China Paves Road To Mount Everest

For those looking for symbols of environmental change in China today, there is sadly no shortage. To the top of the pile we can now add a particularly vivid one: a highway to be paved at the top of the world. As Xinhua reported yesterday, China will build a 67-mile "paved highway fenced with undulating guardrails" up to the Mt. Everest base camp, partly in order to accommodate the "green" Olympics' monumental torch run, which China says will reach the 29,035-foot summit of Everest. It's the world's highest mountain in what was until recently one of the world's most remote areas. The 150 million yuan (£10m) project, set to start next week and take about four months to complete, will eventually become part of the new Tibetan tourist experience. The highway is only the latest symbol of China's fast-expanding highway network and an unsustainable (and politically charged) development that is tarnishing some of the country's most valuable cultural and natural sites. For instance, the Qinghai-Tibet railway, completed last summer, has been blamed for threatening both the culture and nature of the Tibetan landscape and for strengthening China's grip over a province that some insist should be independent. "On completion, the highway will become the major route for tourists and mountaineers who are crowding onto Mount Qomolangma, known in the west as Mount Everest, in ever larger numbers," Xinhua wrote. Paved roads, and their construction, is of course harmful to local organic life, air quality, and soil, all of which are especially sensitive in Tibet's fragile environment. And aside from the obvious threats to Tibet's cultural and natural heritage from increasing crowds of tourists (Japanese climber Ken Noguchi has recently returned from his latest clean-up trip on Everest, hauling off 1,100 pounds of trash), climate changes have led to a dramatic melting of the Tibetan glaciers, which feeds the vital Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. Via Xinhua.

See also Treehugger's "asphalt" archives, China's Automotive Era Kicked Into High Gear and Responsible Tourism Awards 2007.

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