Source: China Digital Times (12/7/23)
Interview: Lobsang Yangtso on Tibet’s Environmental Crisis
By Sophie Beach
As the U.N. COP28 Climate Summit is underway in the United Arab Emirates, bringing together thousands of political leaders and environmental activists, one topic that is sure to get little attention there is the environmental crisis facing Tibet. Tibet is currently warming three times as fast as the rest of the world. It has the largest reserves of fresh water in the world outside the Arctic and Antarctica, supplying water to one fifth of the world’s population through the flow of its rivers to downstream countries. The Chinese government is extracting Tibet’s natural resources through damming and mining, destroying rivers and mountains that are considered sacred to much of the local population.
In the latest installment in our interview series focusing on Tibet, we spoke to Lobsang Yangtso, the Environmental Researcher at the International Tibet Network. She was born in Kham, Tibet, and later moved with her family to India. She received her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, where she wrote her thesis on “China’s Environmental Security Policies in Tibet: Implications to India, 2001-2013.” She has also worked as a Research Associate at the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, New Delhi. She regularly attends international environmental conferences and forums as an expert on Tibet’s environment. She recently spoke with CDT about how China’s infrastructure development is destroying Tibet’s environment, the challenges for Tibetans of being heard on the international stage, and how neighboring countries could do more to hold China accountable for the environmental destruction that is impacting the whole region. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
China Digital Times: You were born and spent the early part of your life in Tibet before leaving for India with your family. Could you tell us about the environment where you lived in Tibet, and how those early years might have influenced your current work?
Lobsang Yangtso: I was born in a semi-nomadic family, meaning that when I was in Tibet, my family used to do farming and keep animals as well. And so my village was very rural, where most of the people do farming as their livelihood. So that has really influenced how I see climate change and its impact on farming, and specifically on the farmers. I escaped from Tibet to India in 1991. Then in 2016, after 25 years, I was able to go back home and visit family. During that time, I realized that the farming and livelihoods, and how people depend on farming and animals, has really changed a lot. In front of my house in Tibet, there used to be a small river. And when I was very young, we could just drink straight from that river. Then when I went back home in 2016, that small river was not drinkable at all. I could see lots of waste and garbage on the river. So that has also changed a lot. In my hometown, how people live and how they worship the mountain deities, and believe in the sacred mountain—I still remember that way of life. That has also been their way of protecting the environment. The kind of work that I do right now, I can really see the impact. It’s really important, the impact of climate change on farmers and nomads, and how the local people understand the environment. So these issues are very close to my heart. Continue reading