Chinese travel agencies have been luring domestic tourists to Tibet with promises of a veritable Garden of Eden—with towering snow mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and charming villages set in pristine valleys. And particular emphasis in is placed on the phrasing 'pure blue sky' or 'intensely blue sky' or 'deep azure-blue sky'. Here's why: winter 2013 weather reports from Nanjing, Beijing, and Harbin talk about pale-yellow skies, brown haze, foul smells, and industrial effluent. In Nanjing, in December 2013, this lead to the announcement of a RED ALERT—meaning bad air, stay home, wear protective masks. A Red Alert indicates pollution levels that are off the charts. The sun in Nanjing was described as being the colour of 'salted egg-yolk'. In Harbin, visibility has been reduced on some days to ten metres due to toxic industrial smog. Winter is the time when coal is burned in earnest in homes in northern China for heating purposes.
So put this together: the deep-blue skies in Tibet, a large number of days with direct dazzling sun, and visibility for miles and miles, and you can see why Chinese tourists flock there by the millions. But how long can this last before China exports its killer brand of industrial smog to the Lhasa-Lhoka region, with its rapidly expanding mining operations?
In the battle zone
Tibetans battle monsters on a daily basis. Here are a few of them:
Land Gobbler — a fire-breathing dragon, forcing nomads off their traditional grassland habitat — to make way for massive hydro and mining developments.
SinoHydra — building the largest dams in the world. SinoHydra has 8 heads: greed & stupidity, corruption & cronyism, ignorance & deceit, injustice & immorality.
Thirsty Mining Dragon — plans are under discussion by Chinese engineers to divert water on a massive scale from both eastern Tibet and western Tibet for mining ventures. Coal mining and processing consumes over 25 percent of China's industrial water use. Upcoming are shale-gas and oil-sands extraction, both requiring massive quantities of water.
The Age of Stupid is a 90-minute film about climate chaos, set in the future, which had its world premiere in London on March 15th 2009. Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off) stars as a man living alone in the devastated world of 2055, looking back at "archive" footage from 2007 and asking: why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?
THINKING OF CHEATING ON CLIMATE CHANGE?
or just IGNORING THE ISSUE ALTOGETHER?
Some background here: Sometime in 2006, experts believe, China surpassed the USA as the world's top emitter of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. China thus attained the dubious distinction of having the leading role in driving climate change. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) has no plans to reduce coal-burning, arguing that coal is cheap, and that the nation is entitled to experience the same coal-fired Industrial Revolution phase that Western nations passed through. China is fast becoming a toxic time bomb: it has some of the world's most polluted cities and rivers due to tonnes of sulphur dioxide being spewed out from the country's coal-burning factories and coming back as acid rain. In fact, China is home to 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities.
Tibet is on life support, but Dr Hu doesn't give a toss
Timeline 2050: entire snowcaps have been reduced to bare rock; the Yangtse and the Yellow have been reduced to a trickle, but the ghosts of engineers carry on building new dams regardless
AVATAR'S PARALLEL WORLD
You may know more about the movie Avatar than you do about mining in Tibet, but the movie offers uncanny parallels to the situation on the Roof of the World. Tibet is the largest colony in the world. Tibet is under military occupation by Chinese troops. Tibet is being ruthlessly exploited for its valuable minerals, against the wishes of the inhabitants, who deeply resent what is happening to their land.
In Avatar, the action takes place some 150 years into the future, on a distant moon called Pandora. Here, rapacious foreign CEOs and military figures seek a mineral of astronomical value called unobtanium. The only thing stopping them in this endeavour is the blue-skinned Na'vi, who refuse to allow mining on their sacred ground. Tibetans have, throughout their history, prevented mining of their land—which they regard as sacred.
Today, there are many valuable minerals being extracted in Tibet by Chinese and foreign companies. And one alone would qualify for the status of unobtanium. That's lithium. Lithium is used for making batteries for computers, cellphones and many other gadgets. And lithium is a very rare mineral, in very short global supply. Tibet has emerged as one of the world's largest sources for the making of lithium carbonate, a process involving extraction from Tibet's salt lakes. In fact, if your laptop, iPad or cellphone was assembled in China, you probably carry a tiny piece of Tibetan lithium around in the battery for the device.
Demand for Lithium will soar as electric vehicles with lithium-ion powered batteries hit the market. The futuristic Nissan Leaf hatchback, a pricey all-electric car, runs on a 250-kg lithium-ion battery that pours current into the 80kW AC brushless electric motor, which drives the front wheels. China's Great Wall Motors plans to market all-electric cars. In 2012, Coda Automotive (California, USA) and China's Great Wall Motors announced plans to co-develop the Coda Sedan, an affordable electric vehicle, for markets in China, North America, and Europe. Lithium iron-phosphate cells for the Coda Sedan's 454-kilogram battery pack are from LIO Energy Systems, a joint venture of Coda and China's Tianjin Lishen Battery Co. However, quality and safety could be issues for concern with Great Wall Motors. Since introduction to Australia in 2009, Great Wall Motors vehicles have been subject to four recalls on safety issues. Thousands of low-cost vehicles made by Great Wall Motors were recalled in Australia after the cars' engine and exhaust gaskets were found to contain asbestos.