Meltdown In Tibet Exposes Ecological Damage In Tibet

lhasa river in tibet
Tibet’s Lhasa River Credit: Denis Jarvis at Flickr CC


Water is one of the most important commodities in the world. It is something we cannot live without, and despite the fact that is covers two thirds of our planet, drinking water is scarce in too many places around the world. A lot of this is due to mining and engineering that ruin ecosystems and displace people. One author is detailing the effects that such actions have in Tibet. Meltdown in Tibet is a new hard-hitting book by Michael Buckley. A Canadian photographer and journalist, he discusses the environmental damage taking place in the country, and how China’s actions are responsible. In the midst, they too struggle to combat pollution and preserve once treasured ecological sites.

Buckley has traveled to the country for decades and documented the changes to the ecosystems. He has written several books on Southeast Asia, and after taking a rafting trip, was inspired to write a new one. It has received critical acclaim with his passionate writing about the abuses of the Tibetan people and land. A short award-winning film was also made. Meltdown in Tibet goes beyond just illustrating what has been done. It foreshadows a possible meltdown. With the threats of climate change and rapid decline of the ecology, it spells huge trouble for the country and China.

Disturbing the Sacred Mountains

Tibet is a vast, beautiful land, home to rich sources of minerals and water. Its stunning glaciers make it known as the Third Pole, and they are melting. Some of the most important rivers in Asia run through the country. This is a big deal, because it is the third largest source of water in the world. It is a precious asset, not only serving the daily needs of millions of people in other South Asian countries like India and Burma, it also provides hydropower. China has mined and built dams, exploiting these resources. Climate change and dam building has disrupted biodiversity, and Tibetans are paying a price for these developments.

To them, the trees, soil, water, and animals go beyond basic human needs. It is a part of their culture, their roots. Tibetans don’t believe in disturbing the environment, as their Buddhist spirituality is tied to the land, which they regard as sacred. Until recent years, most of the mountains, rivers, and landscapes were left untouched. Buckley said, “The thing Tibetans really object to is when they start mining at sacred mountain sites. A lot of villages have their own sacred mountains, and if you disturb the spirits, it’s very bad karma for them.”

Yundrok Yumtso Lake in Tibet
Yundrok Yumtso Lake in Tibet. Credit: Dennis Jarvis at Flickr CC


Wisdom from the Buddhist leader

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, is in the preface of the book. In it, he recognizes the economic progress and development made by China to improve the quality of life for people. However, he decries the ecological cost. “This book, therefore, should be part of a wake-up call to the international community and China to seriously assess ecological and environmental conditions on the Tibetan plateau and take remedial measures before it is too late.”

These prospects are frightening, but present opportunity to act on compassion and care. As the Buddhist leader says “Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed and lack of respect for the earth’s living beings…Our ancestors viewed the earth as rich and bountiful, which it is. Many people in the past also saw nature as inexhaustibly sustainable, which we know is the case only if we care for it.” It’s not over yet. The water in Tibet affects several other countries, and awareness over these problems is spreading, so it could be a matter of time before major action is taken. Tibetans are excellent stewards to the environment, and monks are great teachers.

About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.