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A mountain’s “revenge” on people, pollution and power?

Experts attribute the melting of the Mingyong glacier to climate change, but the Tibetan villagers who live in the area have a different explanation. Guo Jing reports from Yunnan province.

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In the Meili mountains in south-western China’s Yunnan province, lies the lowest of all the country’s glaciers, Mingyong. But Mingyong has been melting and receding, and the experts are blaming global warming.  

On May 3, 2007, two tourists were killed in an avalanche in nearby Yubeng village. An American woman, Jane, told me that earlier that day she had seen snow sliding off overhanging cliffs and, with her mountain-rescue experience, she knew something was wrong. One of the tourists dug out of the snow had broken her back and had to be carried to help on a makeshift stretcher.   

The incident gave rise to a brief flurry of news media and internet attention, but this quickly faded. The accident was blamed on global warming. But climate change is not just a matter of meteorology and geography; there also are human causes. As our ancestors might have said, man and the heavens affect each other. Or as Buddhism might say, this is the consequence of humanity’s common action.  

So although the local Tibetans in Deqin, in the Deqing autonomous prefecture, have heard of global warming, they do not place blame on it. They connect the avalanche of 2007 with a range of external factors, including mountain climbing and tourism, and form their own explanation.  

On January 3, 1991, a joint Chinese-Japanese mountaineering team was hit by a snow avalanche, with seventeen people losing their lives. Efforts were made to find their bodies and equipment, but harsh weather conditions forced the searchers to give up.  

Seven years later, in July 1998, locals found remains of the climbers at the Mingyong glacier. The head of the village explained how they had removed every trace of the bodies. “We had to take them away, or they would pollute a sacred mountain.” 

The villagers are fiercely opposed to the mountain climbing, which has gone on for years. They believe that the repeated assaults on the Kawagebo summit by the Chinese-Japanese team are to blame for the disaster. A local official explained: “If you come and climb once, it might rain, or there’ll be a flood, or storm, but there will be some effect. I grew up here, and we never used to get wolves. But now if you let the animals out, the wolves will get them.” 

A village secretary spoke of his worries: “This village and the next [village] have had the worst of it. Floods, everything. The locals say that this is one of the sacred mountains of the Tibetans, and while they welcome tourism, they are opposed to mountain climbing.” 

The villagers do not regard the melting glacier as an isolated event. They see it as one of a string of warnings – floods, droughts, wolves and mudslides -- all demonstrating the anger of the mountain and the damage to the environment.  

The avalanche and the discovery of the climbers’ bodies actually increased the number of visitors to the village, and the locals became rich by acting as tourist guides. But every time I visit, they seem more nervous as they see the glacier retreat. A tourist bureau employee said that Tibetans believe an angered mountain will retaliate by sending disasters, and that glaciers, too, are sacred. They believe that allowing the glacier to be damaged by visitors and causing it to recede has angered the mountain.  

Yubeng, deep in the mountains, only became a popular tourist destination in 2003 – but just a few years later, the avalanche struck and killed two tourists. A friend, who was with Jane at the scene, told me they had seen climbers strip naked and dance on the mountain. To the Tibetans, this is sacrilege.  

Geng Hong, head of the provincial land office’s geographical environment bureau, has visited the Mingyong glacier on numerous occasions. He found that in the process of building wooden walkways for tourists, large numbers of stones had been allowed to fall onto the glacier. These stones heat up in the sun and cause the glacier to melt. The visitors themselves also are a source of heat. Under these circumstances, the glacier is bound to melt.  

According to the villagers, the mountain climbers and revelling tourists’ behaviour and the things they leave behind – such as their corpses and the ashes of their burnt rubbish – are the source of the mountain’s anger.  

The film Glacier by Zhaxi Nima records a discussion among the villagers about the melting Mingyong glacier. They believe that when foreigners visited to collect biological specimens almost one hundred years ago, they used magic to calm the mountain – and the glacier receded. As one local asked: “So why is it melting now? Electricity, people wandering up the mountain, not protecting the forests, polluting the glacier … it’s like the glacier is ill and wasting away.” 

There were other comments:

“Before when it melted, it would just be the face of the glacier; it would not actually get smaller. Now it’s both. Before 2000, lots of people came, pollution was bad and we got electricity. The three things all happening together was a disaster.”
 

“If people didn’t climb the mountain, leave rubbish or use electricity, the glacier would recover. If things carry on this way, it will continue to recede.” 

The villagers attribute the receding of the glacier to several factors: the damage caused by foreigners, pollution of the glacier by climbers, abuse by tourists, the connection of electricity and pollution from rubbish. However, all these factors can be classified as the effects of almost a century of exploration and development by outsiders. These ideas also underscore the disparity between the villagers’ and the experts’ opinions: the experts see natural reasons, the villagers see man-made ones.  

When discussing climate change, it is very easy for us – as an area, a village, a population – to shirk our own responsibility, transforming the consequences of human activity into a complicated issue of international politics, simplifying a complex cultural background into a simple “scientific issue”. People believe that political negotiations and scientific research will be adequate, and we can all carry on climbing mountains, taking holidays and throwing away our rubbish. But nature may take its revenge at any time. 

The Mingyong glacier is still melting away, and the locals are still debating. They are caught up in the tourist trade, which enables to make a living, but not to live at peace. The mountain’s anger hangs over them. The villagers know that no experts or technology will ward off disaster, just humanity’s own awakening and action.  

Guo Jing is a researcher with the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences (YASS). 

Homepage photo by  Richard.Asia

 

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

全球变暖的责任,人类行为占大半

自然因素被归结为全球气候变暖,但全球变暖相当大程度上都是由人类行为造成的,就像大量排放温室气体。当地村民对环境的态度和猜想虽然多少有些被神话,但也反映出在全球气候变暖中人类责任的重大。

郭净文中提到当地的通电问题,但问题并不在通电本身。中国的电能主要还是通过火力发电提供,火力发电依赖于燃烧煤矿,燃烧煤矿所排放的二氧化碳量比燃烧等量石油所排放的要大得多。通过对南极冰层的研究,现在大气中的二氧化碳量比过去65万年中的最高值,将近300p/mv,高出近一倍,并且还在继续加速增长。但如过使用清洁能源比如光伏技术和风力发电,电仍然可以用,全球变暖也可以变缓。矛盾可能出在对这些新能源技术的推广应用上。光伏太阳能发电技术的成本仍然很高,风力发电又受地域和国家电网的限制。而且中国西部经济本身就很落后,经济发展和环境保护存在很大矛盾。所以现在需要做的是如何解决能源利用转型的问题,而不应该单纯的责怪通电有害来逃避问题。

human activities account for most of global warming

Global warming is imputed to natural elements but, just like the mass emission of greenhouse gases, the warming is man-made to a great extent. Local villagers' attitude and rational toward the environment, though more or less deified, expresses the effects of human action on the environment.

The the village having newly been connected to electricity mentioned in Guo Jing's article is not really a causes of glacial melting in and of itself. Power generation in China is mainly thermal power generation heavily reliant on coal, which emits much more CO2 than that from burning petroleum in same amount. Now the CO2 volume is around two times as its peak (near 300p/mv) in last 650 thousands years, and is accelerating its growth, according to a research on Antarctic ice layers.

However, the electricity is still usable if it is a clean energy like power generated from photovoltaic technology or wind force,
and the global warming can be slowed down under this mode of power utilization. The rub here might be the promotion and usage of these new energy technologies, as the solar power generation by photovoltaic system is high in costs and the wind power generation is confined to geographic distribution and national grid. Also, west China has a poor economy itself, which makes it a big conflict between its economic growth and environmental protection. So, what need to be done now is to work out how to make a successful transformation of energy use, instead of confusing matters by simply blaming the power connection.

Translated by Ming Li

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

我们不要技术

身为画家,我完全同意你的观点。在技术的帮助下我们构建了一个世界, 结果,幻想着能让我们过得更好的技术却成了摧毁我们自身的武器。我以画为媒,以幻现人类与环境间的紧张状态来表达我的关注。我愿意与你分享我的见解。

www.chenping.com.au 陈平

本评论由Ming Li翻译

We don't need technology

As an artist, I totally agree with your view. We have built the world with help of technology we thought it would be better for us but has turned up to be a weapon to destroy ourselves. I have expressed my concern through my paintings which visualising the tension between human and environment. I would like to share my vision with you.

www.chenping.com.au

Chen Ping

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

人类活动是环境局部变化最终杀手

赞同文中村民的看法,洁白无瑕的雪的确不易融化,被污染的雪反而融化速度很快,我们一般都应有这样的常识。村民们一再强调带走你们的脏物和污染物是很有道理的,所谓的全球变暖所表现的外部特征也只是局部的体现,诸如冰川消融、两极的冰盖消融这类的,但试想想,这些哪样不是因为人类对这些原本无人烟的地方加大了活动的频率和范围,玷污了当地的洁净水、天空、大地等。
本人认为全球的变暖主要是地球接受到外面辐射的影响,但人类活动对地球局部自然环境的破坏却是致命的,人类活动到哪儿,哪儿生态环境就逃脱不了退化的命运。
人类的欲望总将毁了地球。
[email protected] 163.com

Human activities: a terminator to local environmental changes

I agree with the villagers's view in this article. We should all have the common sense to know that polluted snow melts faster than perfectly pure snow, which is indeed hard to thaw. It is rational that the villagers constantly stressed to the climbers that they take away their dirty trash and pollutants.

The characteristic features of so-called global warming is actually just displayed by local climate change such as melting glaciers and polar icecap thinning. Which one of these, can you imagine, is not caused by more frequent and more intense human activities in places without human footprints ever before, which pollute local clean water, sky and earth?

I think global warming is caused by extraterrestrial radiation. But I think that human activity can have harmful, even fatal effects on the local environment. The environment is unable to escape the destiny of degradation. Human greed will ultimately destroy the earth.

(Translated by Ming Li.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

人类消融(1)

“小国寡民。使有什伯之器而不用,使民重死而不远徙。虽有舟舆,无所乘之;虽有甲兵,无所陈之。使民复结绳而用之。甘其食,美其服,安其居,乐其俗。邻国相望,鸡犬之声相闻,民至老死不相往来。”---引自老子的《道德经》。其中之反技术的观念在今日看来似乎难于理解,然就我看来,这位道家大师对人类竞争本性的癖好,有着极深邃地理解。

本评论由Ming Li翻译

MELTING HUMAN(1)

“A small country has fewer people. Though there are machines that can work ten to hundred times faster than man, they are not needed. The people take death seriously and do not travel far. Though they have boats and carriages, no one uses them. Though they have armour and weapons, no one displays them. Men return to the knotting of rope in place of writing. Their food is plain and good, their clothes fine but simple, their homes secure; they are happy in their ways. Though they live within sight of their neighbours, and crowing roosters and barking dogs are heard across the way, yet they never visit each other till death.” This quotation is from ancient “Tao Te Ching” of Lao Tsu. Its anti-technology idea seems incomprehensible in our modern time, but in my opinion, the Taoist master profoundly understood the weakness of the competitive nature of humankind.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

人类消融(2)

然而,现代科学冲破了神秘主义的禁锢。比如,中国那构建于道家“天人合一”观念,既简朴又自给自足的农业社会生活方式,在19世纪由于外部入侵与工业革命而受到影响。现在的中国已成了世界最大的日用品生产国。两千年来,对人与自然关系的神秘思索延续至今,不靠科学证据,中国人也对这一相互依存关系的理解达到了一个相当高的境界。与之对比鲜明的是,西方经由深奥的科学研究探索宇宙,获得了高度发展的技术。这些技术把人类送入太空、让我们驭空旅行及以精密的医疗设备挽救生命。技术的优势无以否认,而每一天我们还是从对自然的探索中学到了更多的真相。

本评论由Ming Li翻译

MELTING HUMAN(2)

However, modern science has triumphed over mysticism. For example, in the 19th Century, the Chinese agricultural society with their simple and self-sufficient ways of life based on the Taoist concept, “man and nature are one”, were affected by foreign invasion and the Industrial Revolution. Now, China has become the world’s biggest producer of commodities. The two thousand year tradition of mystically contemplating the relationship between man and nature has brought Chinese people to understand this interdependent relationship at a very high level without relying on scientific evidence. In contrast, the West has studied the universe through deep scientific research which has resulted in highly developed technology. These technologies have sent us to space, allowed us to travel by aeroplane, and saved lives through complex medical equipment. The advantage of technologies is undeniable, but everyday we still learn more truth about nature.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

人类消融(3)

我们怎么敢断言不靠技术,我们的生活会更好?问题是,更靠近自然真相的,究竟是中国的神秘式思索,还是西方的科学研究?我选择中国的神秘只是基于一个简单的理由:宇宙是绝不可能被完全了解的。尽管科学发现了不少奥秘,但相比于宇宙本身,我们仍是知之甚少。故而要在最高境界上了解宇宙,仅靠科学手段是做不到的,其反而需要在人与宇宙间进行复杂的对话与冥想。事实上,我们的生存已因技术而处在前所未有的威胁中。技术在全球范围内以激发竞争引发冲突的方式,把各国拉得比以往更为紧密得多。现代人对财富竞拼式的追求已过度耗竭了自然资源,并玷污了环境。

本评论由Ming Li翻译

MELTING HUMAN(3)

How can we dare to claim that our life would be better without technologies? The question is, which has been closer to the truth of nature, the Chinese mystical contemplation or the Western scientific research? My answer is the Chinese mysticism, for a simple reason. The universe will never be understood completely. Although scientific discoveries have achieved much, in comparison with the universe itself, we still know very little. Therefore understanding the universe at the highest level can not be achieved simply through scientific means, instead it requires complex dialogue and meditation between humankind and the universe. In fact, our survival has never been so much under threat because of technologies. They have brought nations closer than ever, both stimulating competition and conflicts on a global scale. Modern competitive pursuit of wealth has overly exhausted resources and polluted the environment.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

冰川消融

冰川消融是目前不争的事实,不仅在国内,而且在国外。我们已经知道冰川在消融,以什么样的速度在退缩,但我们对于抑制冰川的退缩却表现得无能为力。由于冰川退缩在短期势必带来洪灾,泥石流等自然灾害;从长期看,冰川这个高山纯净淡水水塔的将会消失殆尽。在30年或是50年或是百年之后,我们的子孙将会到哪儿去生存?目前发生的极端气候事件,也让我们怀疑《2012》是否会真的到来?这些灾难也应该让我们擦亮眼睛,保护我们的生态环境,我们要为自己的现在和未来生存处境而行动起来!
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Melting glaciers

Melting glaciers are an indisputable fact, not only in China but also outside. We already know that the glaciers are melting and at what speed they are retreating at, but we powerless in suppressing the retreat of these glaciers. Due to the retreating glaciers, natural disasters such as floods and mudslides are bound to happen in the short term; and in the long term, glaciers, a high mountain of pure water, will vanish. 30 years or 50 years or 100 years later, where will our children survive? The current extreme climate situation also makes us wonder whether the movie "2012" will really happen? These disasters should open our eyes to the situation and we need take action by protecting our ecological environment, for our existence in the present and future.