Tibet’s Environment: Denuding, Degrading and Depopulating
A large part of Tibet’s 2.5 million sq. km area has been grossly denuded due to the implementation of several development plans and policies by PRC since 1960s, including land-use policies, mining, deforestation, urbanization etc. Different grassland and livestock rearing policies to increase production have instead threatened the sustainability of the fragile environmental balance of this immense upland. Similarly, mining operations carried out with minimal participation of Tibetans and poor environmental safeguards, have resulted in pollution of land and water; destruction of grazing lands, soil erosion and loss of wildlife biodiversity, which in turn affects the livelihood of Tibetans. The large-scale deforestation that has already destroyed half of Tibet’s rich timber resource continues unabated even after the official logging ban declared after the disastrous floods of the middle and lower Yangtze River in 1998. Tibetans have been protesting across Tibet to voice their concern about these impacts on their ecology and livelihood.
The global climate change and local human-induced factors have caused a multi-faceted environmental degradation which further enhances the warming process. In the past few decades, the alpine glaciers are rapidly melting, vast permafrost layer are constantly reducing, river hydrology is swiftly declining, wetlands and lakes are constantly shrinking while stretches of grasslands are turning into arid region. The degradation of glacier, permafrost, wetlands, lakes and grassland which serves as a major carbon sink, leads to the release of huge amounts of green-house gases into the atmosphere, intensifying the already warming global climate.
As a response to the large-scale desertification of grassland, Chinese government is aggressively implementing a policy to depopulate millions of drogpas (Tibetan pastoral nomads) from their ancestral pastoral grounds by forcing them to abandon their livestock and settle them in socialist-style ghettos. Over half of the 2.45 million drogpas have been already been “resettled” under the guise of ecological protection and social development. These drogpas are faced with souring poverty, unemployment and social breakdown. Ironically, these drogpas have maintained a unique pastoral culture and has in-fact been the real guardians of these alpine pastures for more than 8000 years. Lands and pastures inhabited by Tibetan farmers and nomads are expropriated to make way for mining industries and hydro-power projects. China has dammed all the major rivers originating from Tibet, which supports over 1.3 billion people in Asia.
The effects of accelerating denudation, degradation and depopulation of Tibet’s fragile ecology will resonate for beyond the plateau, changing the water supply for billions of people and altering the atmospheric circulation over half the planet. With survival of Tibetans as well as almost half of humanity at stake, the need to save the Tibetan Plateau from ecological devastation is highly urgent, more than ever before.