"A frightening look at river damming in the Himalyas and how China is affecting all the world"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted November 21, 2014
Non-Fiction | Non-Fiction Political
Two billion people rely on rivers fed from Tibetan
snowmelt. Those rivers, fed by the largest store of
freshwater outside Polar regions, run through eleven
populous countries to reach the sea at the world's largest
deltas. Yet the waters from Tibet are under threat from
several issues, described in MELTDOWN IN TIBET. Warming is
one, as the glaciers shrink. Over use with diversion is
another. Shortages of water will ensue and cause poor
harvests across Asia, requiring imports of rice and wheat
among other grains, which will inflate prices worldwide
cause great unrest.
Michael Buckley, a Canadian, wrote the first Lonely Planet
guidebook to Tibet. An adventure travel writer, film maker
and environmentalist, he is much travelled in Tibet and
Himalayas. He first visited Tibet in 1985 as a truck
passenger and saw the constant stream of treetrunks being
hauled as China felled Tibetan forests. This has been
ongoing since China took over Tibet in 1950. No replanting
was carried out so the deforestation caused soil erosion
a massive scale - after 1998's disastrous flooding of the
Yangtze River, caused by logging at the headwaters, China
had to reduce the scale of work.
By 1980, fact-finding missions from Tibet's exiled leaders
found that the grasslands which had supported a rich
variety of wildlife, were empty of animals and birds.
Buckley believes that everything from antelope to yak to
ducks to snow leopards was eaten by settlers and soldiers
or shipped back to China for consumption.
Finding on a rafting trip that major rivers were being
dammed and plans were afoot to divert rivers through
tunnels back to China to bring water to cities, Buckley
for details. He says that Tibet is an informational black
hole; people carrying data tend to vanish and there are no
internet public information sites. Most foreign
are refused entry and little scientific research has been
Buckley learnt that the Chinese are the most advanced
tunnellers and miners in the world; one railway line built
into Tibet travels through 18 miles of tunnels, the
being to ship mined wealth out to China. The six million
original population have been outnumbered and unemployed
settlers migrated to build dams. 95% of the glaciers are
losing mass faster than it can be replaced by monsoon
and meltwater lakes cause flash flooding to villages.
White ice reflects the sun's heat, but ice covered in the
black soot emitted by China and India which pollutes the
high altitudes, absorbs heat and causes melting, exposing
dark rock which further absorbs heat. Asian coal burning
for factory and domestic use is the biggest culprit,
followed by vehicle engines, forest clearance fires and
The megadam projects which block Asia's rivers,
contamination of freshwater by coal mining and chemical
dumping, and forced removal of indigenous people are among
the major issues visited in this book. MELTDOWN IN TIBET
affecting the entire world, including the Bangladeshi
people whose river delta is shrinking, and sinking under
rising seawater. This is a frightening read by Michael
Buckley and a well-written look at a scary future.
Tibetans have experienced waves of genocide since the 1950s.
Now they are facing ecocide. The Himalayan snowcaps are in
meltdown mode, due to climate change—accelerated by a rain
of black soot from massive burning of coal and other fuels
in both China and India. The mighty rivers of Tibet are
being dammed by Chinese engineering consortiums to feed the
mainland’s thirst for power, and the land is being
relentlessly mined in search of minerals to feed China’s
industrial complex. On the drawing board are plans for a
massive engineering project to divert water from Eastern
Tibet to water-starved Northern China.
Ruthless Chinese repression leaves Tibetans powerless to
stop the reckless destruction of their sacred land, but they
are not the only victims of this campaign: the nations
downstream from Tibet rely heavily on rivers sourced in
Tibet for water supply, and for rich silt used in
agriculture. This destruction of the region's environment
has been happening with little scrutiny until now.
In Meltdown in Tibet, Michael Buckley turns the
spotlight on the darkest side of China's emergence as a
global super power.
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