SACRED SITES, WILDLIFE & BIODIVERSITY
Blogpost 3 of 3
PRESENTATION TO TIBETAN YOUTH WORKSHOP ORGANISED BY TIBET INFORMATION OFFICE, AUSTRALIA, JANUARY 2013
Each of the seven key challenges facing Tibet is a major problem, but solutions are possible. While the ultimate solution would be to restore actual autonomy, agency, and permission for Tibetans to form their own community associations to speak up for Tibetan tradition, culture and civilisation, there are also technical solutions that could ease the tensions. Each issue is presented both as problem, and its solution.
SIX: SACRED SITES and PILGRIMAGE CIRCUITS
Problem: China maps Tibet according to its factor endowments. Certain areas are exceptionally well endowed with minerals, rivers, dam sites, lakes suitable for nuclear weapons testing, forests suitable for easy logging by rolling tree trunks into rivers which carry them down to China’s lowlands. Other areas are endowed with farmland suitable for intensified production, or are well located on transport maps as hubs, for tourism, airports, rail lines and highways. Other areas are to be classified as waste land, especially the high mountains which scatter population and make it uneconomic to extend urban services to areas which will always be remote and the people poor, unless they can be persuaded, or induced, to migrate to cities to get factory work. If some Tibetans, in the grip of superstitious thinking, still walk around certain mountains, this is of no importance, unless they can be made an object of the mass tourist gaze. If the mountains hold copper and gold, they must be mined, to provide China with resource security, much needed supplies for the world’s factory. Development will come to Tibet only by focussing investment on those special places favourably endowed with minerals, extractable water or other advantages. Tibet must climb the ladder of industrialisation, starting at the bottom, as a quarry.
Many historic sites, such as Songtsen Gampo’s birthplace at Gyama, upstream of Lhasa, are about to become huge copper and gold mines. Holy mountains swarm with geologists and drill rigs. Wild mountain rivers are dammed to provide hydro power for copper smelters high in the mountains of Kham, between the steep gorges of the Mekong and Yangtze.
Solution: The entire Tibetan Plateau was used sustainably, lightly and extensively for 9000 years. Only in recent years has intensive, excessive land use threatened sustainability. Tibet has been understood by its people as a sacred landscape, to be used with care and respect, in moderation, by a mobile civilisation that always moves on to ensure natural resources are not used up. This is still appropriate. Seeing the land as a whole, with its endless pastures, farming valleys, high peaks and pure earth, with caves for meditators to purify their minds, and pilgrimage routes that also purify within, helps overcome the fragmentation that modernity requires. There is no waste land. The life cycle requires some to withdraw from daily life, to seek solitude in the mountains, to go deep within, and then, having gained great clarity of mind, return to society to help others. Other people, as they get older, undertake a pilgrimage, to prepare for the next life. These are uses of the land that remain invisible to China and to the modern world. Yet the remote places of Tibet and the pilgrimage circuits have produced some of the most remarkable saints, leaders, poets and artists of Tibet.
China has also turned the holy city of Lhasa into a museum, with fifteen million Chinese domestic tourists flooding in each year. This makes Tibet a more popular destination for tourists than Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Brazil or India. The holy places of Lhasa, which can transform the mind, are overrun with tourists seeking photo ops. The solution is to make Tibetan culture central to the tourism experience, with Tibetan guides speaking for the holy places. This requires a code of conduct that favours Tibetan employees, Tibetan stories and Tibetan ways of understanding.
SEVEN: WILDLIFE & BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION
Problem: Tibet, and especially Kham, is a global biodiversity hotspot, a remarkable concentration of species, many of them unique to Tibet, others a unique fusion of the flora and fauna of widely differing areas that manage to live together in eastern Tibet. Not only does Kham receive plenty of monsoon rain, its steep terrain supports a full range of habitats, from tropical to alpine, on a single mountain slope. Yet these special landscapes are now rapidly industrialising, with dozens of hydro dams planned for the fast rivers, and massive power pylons carrying ultra high voltage electricity far to the east, to China’s biggest cities and factories. At Jomda Yulong, between Derge and Chamdo, many big copper/gold mines, with smelters, are under construction.
Although China has signed the global treaty on biodiversity and the Ramsar treaty to protect wetlands, and has asked UNESCO to declare many World Heritage sites in Tibet, such sites do little to conserve wildlife, have few staff to protect the supposedly protected species, including panda, chiru antelope, black necked crane and many others. Excluding nomads from the green pastures of Golok and Yushu is meant to grow more grass and protect watersheds, but in reality grazing maintains biodiversity, while closing the pastures diminishes biodiversity, according to scientific research. Everywhere fences are compulsory, although Tibet was an unfenced land in which wild herds mixed with domestic yaks, sheep and goats. Now the annual migration of wild animals is disrupted by fences and railway embankments. Wetlands are drying, and migratory birds have no place to rest or make nests safely, as the reeds die.
When China declares a nature reserve or protected area, the local people are often fenced out or removed. If they stay, they are not employed as rangers on patrol against poachers, or as conservation rehabilitation staff.
Solution: Tibetans respect all sentient beings and do not share the modern idea of conquering nature. In 2006, Gyalwa Rinpoche reminded Tibetans not to hunt, and thousands of Khampa warriors burned their furs. This saved the lives of many Indian tigers, Himalayan snow leopards, and other rare animals. Where there is a clash between wild animals such as drong and domestic yaks, NGOs have shown Tibetans can learn how to conserve wild animals, if there is a strategy to compensate them when problems arise. The hit movie Mountain Patrol showed Tibetans of Chumarleb risking even their lives to protect wild chiru from poachers.
The best way to allow wild populations to recover is to train and pay rural Tibetans to be stewards, rangers and guardians for the wildlife. This accords with article 8j of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) which acknowledges traditional communities as the best protectors of biodiversity.