When you edit a series of books you love every one of them. But the publishing Gods being what they are, some books just don’t get the attention they deserve – perhaps they’re too ahead of the curve? I really believe Gabriel Lafitte’s Spoiling Tibet: China and Resource Nationalism on the Roof of the World was one such book. So I’m grabbing this opportunity to talk about it again – it’s still amazingly prescient and an in-depth study of something that affects us all – the spoilation of Tibet and the dislocation of its traditional communities to mine rare earths – the chemical elements found in every smart phone and laptop as well as, perhaps ironically, most clean energy, health care and environmental technology.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Beijing chose to celebrate this occupation by holding a large parade in the Tibetan capital Lhasa featuring largely marching Chinese soldiers to underline the occupation of the territory Beijing calls an “autonomous region”. Spoiling Tibet talks about a very different place; a place where Beijing’s 12th Five-Year Plan, from 2011 to 2015, has led to massive investment in copper, gold, silver, chromium and lithium mining in the region, with devastating environmental and social outcomes. These “outcomes” include destruction of traditional nomadic pastoral lands, spoliation of air, water and earth, forced relocation, Chinese occupation of Tibetan ancestral lands and vast profits extracted from Tibetan earth and made by Chinese state companies controlled by the Communist Party.
Your laptop, e-reader, smart phone likely contain rare earths extracted from Tibet’s sacred mountains. The profits from these mining operations goes to support the continued harsh Chinese repressive state apparatus in Tibet. Yet it remains a little known and talked about issue. Gabriel’s book describes the process and the consequences in detail and so deserves to be read at a time when Tibetans are fighting to save their physical environment as well as their religious landscape from destruction.