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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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匿名 | Anonymous




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


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.


Chen Ping

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


[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



本评论由Ming Li翻译


“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.

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匿名 | Anonymous



本评论由Ming Li翻译


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



本评论由Ming Li翻译


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.

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匿名 | Anonymous


[email protected]

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.