Revolutionary Worker #764, July 10, 1994
Over the last two decades, Tibet has seen an accelerating deterioration of its environment. The current government is aggressively seeking to extract natural resources as cheaply as possible.
Tibet is rich in dozens of key mineral ores--including copper, chromium, gold, borax, and uranium. There are reports that the government is using barren areas of Tibet to store radioactive waste--and even "renting out" Tibet for the nuclear waste from Western countries.
However, the most extreme environmental destruction is taking place in the forested areas on the eastern slopes of the Tibetan plateau--which contains the second largest forest "biomass" in China. This region is not in the Tibet Autonomous Region itself--but in a neighboring province of Sichuan which has a significant Tibetan population.
Timbering started in these eastern forests long ago and increased as China industrialized after the 1949 revolution--however the "harvesting" of these forests took a qualitative leap after the revisionist (anti-Maoist) coup of 1976.
In the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (July-September 1993), AnTonia Shouse writes: "Uncontrolled and uncoordinated agricultural and industrial interests have rapidly accelerated this decline in the last ten years." Entire mountains are being systematically clearcut--leaving behind mountainsides eroded down to the bedrock. Increasing silt in China's rivers has contributed to major flooding since 1981. This clearcutting of hardwood for sale is typical of the way capitalism rapes the forested regions of oppressed countries--like the Amazon, Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, Africa--and it is evidence of the restoration of capitalism in China after the mid-seventies. Pre-1976 revolutionary transformations carried out under Mao undoubtedly affected Tibet's environment. The building of roads, the raising of the standard of living of the Tibetan people, the breakdown of Buddhist taboos against hunting, the development of new waterworks, light industries and irrigation, the opening-up of new grasslands for food production, the use of new grains and crops--all certainly changed the relationship between humans and their surroundings. While some experiments didn't pan out, and some errors were made, these progressive measures fundamentally served the people.
Something profoundly different unfolded after the 1976 restoration of capitalism. China's new revisionist rulers overthrew the Maoist-socialist policy of building self-reliant light industry in China's countryside, including Tibet. Now, they say, industry must be built by "rational" criteria--meaning the laws of profit-making. In Tibet, many smaller light industries that served the people and created a new Tibetan working class have been closed down. The single-minded focus of the revisionists has been extractive industries--mining and timber--which have been overwhelmingly staffed with workers and technicians of China's majority Han people (instead of Tibetans).
This is a classic capitalist "development strategy for backward, resource-rich areas." And it is having classic capitalist results: It is enriching the capitalist class of China, placing the country as a whole in the grip of world imperialist markets and corporations, distorting economic life in Tibet in ways that hurt the people's livelihood--and it is leaving a devastated environment in its wake.
China specialist Orville Schell recently described that there is now "a growing laissez-faire economy at the local level...they can't afford to care about the environment because of the pressure to increase production." These eco-crimes are part and parcel of similar crimes the revisionists have carried out throughout the rest of China. Orville Schell points out that the environmental destruction in Tibet is not worse than the destruction in the rest of China--it is just starting to get as bad.
Schell contrasts these developments to the revolutionary approaches under Mao, saying, "You were expected to struggle with all your heart to serve the people, not yourself.... The environmental benefits of this kind of anti-consumerism are obvious.... The situation today, however, has radically changed under Deng's reforms."
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