Event Series Highlights Threats to Tibet’s Glaciers

Tibet accounts for an estimated 14.5 percent of the world’s total glacier mass, but climate change and air pollution are an increasing threat to the nation’s glaciers. The retreat of these glaciers causes grasslands to shrink and permafrost to thaw. It also endangers the water supply of those who rely on the Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Indus, Brahmaputra, and Yellow Rivers—all of which are fed by water from Tibet’s glaciers.

During the week leading up to World Environment Day, which occurred on June 5, four groups—the University of Washington’s South Asia Center, the Canada-Tibet Committee, the Mountain Resiliency Project, and the Himalayan Mountain International Film Festival—teamed up for series of events in British Columbia and Seattle, Washington to highlight why China needs to address environmental degradation. The groups hoped to bring awareness to the fact that there was too little discussion happening in China or at the United Nations about the negative environmental impacts taking place on the Tibetan Plateau and their impacts on people living downstream.

Courtesy of Tsechu Dolma

World Environment Day was established in 1972 when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution creating the celebration. June 5 was chosen because it marked the beginning of the Stockholm Conference, which took place June 5-12, 1972 and was the first, major United Nations summit on environmental issues.

A different country leads the effort each year by choosing a theme for the day that is recognized by more than 143 UN member nations. In the past, host countries and themes have included India and plastic pollution, Angola and the illegal wildlife trade, and Barbados and the dangers of rising sea levels.

China led the 2019 celebration, titled “Beat Air Pollution.” The goal was to promote renewable energy and other green technologies that could help improve air quality around the world. According to the UN World Environment Day website, more than 6 billion people breathe air that puts their health at risk. Nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed World Health Organization guidelines. That exposure is lowering life expectancy and harming economies.

Social activist, founder of the Mountain Resiliency Project, and former GlacierHub writer Tsechu Dolma spoke to GlacierHub about the China-themed World Environment Day events. “Whatever happens on the Tibetan Plateau and in the rest of Asia will impact all of our livelihoods around the world because the Tibetan plateau is home to the largest reserve of freshwater outside of the poles,” she said.

She added that the Chinese government has devoted a great deal of resources to buildings dams on the headwaters of major rivers originating in Tibet, which impacts the water supply for millions of people living in the region.

Source: Dream Tibet Travel

The events, said Dolma, were also meant to provide a space for Tibetans to share their opinions on China’s air pollution. “Tibetans are considered indigenous people of China,” she said, “and so [the organizers] wanted to elevate indigenous voices on what World Environment Day means for people living within China.”

Dolma stated that she believes that the Chinese government is making an effort to rectify some of the environmental damage it has caused. “It realizes that thousands of people in China are dying from pollution, and the environmental impacts directly undermine the government’s legitimacy for the people,” she said.

The high-profile participation of the Chinese government was, according to Dolma, “their way of putting in an effort.” But, she added, it was picking and choosing which issues to highlight and downplaying its role in perpetuating the problem.

World Environment Day is largely about raising public awareness about environmental degradation and providing a forum for UN nations to outline potential solutions, such as expanding access to public transportation and electric vehicles, encouraging energy efficiency and conservation, and reducing meat and dairy dairy consumption, which produces high amounts of methane emissions. Governments were encouraged to increase investment in renewable energy, while the private sector was encouraged to cut emissions along its supply chains.

A prominent event of 2019’s World Environment Day celebration was the Mask Challenge. Organizers asked participants from around the world to post on social media a photograph of themselves wearing a protective mask and pledging to take some type of action that could help reduce air pollution. Thousands of people across the globe, including singer Ellie Goulding and model Gisele Bundchen, participated in the event using the hashtag #BeatAirPollution.

The UN also turned to social media to highlight science about air pollution, including one study conducted by the National Institute of Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems in Peru. The study focused on black carbon, which comes from vehicular and industrial emissions, wildfires, and the burning of waste. The soot from those sources can accumulate on the surface of glaciers, which darkens them and increases the amount of sunlight they absorb. China’s air pollution and even the oil fires in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War have been sources of black carbon in Tibet.

The British Columbia and Seattle events were aimed, according to Dolma, to raise awareness on how this is a planetary crisis. “And whatever happens on the Tibetan Plateau and in the rest of Asia will impact all of our livelihoods around the world,” she said.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Dispatch from the Cryosphere: Glacier Decrease in the Georgian Caucasus

How Mountain-Dwellers Talk About Adapting to Melting Glaciers

New Funds Help Girls On Ice Canada Expand Access to Glacier Expeditions

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Roundup: World Environment Day, Mount Everest Deaths, and Kangerlussuaq Glacier Retreat

June 5, 2019 is World Environment Day

From GlacierHub writer and environmentalist Tsechu Dolma: “China is hosting World Environment Day 2019, its mounting environmental crisis is endangering hundreds of millions and downstream nations, what happens on the Tibetan plateau has profound consequences on rest of Asia.”

Everest traffic jam blamed for climber deaths

From the New York Times: “Climbers were pushing and shoving to take selfies. The flat part of the summit, which he estimated at about the size of two Ping-Pong tables, was packed with 15 or 20 people. To get up there, he had to wait hours in a line, chest to chest, one puffy jacket after the next, on an icy, rocky ridge with a several-thousand foot drop.

[…]

This has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Everest, with at least 11 deaths. And at least some seem to have been avoidable.”

Exceptional retreat of Kangerlussuaq Glacier

From Frontiers of Earth Science: “Kangerlussuaq Glacier is one of Greenland’s largest tidewater outlet glaciers, accounting for approximately 5% of all ice discharge from the Greenland ice sheet. In 2018 the Kangerlussuaq ice front reached its most retreated position since observations began in 1932. We determine the relationship between retreat and: (i) ice velocity; and (ii) surface elevation change, to assess the impact of the retreat on the glacier trunk. Between 2016 and 2018 the glacier retreated ∼5 km and brought the Kangerlussuaq ice front into a major (∼15 km long) overdeepening. Coincident with this retreat, the glacier thinned as a result of near-terminus acceleration in ice flow. The subglacial topography means that 2016–2018 terminus recession is likely to trigger a series of feedbacks between retreat, thinning, and glacier acceleration, leading to a rapid and high-magnitude increase in discharge and sea level rise contribution. Dynamic thinning may continue until the glacier reaches the upward sloping bed ∼10 km inland of its current position. Incorporating these non-linear processes into prognostic models of the ice sheet to 2100 and beyond will be critical for accurate forecasting of the ice sheet’s contribution to sea level rise.”

On April 19, IceBridge’s 23rd flight of the Arctic 2011 campaign surveyed numerous glaciers in southeast Greenland including Kangerlugssuaq Glacier. The calving front of the glacier gives way to ice floating in the fjord, referred to by some as a sikkusak, or mélange. (Source: NASA ICE/Michael Studinger via Flickr)

Read More on GlacierHub:

UNESCO-Recognized Glaciers Could Shrink 60 Percent by End of Century

Scientists Catch Tibetan Snowcocks on Camera in their High-Elevation Habitats

GlacierHub Seeks Contributors for Its New, International Feature Series

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Photo Friday: The First Annual ‘Mountain Prize’ Award

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) will confer its first-ever Mountain Prize award in 2018! Open to both individuals and organizations, the prize seeks to recognize those who have “demonstrated outstanding efforts enabling sustainable and resilient mountain development in the HKH (Hindu Kush Himalaya) region to benefit the environment as well as the communities – particularly the poor, the youth, and the women.”

Individuals or organizations that enter the competition stand a chance to win $5,000.

The nomination process ends this month on 30 April, and the winner will be announced on 5 June 2018, which just so happens to be World Environment Day.

For more information on how to qualify, check out the link to the new annual ICIMOD competition here.

This Photo Friday, take a peek at photos from some of ICIMOD’s past award competitions.

ICIMOD’s Single Photo Contest Winners

 

Hard Life by Susheel Shrestha
First Place was awarded to “Hard Life” by Susheel Shrestha, which portrays local female porters carrying wooden planks to build a new hotel at Kyanjing Gompa in Rasuwa district (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Women and their livelihood to combat climate change
Second Place was awarded to “Women and their livelihood to combat climate change” by Upakar Bhandari, which showcases Hukam village, a mountain village of Rukum where women grow mountain crops to feed their families (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Another Tree Sacrificed by Didar Ali
Third Place was awarded to “Another Tree Sacrificed” by Didar Ali, which depicts the hardships of the Wakhi/Pamirians living in Gojal valley, Pakistan. Having no alternatives, they rely on wood for cooking and heating (Source: ICIMOD).

 

Resilient Hindu Kush Photo Story Contest

 

From Peaks to Plains - Troubled Waters along the Gandaki River
The winner of this prize was “From Peaks to Plains – Troubled Waters along the Gandaki River” by Alice Chautard, which follows the Kali Gandaki river as it originates from Himalayan glaciers in the desert-dry region of Upper Mustang, at the border with Tibet (Source: ICIMOD).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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