies were to blame.
The book Meltdown in Tibet is an added tool for Tibetans in their struggle for a free Tibet. It has shown the Chinese greed and Tibetan concerns — the stark contrast between Chinese exploitation for occupation and Tibetans’ sense of the sacredness of their land.
Meltdown in Tibet is a must-read for all Tibetans. This book will help update and enlighten them about Tibet’s current environmental situation, informing them and giving them the means to advocate effectively for Tibet’s cause in the world at large. It will also make an interesting read for many on account of its unique depictions of Tibetan life. For example, the book shares the story of how Tibetans became tea lovers!
It is always difficult to get information out of Tibet. Buckley’s meticulously-collected data and information are here placed before all, to help understand what lies ahead. He calls on the stakeholders of Tibet’s ecosystem and river systems to get their acts together before a colossal catastrophe occurs.
To avoid the future of water wars and total breakdown of the ecosystem in the Himalayas, one of Buckley’s suggestions is the granting of autonomy to Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China. He feels that the Tibetan way of life and belief in the sacredness of landscape, mountains, rivers, lakes and forests would help in resolving many of the current and future environmental and water problems in Asia.
By Michael Buckley
256 pages, hardcover, Palgrave Macmillan, US$27.00