Tibetian Plateau: Climate Change Flashpoint

April 8, 2008

The Sierra Club’s Carl Pope had this analysis of how China will be on the front line of the impending global security crisis brought on by climate change.  Check it out.


5 Responses to “Tibetian Plateau: Climate Change Flashpoint”

  1. Luigi Says:

    I agree with what Carl Pope says in the China Dialogue site yet I fear that not until major disasters happen, and people not only voice their opinion, but stand up for their beliefs, will country leaders really lend an ear to the problem of global warming and ecosystem destruction, as opposed to the band-aids we all are too used to seeing.

    The problem is that progress is based on the GDP of a country. The Green GDP however is a measure that should be taken into consideration if governments really want to get serious about global warming. As stated in Wikipedia, “the Green GDP is an index of economic growth with the environmental consequences of that growth factored in.”

    “In 2004, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, announced that the green GDP index would replace the Chinese GDP index itself as a performance measure for government and party officials at the highest levels.
    As an experiment in national accounting, the Green GDP effort collapsed in failure in 2007, when it became clear that the adjustment for environmental damage had reduced the growth rate to politically unacceptable levels, nearly zero in some provinces. In the face of mounting evidence that environmental damage and resource depletion was far more costly than anticipated, the government withdrew its support for the Green GDP methodology and suppressed the 2005 report”
    See more on at:

    It is up to governments to create change, even if that means easing the wants of the ones who want the most thus the Green GDP should be the measure of wealth if countries want to get serious about the tragedy of the commons. ( yes, I am talking about more government control – but is that so bad?)

    As I have argued before, it is necessary for the US, as the rich, powerful, and influencing country that it is, to lead the way re: these environmental initiatives. If global warming and ecosystem destruction is just dialogue, than we will remain part of the problem.
    In the same breath though, the US’s time as a world leader may be up and unfortunately, they are no longer acting as a leader for a more peaceful and prosperous world, as they had after the first and second world wars, but as an advocate of wars over resources without dealing with the problems in their own back yards.

    I am not an advocate for them but unless countries like China, the US and India, put action to their words, the world as we know it will be mired in further wars over resources, and by that time, as resources are not created and balanced with the stroke of a pen and policies, as previous solutions to the World Wars were, it will be too late.

  2. Ana Cristina Wisbeck Says:

    “Why do it today if you can do it tomorrow?” That’s how Brazilians used to joke about our inefficient bureaucrats and government systems. It seems like this fever has caught everyone when it comes to global warming.
    However, in my opinion, a more in-depth analysis would show that this inefficiency is the result of several factors and not simply lack of political will. Here I would like to bring up two main factors: our existing production system and the somewhat perverse relationship between economics and politics.
    As we all learned in 5th grade science, nature works in cycles, birth, growth, death and decomposition. The system sustains itself because it is a circle where nothing goes to waste and there’s continuity. However, our production system today is a line. It starts with resources extraction, it goes into production and it ends with consumption. It’s clear that the chain is broken, since consumption is really not the end of the story, after we are done with whatever we bought, there are not many options for us consumers to let that object “die”, “decompose” and be “born” again. To me, the artificiality of the process is unsustainable.
    If the production system is flawed, why do governments care to keep it going, even as people seem to show more concern for the environment? In the 20th century, the science of politics made several discoveries about voting behavior based on the rational actor approach borrowed from economics. One of the major breakthroughs was that voters care about the economy more than many other factors. If the economy goes well, then they are likely to reelect the same party etc. This understanding made politicians prisoners of the economy, tying their performance to the growth of the country, GDP etc. Bear in mind, that I am talking about Western countries were, not China, the case of China is more explicit, and they indeed put economic growth as one of the pillars of the government.
    Anyway, when you put these two factors together, you can see why governments are so inefficient. They see the problem, but they don’t fully address it out of fear of losing economic ground, now that the economy is so important.
    Finally, I thought this article presented an interesting take on the Tibet issue, something I have never thought about. I personally have a more controversial opinion about this, Tibet is to me nothing more than the Chinese Hawaii per say, and it certainly makes me question the double standards of developed countries, but perhaps this post is already too long!

  3. Luigi Says:

    Ana, I believe you and I were in the same 5th grade science class as I distinctly remember this very same lesson. And as that is surely so, you nailed it on the head…that the choices between the attention to the economy and environment are diverging. Its either one or the other as I showed through my case for the green GDP (above).

    Surely one can divert attention to carbon reducing fuels and more sustainable practices, but economies are based on consumption, and not only is our growing population becoming richer and hungrier, but our sinks are running out.

    I also read a great article entitled “The Clean Energy Myth” in the April 7 edition of TIME magazine. Are our short sighted practices truly addressing the fundamental issues of our ecosystem destruction or have we all blinders on air quality for financial gain? http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1725975,00.html

    Without losing entire hope however, it is up to our governments to focus on a now or never situation regarding these degenerating and unsustainable practices. It can be done, though possibly at a cost to the almighty GDP and the insatiable wants of few.

  4. Elaine Chang Says:

    Much of this article came as a shock to me. Global warming is definitely a national security threat that countries must begin to fight especially when there are examples such as the melting glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau. This issue seems to be one that I am sure many people are unaware of. Also, with China announcing that it will have exploited all of its water supplies 2030, developed countries should take great initiative in solving this problem.

    As the global leader, the United States is in the position to take immediate action on this issue, and yet, just as Ana said, our government is too focused on economic development. According to a recent CNN survey, the most important issues in the current presidential primaries and caucuses are economy at 42%, the War in Iraq at 21%, health care (18%), terrorism (10%), illegal immigration (7%), and other at 1%. Global warming isn’t even option, it seems to be part of the 1% under “other”. As a child in the American school system, we were bombarded with information on global warming, but the fact is, as I mentioned before, people don’t realize its harms until something actually happens. I admit, the American government has done a very poor job in raising awareness of this issue and actually taking action on it. Recently, President Bush declared to halt the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, but Sierra Club dismisses the president’s proposals as “grossly insufficient” (CNN.com).

  5. Muji Tang Says:

    While I agree that “global warming” might destroy homes of people living in coastal areas, lead to ecosystem devastation, global food crisis, displace of population due to exhaustion of water resources, etc., I am not convinced with the idea suggested by Carl Pope that climate changes would be the foremost and most critical source of tension behind conflicts in the coming decades. Instead, I would argue that climate changes would threaten environmental security and food security of human. People in developing countries are especially vulnerable.

    State leaders are reluctant to co-operate or ratify the Kyoto Protocol which restrain greenhouse gas emission. China and the United States, as the two major emitters, refuse to sign the treaty and use each other’s inaction as excuse to escape responsibility.
    However, there is no easy solution even for nations that signed the protocol and act. To cut down the amount of emission of greenhouse gases, alternative energy has to replace the burning of fossil fuels. The Sierra Club urges more to see more investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and the use of clean, renewable fuels should be promoted. The increasing use of renewable fuels, for example, biofuel has turned into a problem for its impact on food crisis.

    It seems the two security threats, “global warming” and food crisis are intercorrelated. On one hand, climate changes has brought concern on the cut down of burning coal and oil. On the other hand, the use of biofuel draws up food prices which lead to civil unrest occur recently in 34 countries worldwide. The riots and demonstrations also express anger over soaring oil prices. Which threats are more pressing and endanger National security? I would argue that food security has sounded the alarm.

    Climate changes might result in the collapse of ecosystem in the coming decades, if firm measures are still not taken. It is foreseeable that conflicts aroused over resources and inhabitants will occur. I support states should start to act now in studying the consequences of climate changes to living conditions in future, and develop preventive measures before disasters.

    While “global warming” has driven controversial debates and biofuel may provide a solution. The critical threat now is food crisis, which imperils the lives of 820 million chronically hungry people in developing countries. 10 million people die every year of hunger and hunger-related diseases. Only 8% are the victims of high-profile earthquakes, floods, droughts and wars. Global food prices have nearly doubled in three years, according to the World Bank. Riots in Haiti already caused 5 deaths.

    The ever-encountered security complex which combines the two urgent agenda in the century, “global warming” and “global food crisis” should have alerted the diverse HS actors. Myanmar Cyclone is a tragedy urging actors to respond promptly.

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