Environmental Issuses Of Tibet Essay Research Paper

Environmental Issuses Of Tibet Essay, Research Paper

INTRODUCTIONThe Peoples Republic of China is rich in cultural and natural diversity. and is listed by biologists as a ?megadiversity

country’. Since 1950, when China embraced modernity, the forests have been indiscriminately felled reducing forest cover.

This has threatened biodiversity, causing drastic declines of mammal and bird counts, recurrent flooding and erosion, and

recurrent snow disasters. These not only threaten global climate, but undermine the livelihood of the local people and great

loss of life and damage downstream. In South West China the government has promoted ambitious plans for forest

conservation and reforestation, culminating in a felling ban and the closure of grazing lands. This Comment draws attention to

the new environmental activism emerging in the country and discusses prospects for successful implementation of the new

policiesSW CHINA: GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND?South West? China encompasses an area known by Westerners as ?East Tibet?, by the indigenous Tibetan people as

Kham, and by the Republic of China as ?Xikang?. It is deeply dissected by four of Asias largest rivers (Bramaputra,

Salween, Mekong and Yangtze), which flow in a SE course through deep limestone and sandstone gorges. Elevation

ranges from 2000m to more than 7000 m and the area is dominated in the east by Minyak Gangkar (7590m) (Ch. Gongga

Shan). The steep slopes are mostly covered by coniferous forest, and the region contains China’s largest forest resource.

Nowadays this vast region, is divided for political and historical reasons between four Chinese provinces and comprises 47

counties . The region was characterised by its very rich biodiversity and in a few locations the untouched ecosystems are

among the most diverse living assemblies in Asia (Ogilvie 1996 Smil 1984). There are still believed to be over 1500 species

of higher plant, more than 90 mammal species, more than 350 bird species, and more than 25 reptile and amphibian species.CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENTChina is the nation with the longest continuous culture on earth, and from the earliest times (The Shang Dynasty 1766

BC-1122 BC) there is evidence of both a conservation ethic and an understanding of environmental processes.

Environmental consciousness used to be reinforced not only by rulers but through Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism but

it appears to have been retained mostly as an ideal which was gradually subsumed by modernity (Edmonds 1994, Needham

1956, 1986, Schafer 1962, Smil 1984)). Although the recorded history of SW China is not as old as Han China there is

evidence that the people have lived sustainably with their fragile world for 2,000 years, and still today exhibit a conservation

ethic deeply embedded both in historic government Tsatsig (Tib. Decree) and in their animistic (mi chos), Bon (bon

chos), and Buddhist (lha chos) traditions (Bjork 1993, Tenzin P. Atisha 1996, Studley 1999, Samuel 1993 Stein 1972,

Powers 1995). Modernity, rather than enhancing the well-being of the peoples of SW China, is seemingly destroying their

environment and indigenous culture and robbing them of their means of life.In 1997 China announced very ambitious plans for forest conservation and the provision of funding to re-deploy loggers as

tree planters It has however, taken the very serious floods that occurred in China in 1998, for both the State and local

government to introduce desperate measures, in an attempt to ameliorate the problem. It was not until 17th August (in a news

analysis by Xinhua news agency) that the authorities recognised that some of the flooding was due to deforestation in the

upper reaches of the Yangtze river. As from 1st September 1998, a complete felling ban was introduced in Western Sichuan

(Eastern Kham), plans for log channels at Ertan hydroelectric power station were suspended, and $US 52 million per year

was released to re-deploy loggers in reforestation. To facilitate reforestation, it was announced that 9 m ha of grazing land

would be closed. Similar measures were instituted along the upper reaches of the Yellow River and in Yunnan Province and

Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) (Winkler 1998b). Although these measures are generally welcome there are already signs

that the logging bans are being flouted, and officials who question if funding for conservation is a sustainable income stream.

Concerns have been expressed about the impact of the ban and pasture closure on the 1 million Tibetans who are dependent

on the logging industry and there is concern that most of the funds for replanting will go to Han Chinese forestry workers,

which may heighten ethnic tension.DEFORESTATIONThe forests of SW China, were among the most extensive areas of forest cover in the whole country, and included the forests

of SE Tibet AR, Western Sichuan, Northern Yunnan, South West Gansu, and SE Qinghai. Since 1950, when they were

designated China’s ?second timber production base? and in 1956 when macro-scale timber production enterprises were

established all these areas have experienced indiscriminate felling (Richardson 1990, Li 1993). The majority of the

destruction was not caused by population pressure, or ?criminal elements?, or local farmers, and it did not mostly occur ?40

years ago to fuel backyard steel furnaces of Chairman Mao’s ill fated Great Leap Forward? (Fred Pearce 1999). It was

caused by ?planned? commercial timber extraction based on government quotas (Smil 1984, Winkler 1998a). The forests of

SW China have never been officially managed on a sustainable basis, and most of them lack a management plan or any form

of monitoring (Richardson 1990). Timber is not only required for China’s booming economy, but it is often the most

important source of cash revenue for local administrations, enabling them to fund education health & infrastructure. State

forest enterprises are required to sell a minimum timber quota which was often as much as 3 times the sustainable yield, at a

price that was often below production costs (Winkler 1998a). To compensate for this they have sold even more timber on the

free market. As a result in some areas annual felling was four times more than the sustainable yield. Consequently :- Forest

cover in Tibet AR has fallen from 9 % (1950) to 5 % (1985), in Yunnan from 55 % (1950’s) to 30 % (1975), and in Sichuan

from 30% (1950) to 6.5% (1998). (Pomfret 1998, Winkler 1996 1998a). Some of the most disquieting reports on

deforestation come from Sichuan and Yunnan Province.Deforestation in the most accessible parts of Western Sichuan (mostly Aba Prefecture) began in the late 1950’s, and although

Sichuan did lose one tenth of its growing stock (or 1.24 Mha) during the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) this was mostly in

the East. Deforestation accelerated in Aba Prefecture in the late 1960’s, when it supplied up to 84% of Sichuans timber quota.

It was not until the 1980’s and 1990’s , when most of Aba’s forests were depleted (It only supplied 15% of Sichuan’s total

quota in 1980) that large scale deforestation spread into the main Yangtze catchment in Kham. The forests of Kham comprise

ca 95% of forest land found in the ?headwaters of the Yangtze?, and their destruction , from the 1980’s appears to have been

parallelled by an almost annual occurrence of environmental destruction (Studley 1999 Wang Hongchang undated Smil

1984)In theory the 104 state forest areas of Western Sichuan should have only felled 760,000 m3 a year to be sustainable , but they

have exceeded 2m m3, year on year (Smil 1984) Logging, clearing of forest for cultivation, expansion of pastures and forest

fires have so seriously upset the ecosystem in the mountainous prefectures of Western Sichuan that environmentalists fear that

the Yangtze whose tributaries drain the prefectures, will come to have as bad a reputation as the Yellow River. Of the

provinces 139 counties only 12 now have forest covering more than 30 percent of the land, 22 have between 20 and 30

percent, but 91 have less than 10 percent, and 14 counties have less than one percent.Yunnan still ranks fourth in China, in terms of total timber resources, but in relative terms the province’s deforestation has

been even more extensive than in Sichuan, and its loss of forest land appears to be by far the greatest in China. In the early

1950’s about 55 percent of Yunnan was covered by forests, but by 1975, it had dropped to 30 percent, and annual wood

consumption was double the growth rateTo make matters worse , all over SW China, large scale clear felling was widely practised, tree planting to tree felling ratios

were very low (1:10) tree seedling survival rates of less than 30% were common (Dong 1985, He 1991), less than 40% of

woody biomass was utilized and only about 7% of milling wastes were utilized (Smil 1993).


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