Re: Guest Post - The Greater East Asia Fuck-You-And-Your-Topsoil Sphere

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OP* is wrong. Most actual and planned dams are in the lower basin, not China. However the upstream China dams are collectively the biggest sediment trap, and Chinese firms and finance are heavily involved in many lower basin dams.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 10:55 AM
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I had no idea the Mekong started in China.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 11:05 AM
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Also, apparently it's just the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation [sic].


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 11:08 AM
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2: Likewise the Salween, Irrawaddy, Brahmaputra, Indus, Red...Fun times ahead.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 11:13 AM
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2: Likewise the Salween, Irrawaddy, Brahmaputra, Indus, Red...Fun times ahead.

That's the reason why China cares so much about Tibet, correct?

Forty-six per cent of the world's population depend upon rivers originating in Tibet, including the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween and Mekong rivers. Rapid population growth, industrialisation and climate change, however, threaten water security across South and South-East Asia. With China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand all dependent on rivers that have their headwaters in Tibet, predicted water shortages threaten the livelihoods of millions of people living in countries downstream.

In 1950, Mao Zedong annexed Tibet, largely due to its strategic position and its water resources. China is, overall, an arid country and water security is regarded as an important national security issue. Building dams, irrigation systems and diversion projects is considered vital not just for providing water to its 1.3 billion people, but also for ensuring internal political stability. Any alteration to China's control of Tibet and its water could alter the distribution of power between China and the countries downstream as well as cause heightened internal tensions, a notion that Beijing will be reluctant to countenance.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 11:21 AM
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5 last is true but AFAIK drastically overstates the case. IIRC the PRC inherited from the ROC, a claim to sovereignty over Tibet, based in turn on a Qing protectorate there. I assume the annexation had far more to do with establishing succession to the ROC (and Mao's general megalomania) than than any farsighted water strategy, and likewise the continuing occupation and assimilation.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 11:28 AM
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War is bad, but at least having one called "the Sedimental War" would make history more fun for the decedents of survivors.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 11:52 AM
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The Mekong River with Sue Perkins was a four episode series on Netflix that touches on the changes that the existing dams are creating and that are projected for the new dams. (It's mostly a light travel show, but they interact with the locals and have an environmental viewpoint.)


Posted by: Mooseking | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 11:57 AM
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Ooh, I know this one! I've been up and down the Mekong from the Tibetan border to Vietnam.

China wants dams for two things: hydropower and political influence. Up in the Upper Lancang area, the Mekong is small, like maybe twenty feet. The silt up there comes from construction and mining, and there was a lot of construction when I was there. Whole mountainaides getting blasted into the river and such.

It's in the rest of Yunnan that the river is more, to the naked eye, productively dammable, and the terrain isn't so, I don't know the word, siltable? So that's where they were getting their power when I was there like five years ago. It's easy to see this as an unqualified environmental disaster, but this is what the CCP's big anti-climate change push looks like. They're aggressively trying to move people away from doing things like throwing hunks of raw coal in cast iron stoves to heat their homes in the winter.

I also know they're doing a huge expansion in Laos. There are villages that had no electricity and only river access that are being integrated into the Chinese economy. Those rivers are being dammed up and traditional Lao/Hmong/Akha society is losing its lifeline. I suppose if they survived the war, they'll survive this.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:03 PM
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Whole mountainaides getting blasted into the river and such.

You can see that in West Virginia without so much travel.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:05 PM
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Anyway, presumably China's cities are downwind from those cast-iron stove but not downriver from where the silt isn't. It's good for their environment.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:09 PM
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(Partly pwned on preview.)
The link in 5 gets a lot of stuff wrong. It conflates the Tibetan plateau with "Tibet", which isn't right in any sense. The modern TAR covers only ~1/2 the plateau*. Many of the headwaters are on the plateau, but not in the TAR; most of the Mekong dams in particular are in Yunnan, not even on the Tibetan plateau, as 5 states. The Ganges also doesn't start in China. Many of its tributaries have headwaters there, but based on the maps they get most of their water south of the border.
It's also wrong to talk constantly about water, the Chinese dams are almost entirely about electricity. The plateau is pretty dry, and the upstream rivers are small. What they have is hydropower potential, in virtue of their gradients. For the same reason they generate disproportionate quantities of sediment, hence the focus of the OP.
5 also mentions the South-North Diversions in China. Based on wiki, those are all going to divert water from the Yangtze basin, which is entirely within China, and mostly not even on the plateau, much less the TAR.
*Historical and cultural Tibet is bigger than the TAR, but those borders are based on those established established by treaty with the Qing in the 18th C, so it's not just an arbitrary internal PRC division.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:19 PM
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Are there salmon to worry about? That's what lets activists stop dams here. You need a victim more photogenic than people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:26 PM
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The Ganges proper doesn't take as much water from Tibet, but the Brahmaputra, probably its most important tributary, does--if I'm reading the numbers on Wikipedia correctly, it contributes more flow to the combined river (which goes through a bunch of different names) than the Ganges proper. Any changes to the Brahmaputra, or as it's known in Tibet the Yarlung Tsangpo, are going to have significant effects on Northeast India and especially Bangladesh.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:27 PM
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13: There are river dolphins!


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:38 PM
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14: All true, but the Brahmaputra (3,800km long) joins the Ganges 120km from the sea.
5 link is also substantially wrong about dams increasing salinity at the deltas*. That happens while reservoirs are filling, but after that they actually help by evening out flow through the year, which reduces saline intrusion in the dry season. By the same token they also mitigate floods (and reduce deposition on floodplains).
*This is true for the Mekong, but the other rivers are in the same monsoon system, so similar things should apply.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:39 PM
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That seems cruel to smoke and put on a bagel.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 12:39 PM
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16: I'm not sure what you're getting at. My point is that there are two downstream countries that are getting significant waterflow from a river that's mostly in China, as well as silt flow--the Yarlung Tsangpo is braided (check it out on a map, it's beautiful), which tends to mean highly erosive.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:03 PM
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I feel like a trip where you trek into Tibet/Himalayas and then take one of the rivers to the sea and end up in Nagaland/Assam/Bengal/Bangladesh would be incredible. Add that to list of fantasy trips I will never do.

I have been on the Mekong, years ago. Of course as you sail up it you risk running into an insane Marlon Brando ruling over a renegade army of savages.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:06 PM
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I know easier ways to find an insane, bloated Nebraskan.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:07 PM
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17 is great.
18: My point is simply that saying "the Ganges originates in Tibet" is significantly misleading. The effects of damming the Brahmaputra in Tibet would fall on NE India and Bangladesh; the Ganges flows through northern India.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:09 PM
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19: The first few attempts to kayak the entirety of the Yarlung Tsangpo, which were only in the 1990s, ended in death. Which is metal, and hence up your alley. It does sound like a really cool trip, but I can't imagine ever being in good enough shape to do that. I'll limit my fantasy hikes to no harder than the Pacific Crest Trail.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:10 PM
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I'm going to do the PCT if my mobility outlasts my need to work for a living.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:14 PM
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2017 was a deadly year for that one. Not as deadly as kayaking the Yarlung Tsangpo, but then pretty deadly for a recreational activity in California that doesn't involve guns.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:15 PM
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Thanks, MC, for looking at the article in 5. I didn't know anything about that organization, but it was the first article that I found with the information I was looking for, and it looked plausible. But I appreciate you pushing back on some of what it presents.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:19 PM
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18: Are you counting Myanmar? People are sleeping on the Nujiang. It's the longest undammed river in Asia and Chinese environmentalists won a massive, ten year long battle last year to keep it that way. The Three Parallel Rivers area (where the Mekong, Yangtze, and Nujiang almost converge) is one of my favorite spots on Earth. I think I've gone on about it before.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:40 PM
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21: Gotcha, agree completely with that (which is why I called out NE India and Bangladesh). I just wanted to be clear that China does have real influence on the water policy of South Asia, even though it can't do much about the big cities of the North Indian Plain.

26: No, I wasn't, but that sounds amazing.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:44 PM
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"Nujiang City" was the worst Mario Van Peebles movie


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 1:52 PM
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22, 23: Guys, do the PNT. Shorter, no desert, less crowded.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 2:28 PM
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That looks really hard to get resupplied on.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 4:49 PM
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15: not any more, alas, at least not in the Yangtze. Was at uni with someone who became one of the world experts on them. He's a bit depressed now.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04-10-18 11:16 PM
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Fisheries disruption is/will be a big thing on the LMB though, almost as big as agriculture. Dams trap nutrients as well as sediment, reduced floods give fish less eating in flooded forests.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 12:01 AM
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15. Douglas Adams wrote about the river dolphins in "Last Chance to See." They were mostly blind due to pollution in the river, and now they are extinct, as 31 points out.

19. I have hiked on the upper reaches of the Yangtze (Tiger Leaping Gorge), near Lijiang. In that area the river is not huge but it is heavily silted and seems to have good water volume.

I heard since that the Chinese plan to dam the river somewhere in that vicinity, which would be very sad. It's a beautiful hike, on which you spend about equal time admiring the scenery ("Look! A rhododendron the size of a house!") and the landscape ("Look out! Take one tiny step to the right and you will fall 500 meters!").


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 5:13 AM
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Big rhododendron are everywhere around here. I never considered they were native until I walked out into the woods and saw huge piles of them.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 5:15 AM
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They're not native (unless you're posting from SW China or thereabouts) but they were widely exported as ornamental plants in the 19th century and are highly invasive. They don't mind cold weather, shade or poor soil as long as there's a reasonable amount of water. There's a load of them growing wild in Scotland; not great because they overshadow everything else and nothing much eats them.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 5:38 AM
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It's invasive over there, possibly because you if guns are outlawed, only outlaws can shoot a shrubbery, but there are species in North America that predate human occupation of the continent. Apparently, you'll never understand rhododendron unless you first study plate tectonics.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 5:49 AM
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It's kind of fascinating. I feel a little bit bad that I hacked down the one I had by my driveway and replaced it with some daffodils and mulch.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 5:52 AM
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My grandfather had one in Buffalo that grew two stories tall. About a third of his slide decks were pictures of the rhododendron in bloom or with leaves or under snow. I planted my own this fall because it makes me think of him.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 5:55 AM
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I didn't even know you could buy one that big.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 6:00 AM
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36: interesting. Thanks. Somehow I spent two months of my teenage years cataloguing rhododendron holotype specimens (the fun never stopped) without coming across any that weren't from SW China or thereabouts. They were mostly Victorian in vintage and Kiplingesque in nomenclature: "Salween-Sittang Divide" was a popular label on those collected and labelled in flawless Victorian copperplate by this man. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Dalton_Hooker


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 6:03 AM
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I'm assuming this was an in-lieu-of-a-criminal-record type deal?


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 6:15 AM
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Your poor parents. I was only riding around the country drinking and this caused my parents no end of stress. If I'd have started cataloging plants, I don't know how they could have handled it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 6:15 AM
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I think they were just relieved I didn't copy his facial hair.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 6:39 AM
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It's also the closest I've ever been to James Bond, because there was a guy of that name working in the next lab along.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 6:39 AM
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There's a load of them growing wild in Scotland; not great because they overshadow everything else and nothing much eats them.

There are no deer in Scotland or they are all wimps.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 04-11-18 5:26 PM
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There are a load of deer in Scotland, but the rhododendron we have - R. ponticum - is toxic to deer and indeed pretty much everything else. Some rhododendrons are; some aren't. R. ponticum is basically a real-life upas tree.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 1:43 AM
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It's so poisonous that even honey produced by bees which have fed on the flower is toxic, and if eaten will give you mad honey disease. (Band name.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 1:45 AM
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I don't think deer eat it here if they have any other options. It's not very high on my own personal list of "should that go in a salad?"


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 5:05 AM
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Not that deer and I are working from the same list. They won't go near Dorthy Lynch dressing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 5:22 AM
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48. Where I live there is huge deer overpopulation, as our local deer predators (coyotes, automobiles, bow hunters in season) don't kill all that many.

If the winter is hard, and most of them have been hard recently, they eat rhodies almost last. Last are hollys. Well, actually last is anything that looks remotely like a plant, so dead branches of last year's growth barely sticking out of the snow. Far more of them starve than are predated.

It is claimed we have over 100 deer per square mile, although that seems high to me. We have maybe a dozen that regularly check out our yard. Some neighbors report more. Fencing doesn't keep them out, spraying doesn't keep them out. Mostly they just look at us and laugh.

Aside from the honey thing, I'd love to replant with r. ponticum. What could possibly go wrong?


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 5:51 AM
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It's not nearly so bad here, possibly because there are more deer hunters. You need to fence a new tree if you want the deer not to eat the bark in the winter, but few seem to get hungry enough to eat rhododendron.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 5:55 AM
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51 sounds like you need to start running an annual hind cull. That's what tends to happen over here. Or at least extend the stalking season a bit.

What could go wrong is that R. ponticum spreads fast and kills everything else that grows. You'd have a deer-free garden, but it would be just a dark, silent tangle of rhododendon stems.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 6:26 AM
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I'll be doing the hind cull, baby


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 6:48 AM
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Goddamnit that was supposed to be in the Telly Savalas voice


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 6:48 AM
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It was in my head.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 7:00 AM
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52: Locally, shooting deer in the city is about as politically contentious as pointing out that black people will continue to exist. Which is to say, alarmingly contentious.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 7:02 AM
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Mad honey disease appears to be a lot less awesome that it sounds.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 7:06 AM
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Due to the risk of having acquired Mad Cow Disease while having lived in England for more than six months during the early 90s, I'm not allowed to donate blood.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 7:08 AM
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Mad Money disease can lead to alopecia, elevated blood pressure, and loss of cognitive function.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 7:31 AM
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Well played


Posted by: RH | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 7:35 AM
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Mad honey disease actually sounds more like a blues song.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 7:38 AM
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I don't even own a tv, so 59 was hard for me to figure out.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 7:40 AM
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You'd have a deer-free garden, but it would be just a dark, silent tangle of rhododendron stems.

That's what it is now, thanks to the deer, if by "stems" you mean "stems with no leaves on them."

As for culling, we do get bow hunters in during the two-month season here, but you have to get permission from each individual land owner for them to hunt on the landowner's property. It is tedious to get that. You also can't hunt on conservation land, public land, etc.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 8:25 AM
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The season over here runs from July to February. Might explain why there aren't quite so many deer around...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04-12-18 8:30 AM
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