There’s a Hole in the Roof of the World!
With an average altitude of 4,000 metres or 13,000 feet and containing some of the highest mountains on the planet, Tibet is known as the Roof of the World. It’s also known as the third pole referring to the vast Hindu-Kush ice sheet which stretches for 3,500 kms across the Himalayan plateau and contains after the Artic and Antarctica the third-largest accumulation of freshwater in the form of ice worldwide.
The plateau which ranges across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China , India and Pakistan contains more than 46,000 glaciers almost 15% of the Worlds total. The glaciers feed the arteries of the great rivers of Asia; the Indus, Sutlej, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow River supplying water to over a quarter of the World’s population. Worryingly increasing temperatures are causing the Glaciers to retreat, melting at an alarming rate. It is estimated even if the current rate of warming is held at 1.5 degrees Celsius these glaciers could disappear by 2100.
The catastrophic effects of this glacial warming is already dramatically impacting on areas of the Indian sub-continent; Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable as it lies on a delta with a large mostly poor agrarian population and the Hindu-kush region of Pakistan is experiencing increased levels of devastating flash-flooding from glacial melt. The climate is becoming increasingly unpredictable and the life giving Monsoon rains are declining in some areas up to 70% whilst increasing in others.
The Great Chinese Takeaway
February 13th is a solemn day for Tibetans it marks the proclamation of independence in 1913. Sadly few Tibetans can remember living in a free Tibet. In 1950 Chinese troops of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) invaded the independent Buddhist country. Brutal suppression followed ,uprisings were savagely repressed; Monks, Women and children were massacred (part of the 1.6 million recorded homicides) and thousands of Monasteries and shrines were destroyed. The Occupation brought famine, devastation of natural resources, decimation of wildlife and culminated, following a massive uprising in 1959, with the exile of the Dalai Lama, the former spiritual leader. “Tibet is one of the most repressed and closed societies in the World”
Senator Robert Menendez, Chair of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 2012
China’s appalling record of human rights has recently come into sharp focus following the widely reported repression and genocide of the Uighur people. Shamefully there has been no international outcry about Tibet, no Country openly disputes China’s claim to sovereignty. The USA has at least introduced the Tibetan Policy act of 2002. Its stated purpose “to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity.” Unfortunately the initiative has amounted to very little, apart from opening dialogue between the Dalai lama and the Communist Government.
China’s industrialisation of Tibet is exacerbating an already chronic situation; air pollution rising from the Indo-Gangetic plain is depositing black carbon and dust contributing to the thaw. It is estimated that Tibet’s reserves of precious metals some $128 Billion are now feeding the increasing demand both domestically and internationally for mostly cheap Chinese goods. China is becoming more reliant on Tibetan Iron ore mines as the material has sky-rocketed prohibitively in price on international markets. In addition to the Billions of tons of iron ore deposits discovered on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, Millions of tons of Copper lead and Zinc deposits have been identified. Even more worrying, geological and geophysical studies have revealed very significant reserves of Oil, Gas and Shale oil. According to Zhang Hongtao ,vice director of the China Geological Survey bureau “The plateau may have large or super-large deposits of hydrocarbon resources”
White Elephants in the Himalayas
The race by principally China and India and other Himalayan nations to build hydroelectric dams is presented as a virtuous and relatively environmentally conscious alternative to burning fossil fuels however this is far from the truth. China( including Tibet),India, Pakistan and Bhutan have an estimated 550 major Hydroelectric projects under construction or at design stage.
Apart from the spiralling costs, the displacement of thousands of human beings, massive environmental destruction, including habitat loss for endangered species. It is predicted that due to rapidly changing climatic conditions affecting seasonal flow of the major Himalayan- fed rivers, the consequential flooding and drought could ultimately render most of these Projects at best, ineffective or at worse useless.
Share of the Apple Pie
Covid 19 has shown how inextricably linked the World and especially the Western economy is to China. This dependence via complicated, far reaching supply chains is causing consternation amongst suppliers fearful of disruption. America’s tech giants recently reported their quarterly earnings; According to the Economist “ Apple smashed analysts expectations’ reporting record revenue of $111.4bn” and “ the biggest gains were from China”
It is becoming increasingly more evident that this brand of unbridled consumerism is unsustainable and its damage irreparable. As consumers we need to be more discerning about what we purchase and its origin. Company Shareholders should be encouraged to be more ethically aware as Shareholder primacy, where Shareholders returns are vastly prioritised over the welfare of employees and investment is a major driver of environmental destruction.