Guest post by Feng Yongfeng
Over 100 people have been buried by a recent landslide in a village in Guizhou. The residents believe that the cause of the landslide may have something to do with a nearby power plant built in 2004. But geologists have rejected this claim, using their reputation as experts to avoid the spread of rumors. In the eyes of the experts, this project may not be large in scope, but for the villagers it is unprecedented.
Like so many other incidents that happen in China every year, this landslide is said to have been triggered by heavy rain. The “power of nature” has once again exceeded our ability to prevent natural disasters. Some people do not want to see a connection between anthropogenic projects and natural disasters; instead, they argue that disasters happen because of the absence of such projects, and put the blame on heavy rain, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes or long droughts.
In some areas facing geological threats, there is only a small number of natural trees left, and the locals – and people with at least some life experience – know that continued deforestation could make the entire region a landslide victim in the future. Regardless of how far technologies will advance, they will not be able to fix the ecological hole left by trees.
Rivers are also affected. Dredging work, housing construction and the building of dams all reduce the area of water eco-systems.
China’s land is used for large-scale projects, which have changed its physical characteristics. Human beings are forcing indigenous species out of their habitat, and most regions suffer from unrestrained human intervention and the frequent occurrence of “major natural disasters” caused by ecological degradation.
Whenever a disaster occurs, we try to find a “scapegoat” for the wrongdoings of humankind and blame the environment’s ailing capacity for our faults. The Qinghai earthquake in April this year and ecological migration programmes will perhaps make us aware that the safest earthquake-proof buildings are not made of reinforced concrete, but of ox hair, like the tents of herdsmen in the past.
Regions are in fact very similar. To understand landslides, it is necessary to look at how the ground surface has changed and been distorted as a result of human intervention. To understand floods, you need to check whether forests have been planted for profit in river basins, or whether the watercourse is used as farm land. Looking at whether or not dams have been built in the upper reaches of a river or whether desolate mountains have been turned into gold mountains can help prevent county cities from being flooded. It seems that our present approach – controlling forests, deserts, rivers and eco-systems through human projects – has too many deficiencies and is rooted in past attempts to control human beings. To simply take “heavy rain” as the cause of natural disasters is, in fact, irrational. This is perhaps the result of some experts’ lack of knowledge or loss of morality. Local villagers might be the ones with the most thorough knowledge, since they understand the local ecology best. We should listen to them and consider their concerns.
We still need to learn how to see the truth through nature and not through the narrow-mindedness of humankind. Even if natural disasters are triggered by “heavy rain”, we should take a close look at the environment around us to see if it may be more vulnerable than us. Let nature take its course and restore its original state.