Various anthropogenic factors on the Tibetan Plateau are also responsible for speeding up the environmental degradation and its associated problems. One of the major causes has been the Chinese government’s policy to bring changes in land use, in particular, conversion of grassland into cropland to maximize agricultural production. In addition, several developmental projects and mining activities are also adding to the ecological problems in Tibet.
A case in point is the construction of Siling-Lhasa Highway (SLH) (Ch: Qinghai-Tibet Highway) in 1959 which led to severe degradation of the permafrost soil and the vegetation along the highway and adjoining areas. The damaged vegetative mat led to the loss of organic matter and carbon in the soil, and the melting of the warm permafrost layer under the topsoil. The degradation of the permafrost was further aggravated during the road width expansion and reconstruction of SLH between 1973 and 1984. Recent researchers have also indicated that the permafrost degradation on the Tibetan Plateau are mainly attributed to human interventions or the surface disturbances over the past several decades, while the global warming has played a secondary role in speeding up the degradation.
China has been constructing a series of dams on Tibet’s major rivers, disregarding the implications on Tibet’s fragile ecology. These dams have proved controversial as they involve massive relocation of people and their homes, and the environmental impact of altering landscape and ecosystems. Besides these immediate environmental and social problems, there are other issues that will threaten the dams and the peoples living in its shadow. Most of areas of the Tibetan Plateau are an active seismic zone, where earthquakes are frequent and often severe. The weight of water stored in the dam has been found scientifically to be sufficient to trigger seismic events.
The unchecked and large-scale mining operation on the Plateau causes several social and ecological consequences. The impact of mining has be discussed in greater detail in our previous post.
Furthermore, other human-induced factors that contributes to the environmental degradation in the Tibetan Plateau includes construction of railroad tracks, reclamation of communal land and pastures to allow commercial development, large-scale illegal harvesting of wild medicinal herbs on grasslands, and elimination of indigenous predators causing growth of pest species etc.