May 25, 2010
Chinese engineers recently proposed a plan for the world's largest hydroelectric dam on the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra, considered Tibet's last great undammed river. Tibet's river systems water much of China itself, as well as south and southeast Asia, and India has raised concerns that Beijing will try and divert water away from south Asia, but this concern is probably far-fetched.
China leads the world in building coal-powered plants—at the rate of one new plant every week*—and the country's need for power is great. China is the factory for a huge proportion of goods eventually sold in the United States, Europe, and all over the globe. Hydroelectric power is cleaner than coal power, but damming rivers carries its own heavy costs.
The ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau is extremely fragile, and has already gotten a busy new airport. China plans to have 97 airports completed on the plateau by 2020. A high-altitude railroad links Tibet to mainland China, and has brought many tourists and job seekers to Tibet since its completion in 2006.
There is more discussion of this project on the blog of environmentalist Tashi Tsering, Tibetan Plateau.
*The United States, on the other hand, builds a new prison every week.