October 9, 2012

5 Reasons Why the Damage China is Doing in Tibet Today Will be Knocking on Our Suburban Doors Tomorrow.

Why it pays not to purchase goods from China.

Sitting in the Dalai Lama’s security office one day I stumbled across a book. What I learned from that book is how China is whole-heartedly ransacking Tibet and how it whole-heartedly affects all of us.

Monks, nuns and lay people setting themselves alight can seem like a distant headline whose letters of truth seem benign from so far away. I propose an alternative reality to that—what China is doing to the Tibetans today will be knocking on our suburban doors not far into tomorrow. 

Based on my literary findings that day in Dharamsala, I would like to give you five bite sized yet perhaps hard to swallow arguments to support this.

1) Despite being one of the few remaining territories in the world that has yet to undergo extensive research, scientists compare the Tibetan plateau’s known biodiversity to the Amazon Rainforest. Regarded as a final sanctuary for some of the world’s rare plant and animal species the statistics speak for themselves:

“Over 12,000 species of 1,500 genera of vascular plants are identified: fungi alone account for 5,000 species of 700 genre… Of immense value and potential to medical science are the over 2,000 medicinal plants in the wild.”

Yet according to Chinese scientists this ecological “shangri-la” also known as the “roof of the world” is under serious threat. Decades of study by the Institute of the Chinese Academy of Scientists have uncovered that damage will continue to happen due to continued climate change, overgrazing and increasing human activity.

“…overgrazing and frequent human activity have rendered the grassland in the area degraded or damaged, resulting in problems including serious soil erosion and drop of soil fertility… in the past 15 years, the speed of degradation of the grassland has reached 1,500 square kilometres [579 square miles] of grassland reduced to bare land.”

2) The Tibetan plateau’s most important feature has to be the supply of water it provides. Feeding all the major rivers of Asia including China’s Yangtze and Yellow river that flow eastward to China’s heavily populated rural and urban areas.

Unfortunately for us, from the Chinese government’s perspective mastering these waterways is an effective solution for the depletion of water in their major rivers which has no sign of improving due to worsening environmental conditions in Tibet.

“…China is resolute to see that it does not have to face water scarcity in future and that is why plans have been drawn to divert other Tibetan rivers to Chinese mainland and thus causing major environment damage in the Tibetan plateau… determined that their march to become a superpower is not hindered by the scarcity of water.”

3) Before the Chinese invasion in 1951, Tibet posed no threat to her neighboring countries. Steeped in tradition with a peaceful, calming and spiritual culture, they maintained only a small army for the mere purpose of restricting the entry of foreign nationals into Tibet and to serve as a police presence. Bordering states felt there was very little possibility of disturbance on their borders by Tibet.

When China initially invaded they had to rely on costly travel by highway or air to send troops and weaponry to Tibet, which was limiting and prevented the arrival of large numbers of military. Now, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has been opened which has changed all of this.

“Transporting military by railway is cheap and quick with the added benefit of allowing mobilization of unlimited troops…capable of transporting …36,000 soldiers with their equipment to Tibet within 30 days.

The railway tightens the grip of China over Tibet and puts her in a position to militarize the Tibetan plateau for her own expansionist interests.

4) The Tibetan plateau affects weather conditions in other parts of the world, not just Asia. Disturbance of the global jet streams that blow over it can cause Pacific typhoons and the El Nino phenomenon. This in turn leads to the disruption of marine food chains, weather patterns and the economy of Peru, Ecuador and the California coastline in the U.S. while New Zealand, Australia, India and Southern Africa are reduced to serious drought.

China has left few stones unturned in its domination of Tibetan life and rural farmers, herders and nomads are facing new challenges as a result.  Destruction of natural habitat, desertification, degradation of range-lands, degraded pastures, diminished fertility are just some of the problems brought about by the Chinese policies of ransacking the delicate environment of Tibet.

Photo: UN for a Free Tibet

5) Respecting nature is a core belief of Buddhism. Combining this with no inherent desire to exploit nature meant that Tibetans lived in complete harmony with their environment for hundreds of years. Mindsets guided by simplicity, compassion and care coupled with indigenous knowledge led to the purity of the Tibetan plateau being undisturbed.

“…the faith of the Chinese regarding nature and environment is completely contrary to that of the Tibetan faith. Majority of the Chinese guided by the popular principles of Confucianism have believed that Humans are the supreme creatures and are at the centre of the Universe. Human supremacy, as per Chinese beliefs empowers them to conquer nature and exploit its resources.”

The day China invaded Tibet was indeed the beginning of a political misfortune but it was also the beginning of an environmental one.

We are all living on the same planet so even though we may be able to geographically avoid the mental and personal torture of the Chinese regime, we most certainly can’t escape the ecological torture. Since the very beginning China did not hide their intent to plunder the natural wealth of this sacred land. That very fact is believed to be the true reason for their annexation of Tibet.

So what can we do? I recently spoke to a monk who had just come back from Tibet and asked him that very same question. His reply was that we must continue to put pressure on our governments. Sign the petitions, join the marches, donate to those making a stand.

And by doing so we support not only Tibet, we support our beloved planet also.

* Excerpts from “Imposing Modernity with Chinese Characteristics: The Fate of Tibetan Civilisation

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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Hope Loudon Oct 15, 2012 4:08am

Dear Lisa and readers of this article,

I urge you to remember that “the Chinese” are much less responsible for environmental problems in Tibet, than us Americans are for environmental problems in our country. We have lobbyists who are distorting democracy and misrepresenting the will of the people, but at least we have some political freedom and influence. In China, I can’t even access my Facebook or read any “sensitive” news. Chinese people can’t get access to any unbiased or unflattering news. Chinese people have very little influence on their government, and also suffer from the corruption and bad policies of their government. Please place your blame exclusively on the Chinese Communist Party and not in “the Chinese” generally. Do not punish the Chinese people for the actions of their government.

I must disagree very strongly with your decision to boycott Chinese goods. The Tibetan environment is suffering from irresponsible policies on the part of the Chinese government,  but boycotting Chinese goods will not stop this. Your arguments consist of examples of environmental problems or features of the Tibet and its culture, not reasons for boycotting Chinese goods. Boycotting Chinese goods is misguided because it only serves to hurt the Chinese people (whose wages and guilty of life has been improving due to trade) and make them feel targeted.  Frankly, they are being targeted. Listen to some of the horrendous, xenophobic things that are beings said as part of the presidential campaign. I’m sure that you’ll agree that such remarks do not assist in building cross cultural friendships. I assure you that boycotting Chinese goods is part of the problem. The Dalai Lama himself has spoken out in agreement with my position.

The truth is that China is well-suited to produce many goods, and that trade with China benefits both the U.S. and China in many ways. I am writing a paper on this now. Fun fact: China makes very affordable and high-quality solar panels which the U.S. government bans because domestic solar panel makers want protectionism. If you want more details on why you shouldn’t boycott China, feel free to respond to me.

A little about where I’m coming from: I edit periodically for chinadialogue.net which is the only website on the environment which translates all of its content into both English and Chinese. I’m a student from the United States who has studied Tibet for years, and is presently attending Chengdu’s Southwest University for Nationalities (catering to ethnic minorities, and located right in the middle of the Tibetan community in Chengdu). I have written about Tibetan exile communities, and  I specialize in China academically. I am also a passionate advocate for productive consumer activism and consumer responsibility (especially as they pertain to development and tourism ). I read this article while attending The Globalization Process International Academic Conference in Chengdu. The environment was a focus at the conference.

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Lisa Tully

Lisa Tully ditched the corporate world a few years back and headed to India on her last few sheckles. She had a burning desire to see the Dalai Lama in person and learn from him. Blown away by the Tibetan culture she was simultaneously overwhelmed by profound inspiration for what she should do for her next job incarnation! Fast-forward past some serious doubts, the odd flood of tears, and nothing short of a few miracles—she now runs successful spiritual group tours to Dharamsala & Ladakh in Northern India plus the magical kingdom of Bhutan. Lisa loves nothing more than to take folks to experience the exact same life-changing trips she did. Visit her site & join the adventures!