Tibet's Climate Crisis
Liner Notes / Pema Kunsal
Being an activist was never a choice. In a way, it felt more of a personal obligation to utilize my voice in surfacing social issues of any kind, whether it is within my community or on a broader global spectrum. As a Tibetan American, being the first in my family to be born and raised in the States, I was taught to always stay grounded to my roots and to always show up for the community. Climate consciousness and environmental protection have been a practice that is embedded in Tibetan culture and basic Buddhist practices.
As climate control grows to become a more dire issue, Tibet stands to be one of the front lines of the global climate crisis where temperatures are rising three times faster than the rest of the Earth. Tibet is known as the world’s Third Pole, where it holds the third-largest source of water-ice in the world, sourcing many of Asia’s rivers. Nearly 20% of the world’s population relies on freshwater from the Himalayan glaciers. The rapid rates of the Tibetan glaciers melting can cause substantial changes to the ecosystem disrupting local agriculture, such as increased flooding with lengthier drought periods, along with reducing access to freshwater to billions of people who rely on the Third Pole. The rising temperature leads to the melting of permafrost releasing large amounts of methane, further escalating the climate crisis.
Tibet’s climate crisis has deeply affected Tibetan nomads especially, where their livelihood consists of sustainably raising yak and other livestock through agricultural practices along the plateau that have existed for centuries. As of now, nearly 3 million Tibetan nomads have been forced to relocate by the occupying Chinese authorities who are stripping away their traditional livelihood. The nomadic lifestyle has played a significant role in obtaining environmental harmony across all spectrums of life, where these traditional practices and mindsets have been a driving force in maintaining the natural habitats. China has been the key contributor in causing an ecological imbalance on the Tibetan Plateau by investing in unregulated mining, exploiting Tibet’s natural resources, while also building large-scale dams through their water diversion projects, which threaten access to water security for over 1.4 billion people.
Many Tibetans risk their lives to continue to advocate for and protect the land by raising awareness about climate change on the Third Pole. This sense of interconnectedness between the land, people and all living beings, is rooted in Tibetan cultural and religious practices. The climate crisis in Tibet is not just an issue within the local community of Tibetans, but a rippling effect that will affect the lives of many on a global spectrum if immediate actions are not taken.
About the Author
Pema Kunsal was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in 2020 majoring in Public Health Sciences with a concentration in Global Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has been active in Students for a Free Tibet as a Liaison in the UMass Chapter from 2016-2020. Pema currently works in a COVID-19 Diagnostics Laboratory at Harvard University where she processes COVID-19 sample specimens. You can follow her on Instagram @exiledthoughts.