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[Duurzaamlijst] Dust Bowl Threatening China's Future

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------- Forwarded message follows -------
From:           	geno@zap.a2000.nl
To:             	ngin <ngin@icsenglish.com>, duurzaamlijst@ddh.nl
Date sent:      	Fri, 25 May 2001 00:58:40 +0200
Subject:        	[Duurzaamlijst] Dust Bowl Threatening China's Future

Forward from another list.

On 24 May 2001, at 12:41, Misha wrote:

Howdy, all--

 From Worldwatch. Thought it might interest you soil watchers, 
lovers, and similar ilk.



>Published on Thursday, May 24, 2001
> Dust Bowl Threatening China's Future
> by Lester Brown
> On April 18, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
>Administration (NOAA)
> laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, reported that a huge dust storm
> from
>northern China had
> reached the United States "blanketing areas from Canada to Arizona
> with a
>layer of dust."
> They reported that along the foothills of the Rockies the mountains
> were
>obscured by the
> dust from China.
> This dust storm did not come as a surprise. On March 10, 2001, The
> People's
> reported that the season's first dust storm-one of the earliest on
>record-had hit Beijing.
> These dust storms, coupled with those of last year, were among the
> worst in
> signaling a widespread deterioration of the rangeland and cropland
> in the
>country's vast
> northwest.
> These huge dust plumes routinely travel hundreds of miles to
> populous
>cities in
> northeastern China, including Beijing, obscuring the sun, reducing
>visibility, slowing traffic,
> and closing airports. Reports of residents in eastern cities
> caulking
>windows with old rags to
> keep out the dust are reminiscent of the U.S. dust bowl of the
> 1930s.
>Eastward moving
> winds often carry soil from China's northwest to North Korea, South
> Korea,
>and Japan,
> countries that regularly complain about dust clouds that both filter
> out
>the sunlight and cover
> everything with dust. Responding to pressures from their
> constituents, a
>group of 15
> legislators from Japan and 8 from South Korea are organizing a
> tri-national
>committee with
> Chinese lawmakers to devise a strategy to combat the dust.
> News reports typically attribute the dust storms to the drought of
> the last
>three years, but
> the drought is simply bringing a fast-deteriorating situation into
> focus.
>Human pressure on
> the land in northwestern China is excessive. There are too many
> people, too
>many cattle
> and sheep, and too many plows. Feeding 1.3 billion people, a
> population
>nearly five times
> that of the United States, is not an easy matter.
> In addition to local pressures on resources, a decision in Beijing
> in 1994
>to require that all
> cropland used for construction be offset by land reclaimed elsewhere
> has
>helped create the
> ecological disaster that is now unfolding. In an article in Land Use
>Policy, Chinese
> geographers Hong Yang and Xiubein Li describe the environmental
> effects of
>this offset
> policy. The fast-growing coastal provinces, such as Guandong,
> Shandong,
>Xheijiang, and
> Jiangsu, which are losing cropland to urban expansion and industrial
>construction, are
> paying other provinces to plow new land to offset their losses. This
>provided an initial
> economic windfall for provinces in the northwest, such as Inner
> Mongolia
>(which led the way
> with a 22-percent cropland expansion), Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, and
> As the northwestern provinces, already suffering from overplowing
> and
>overgrazing, plowed
> ever more marginal land, wind erosion intensified. Now accelerating
> wind
>erosion of soil and
> the resulting land abandonment are forcing people to migrate
> eastward, not
>unlike the U.S.
> westward migration from the southern Great Plains to California
> during the
>Dust Bowl years.
> While plows are clearing land, expanding livestock populations are
> denuding
>the land of
> vegetation. Following economic reforms in 1978 and the removal of
> controls
>on the size of
> herds and flocks that collectives could maintain, livestock
> populations
>grew rapidly. Today
> China has 127 million cattle compared with 98 million in the United
> States.
>Its flock of 279
> million sheep and goats compares with only 9 million in the United
> States.
> In Gonge County in eastern Quinghai Province, the number of sheep
> that
>local grasslands
> can sustain is estimated at 3.7 million, but by the end of 1998,
> sheep
>numbers there had
> reached 5.5 million, far beyond the land's carrying capacity. The
> result is
> grassland, desertification, and the formation of sand dunes.
> In the New York Times, Beijing Bureau Chief Erik Eckholm writes that
> "the
>rising sands are
> part of a new desert forming here on the eastern edge of the
> Quinghai-Tibet
>Plateau, a
> legendary stretch once known for grass reaching as high as a horse's
> belly
>and home for
> centuries to ethnic Tibetan herders." Official estimates show 900
> square
>miles (2,330
> square kilometers) of land going to desert each year. An area
> several times
>as large is
> suffering a decline in productivity as it is degraded by overuse.
> In addition to the direct damage from overplowing and overgrazing,
> the
>northern half of China
> is literally drying out as rainfall declines and aquifers are
> depleted by
>overpumping. Water
> tables are falling almost everywhere, gradually altering the
> region's
>hydrology. As water
> tables fall, springs dry up, streams no longer flow, lakes
> disappear, and
>rivers run dry. U.S.
> satellites, which have been monitoring land use in China for some 30
> years,
>show that
> literally thousands of lakes in the North have disappeared.
> Deforestation in southern and eastern China is reducing the moisture
>transported inland
> from the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea,
> writes
> Hongchang, a Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Where
> land
>is forested,
> the water is held and evaporates to be carried further inland. When
> tree
>cover is removed,
> the initial rainfall from the inland-moving, moisture-laden air
> simply runs
>off and returns to
> the sea. As this recycling of rainfall inland is weakened by
> deforestation,
>rainfall in the
> interior is declining.
> Reversing this degradation means stabilizing population and planting
> trees
> possible to help recycle rainfall inland. It means converting highly
>erodible cropland back to
> grassland or woodland, reducing the livestock population, and
> planting tree
>shelter belts
> across the windswept areas of cropland, as U.S. farmers did to end
> dust
>storms in the
> 1930s.
> In addition, another interesting option now presents itself-the use
> of wind
>turbines as
> windbreaks to reduce wind speed and soil erosion. With the cost of
> electricity now competitive with that generated from fossil fuels,
>constructing rows of wind
> turbines in strategic areas to slow the wind could greatly reduce
> the
>erosion of soil. This
> also affords an opportunity to phase out the use of wood for fuel,
> thus
>lightening the
> pressure on forests.
> The economics are extraordinarily attractive. In the U.S. Great
> Plains,
>under conditions
> similar to China's northwest, a large advanced design wind turbine
>occupying a tenth of a
> hectare of land can produce $100,000 worth of electricity per year.
> This
>source of rural
> economic regeneration fits in nicely with China's plan to develop
> the
> northwest.
> Reversing desertification will require a huge effort, but if the
> dust bowl
>continues to spread, it
> will not only undermine the economy, but it will also trigger a
> massive
>migration eastward.
> The options are clear: Reduce livestock populations to a sustainable
> level
>or face heavy
> livestock losses as grassland turns to desert. Return highly
> erodible
>cropland to grassland
> or lose all of the land's productive capacity as it turns to desert.
>Construct windbreaks with
> a combination of trees and, where feasible, wind turbines, to slow
> the wind
>or face even
> more soil losses and dust storms.
> If China cannot quickly arrest the trends of deterioration, the
> growth of
>the dust bowl could
> acquire an irreversible momentum. What is at stake is not just
> China's
>soil, but its future.
> Lester Brown, is the President of the Earth Policy Institute.
>                     Copyright Earth Policy Institute 2001
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