By: Our Correspondent

Michael Buckley is a travel writer who first went to Tibet to raft its rivers and describe its vast landscape in 1985.  In the ensuing 30 years, according to a searing new book on environmental destruction at the hands of the Han Chinese, he has seen half of the territory’s forests disappear and its mighty rivers increasingly dammed.  

It is a story that has been told piecemeal by magazines and newspapers – and in Asia Sentinel at regular intervals – and environmental publications. But Buckley has put Chinese depredations in Tibet all together in a single volume that should be read across the world, not just because of its depiction of the Chinese cultural, political and environmental takeover of Tibet but what China’s actions portend for a huge section of the world’s environment, populated by hundreds of millions of people.   It is nothing short of a frightening disaster. 

 Since the takeover of Tibet in 1950, according  to Buckley, what has happened on the Tibetan plateau is not just a kind of cultural genocide.  The situation has far-reaching implications for almost all of the countries of South and Southeast Asia.

Titled “Meltdown in Tibet: China’s Reckless Destruction of Ecosystems from the Highlands of Tibet to the Deltas of Asia, the book gets off to a fast and depressing start, and it doesn’t let up through its 248 pages.  There is almost nothing in this book that gives any cause for optimism. 

The widespread belief among the Han Chinese appears to be bewilderment. Successive Chinese governments have poured vast amounts of development into Tibet, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles of new roads and highways and airports and the world’s highest-altitude train.  Peoples who for centuries lived a poverty-stricken nomadic existence have been moved out of yak-hide huts and into concrete apartment blocks. It has put social programs into place to care for the people.  But what they have done is taken Tibet away from the Tibetans.  

Until the Chinese poured into the region,  as Buckley points out, Tibet, most of which ranges above 13,000 feet, was in a solid ecological balance, not so much because the Tibetans themselves were environmentally aware, but because there were so few of them – 6 million Tibetans in a country the size of Europe.  Outside the few cities, they were nomads, following their yak herds and using every big of the ponderous animals – for clothing, for food, for housing, for sustenance itself.

The first casualty of the occupation, he writes, was deforestation as Chinese loggers poured into Tibet, cutting down half the forests of eastern and southern Tibet.  When he first entered the country, he said, “I saw long lines of Dongfeng trucks filled with huge logs going the other way.  I was witness to China’s highly destructive practice of clear-cutting the forests of eastern Tibet.

The repercussions, he writes, are “evident in mudslides, landslides and flooding all the way from western China to Bangladesh.”

The second major casualty was wildlife.  As habitat has disappeared, virtually all animal life has disappeared along with it.  Given exotic Chinese culinary tastes, the exotic birds of Tibet graced Chinese tables. Antelope were slaughtered for their wool. The horns and other parts of unfamiliar animals have become part of the Chinese pharmaceutical lexicon, despite the fact that there is little or nonscientific basis for their inclusion.   

Even more troubling, Chinese engineering is wiping out Tibet’s wild rivers with innumerable numbers of dams that are diverting the waters away from far downstream such as the Mekong, the Brahmaputra, the Irrawaddy and many more.  As the waters are diverted away, they not only dare widespread changes in the downstream environment, they are turning vast sections of Tibetan grassland into desert.  As Buckley writes, the government in Beijing awakened with a start to the damage desertification caused and began a huge program of reforestation. 

The rivers into South and Southeast Asia, most of which originate in the high reaches of the Tibetan mountains, are fed from snow off the glaciers of what is called the globe’s third pole.  That third pole, Buckley writes, is fast disappearing, not only because of China’s gouging of the environment but because of climate change that many, particularly in the United States congress, continue to deny exists. 

In terms of human impact, Buckley writes, “meltdown of the Tibetan Plateau glaciers will have far greater repercussions“ than anything happening on either the North or South Pole icecaps.  Tibet, he says, “is the icebox of Asia. There are numerous sources of water in Tibet – lakes, rivers, permafrost, glaciers, snowpack, groundwater and springs.”

Glaciers are enormously important.  They meter water into the rivers. Keeping them full in dry spells and allowing for winter storage.  Without them, the great rivers downstream face calamity.  And they are disappearing, losing mass. Chinese scientists believe that by 2050, at current warming rates, 40 percent of Tibet’s glaciers will be gone.

There is simply nothing in this book that gives any hope, either for Tibet or for Asia at large. The Chinese government in Beijing, according to Buckley, is guilty of nothing less than ecocide. Mining companies, he says, exclude the locals from participation, as do the logging companies and most of the other operations despoliating Tibet.

Mining companies are guilty of “land grabbing, excluding locals from planning, no concern for pollution, and the suppression of any protest with brutal force…”  China, he says, “is doing what the worst colonizers have done – completely exploiting its neighbors with scant regard for the environment, or for the welfare of the peoples.”

This is a frightening book. But it should be read by as many people as possible, including the Chinese leadership in Beijing. It won’t be. 


One Response

  1. J. D. Lovrenciear

    The raping of our nation’s forests: who will pay the price?

    The Sun newspaper should be commended for taking courage and trouble to send its photographer, Kamariduan Mohd Nor in a helicopter to capture material evidence of how far worse is the rape of our forests in Malaysia.

    The newspaper’s front page report, “State of devastation” (Monday, January 19, 2015), sends a spine chilling agony into our patriotic hearts as we bleed helpless witnessing how our government under Barisan Nasional rule has failed this nation of thirty million people today and millions more in the decades to come.

    The recent tragic avalanche of cascading mud and water in Cameron Highlands followed by the worst floods affecting several States must have its root cause in human greed and not as we conveniently and quickly labeld as “God’s anger”.

    The Sun paper’s truthful reporting now exposes the reality on the ground. If citizens complained nobody hears. If the opposition political party raised the matter we shun it with a warning of “do not politicize”. And if NGOs and civil society raised an alarm we quickly retort, “Ini orang semua tada lain kerja ka?”

    But now that The Sun paper has taken upon itself to have the courage to live up to its calling of ‘duty to inform’ and spill the beans, what do we do? Take their publishing and printing license away on the charge of being “seditious”?

    We even have a Minister in the prime minister’s department telling all that he had “solid proof” of the extent of the rape of our nation’s environmental blessing, But what can the prime minster and his entire cabinet do?

    It seems that “big businessmen from neighboring countries” are the culprits who robbed us of our abundant natural habitats – the rain forests.

    Boy oh boy! How long more must we patriotic citizens who recognize the importance of our nature and blessed land put up with all these corrupt means and ways that is hurting our nation and all its future citizens down the centuries?

    If you have the ‘solid proof” what were you doing all these while when you and your colleagues were in office? Why did you not blow the whistle? Why were not the police and the army roped in to stop our precious country’s future from being stolen?

    Hello, even kiddies will scoff!

    You do not rape hectares and hectares of virgin forests in several hours. It takes months and years to fell the timber that tower in the mountains. You need to move all kinds of machinery and transportation to fell the tress and bring them out. You need the ports to ship the millions of logs that were being stolen from the jungles.

    You mean nobody saw all these all these past decades?

    And now that The Sun paper has responsibly; and with patriotic concern for nation it has even taken the trouble to fly over and post the picture and news, what are you going to do?

    We already have a disgraceful situation in the “Money Logging” book that is being published and launched the world over exposing all the horrifying rape of our equatorial and centuries old forests in Sarawak. We do not seem to do anything in all likelihood as we carry on with a business as usual smile on our political face.

    And now that we are seeing it in Gua Musang that links the mountains all the way to Cameron Highlands, are there also other States that are also guilty of this heinous crime against our nation’s assets and its people?

    How long more msut we Malaysians carry on with our ‘tidak apa’ attitude? What is the use of all the towering brick and mortar and steel when the future is a devastated desert topography that we leave behind for the generations to come?

    Nations with natural deserts are quickly making great strides to conquer these natural and harsh landscapes to make it more livable and support human endeavor. But we here are only interested in profiteering from everything we can grab.

    And now the song we sing is that businessmen from other countries have been stealing our forests.

    Pity the Malaysians that they have to go through this in this day and time where saving the environment is the world’s first and foremost priority. Malaysians will have their children and grand children paying that price that is in all probability going to take this nation hundreds of years to turn around again.

    So much so for the Malaysian politics of development, progress and the mantra of “be grateful”.

    We can have all the wealth in the city. Fine jobs. Good salaries. Nice houses. But when your raped and plundered mountains fold under the wrath of mother nature, your wealth is going to give way,

    God bless your future.