Sunday, March 14, 2010

Disastrous year on the hills of Phoenix Mountain

Posted on 3/11/2010, worst ice frost disaster since 1943, estimated lost 2 billion RMB.
Foot long ice crystals
I had experienced this 15 years ago in a cold winter of Illiniois. Never in my imagination to see this in Chao Zhou which is in a MUCH warmer climate.

Earth weather has been temperamental for the last few years, it's been coughing up a few symptoms in this new millennium. Tsunamis, earthquakes, warm weather then cold weather, freezing Springs caused failing crops. In 2007, China experienced the worst freezing temperatures across a large tea growing regions up north extending to the south. This year, it has come back, reaching far down south. Phoenix Mountains got the hit this year. Temperature reaching 5 Celsius degrees below freezing consecutively for several days. Ice blocks are as thick as a foot. The entire new growth are wiped out from 500 meters above sea level. 1/5 of the entire growing region is wiped out with 99% casualty. Other areas are affected with 30 to 50% casualty. Very few late sprouting varietals have a chance to survive and produce in later months, but there is no guarantee. Low altitude commercial grade teas are commanding 50% higher price than last year at this point. There will be VERY few high mountain old single bush teas this year, 1%!!! *sigh*

Other years of this time around, the mountain is covered with jade green leaves, vital and tender, so were the spirits of the farmers. This year, the mountain is covered with brown wilted young leaves limping over balding branches, much like the after math of a battle field. Lifeless and messy.

In the last few days, I have experienced and seen many vallies in life. Perspective has changed, fog is drifting away, I am able to perceive with a less tainted mind. What is important in life, what is essential in life, these are questions bubble in mind. When disasters strike and threaten lives, others whining about what color wall paints to pick and choose is the last thing I want to discuss. When families have to worry about how to put food on the table for the next year to come, others complaining about petty office politic at the comfort of a corporate shield is not something I find appropriate. This is the matter of how you circle your sky I suppose. Looking from afar, or looking from the bottom of a well. Most people choose to be in their own well.

When I first heard of the news, the initial panic was will I have enough supply for the year? Selfish bottom of the well mind set. Then my consciousness begin to feel for the people whom farm those lands, what will happen to those families which waited a whole year for the Spring, then hopes were shattered over night. My own concern seems so petty compare to the livelihood of the tea farmers and local tea merchants whom make a living solely base on this piece of land. I am not sure what I can do. Should I take a journey to Chao Zhou, lend a hand helpful or not, or just let time go by, let nature take care of its own course? What is the best I can do? What can I do if I were there physically?


Dont said...

When you talk about % casualty here, is this only for the current year's growth, or are these weather extremes also killing the tea plants?

That is to say, are we looking at one exceptionally bad year, from which the plants and people may rebound next year, or many years to recovery?

Either way, a disaster for the people there, and even if the plants survive, will the farmers be able to hang on until they do?

Imen said...

Correct, the effect is for the current year. The weaker younger plants might be killed. Also the living trees will have some degrees of quality set back for the next year provide that the living condition allows them to recover.

The farmers will lose a large portion of their regular income this year, I am not sure if the government will subsidize the lost for this year. Other wise they will have to live on savings or donations till next year. Most families grow small crops of vegetable and raise chickens around the house, basic food shouldn't be a huge problem for this area. Unlike Yunnan, some areas are out of drinking water and the government are thinking of migrating 80k workers to other parts of the country to resolve the drought problem.

Yunnan and Phoenix mountain area suffer greatly, also Zhe Jiang and northern Fu Jian have 30% damage to the Spring tea crops. It's been a devastating year similar to 2007.

Alex Zorach said...

Do you think that this is a natural phenomenon, or do you think that it's a result of (or at least exacerbated by) global climate destabilization caused by human influences?

Based on what little I know about climate and meteorology, I know at least two ways that human activity could have contributed to more extreme weather.

The most direct example is through deforestation, desertification, and the drying up of lakes and waterways. Water, whether held in lakes or rivers, or in vegetation, has a high specific heat and tends to moderate temperatures. Intact forests hold far more water than agriculture (in which water runs off or evaporates more quickly), and also, forests greatly slow wind--and respiration warms forests in the winter/cold dormant season, and transpiration cools them in the summer. Deforestation has been a major problem in China, and I think it's reasonable to assume that it plays a role in extreme weather.

The second influence is through changes in the atmosphere. It's not as simple as "global warming"...humans are responsible for greenhouse gases, gases with a cooling effect, and particulate matter that affects patterns of precipitation. We don't understand how we influence climate and weather because these systems are so complex and we don't really know how they work. But given the degree to which we've altered the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels and releasing other gases and particulate matter...I think it's reasonable to assume that these global changes may have a destabilizing effect on weather too.