Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A river runs wild. Make that two. How do you say "dam(n) it" in Chinese?

This is a post that will find fault with the Chinese government, criticize the uber-prioritization of economic growth, and favor the natural environment.  A holy trifecta of a bait for this guy;)

A wild and crazy duo; no, not that kind.
Wild and crazy rivers, that is. 
Two of the continent’s wildest rivers have their sources in Tibet: the Salween and the Brahmaputra.
Are you thinking what I am thinking?  Exactly!
The Salween?
Wikipedia notes that it is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the world, at 1,749 miles.  And its name in Chinese translates to "the angry river."  Looks like the Brahmaputra is a tame one compared to the Salween!

Notice the source for these two?  Tibet.  Uh oh!

The occupied Tibet + rivers with untapped potential + need for energy + communist capitalism = yes, that's where that op-ed is going.
Though they are under threat from retreating glaciers, a more immediate concern is Chinese engineering plans. A cascade of five large dams is planned for both the Salween, which now flows freely, and the Brahmaputra, where one dam is already operational.
Now, keep in mind that China's voracious appetite for energy means that it already "has more than 26,000 large dams, more than the rest of the world combined."  More than the rest of the world combined.  Re-read that and take a deep breath.  We've just begun!  What are the issues here?
  • Damming and diverting waters with impacts on the ecosystem
  • Damming and diverting waters affecting countries downstream
  • No benefit to the people of Tibet--energy exported to the east
  • Local Tibetans displaced and the “ecological refugees” are shunted into ghettos."
I have merely summarized the key points.  The details in the op-ed are not pretty.

So, can anything be done at all?
The solution to these complex problems is simple: Since these enormous projects are state-run and state-financed, China’s leaders can cancel them at will.
Fat chance of that ever happening!

I was confident that commentators in India would have written in plenty in this context.  Of the few that I scanned through, I liked this take, which ends thus:
In a letter dated 4 December 1962, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Bertrand Russell: “We do not want to do something which will endanger our planet. I do think, however, that there will be a greater danger of that kind if we surrender to the Chinese and they feel that the policy they have pursued brings them rich dividends”.
More than 50 years later, it is fervently to be hoped that better sense will prevail in China, and the lives of millions of people of the subcontinent will not be endangered by killing the river Brahmaputra. 
I tell ya, we better get on to that energiewende fast.

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