Railroad from Beijing to Tibet tries to outmaneuver climate change

A railroad connecting Beijing, China, to Lhasa, Tibet, has been completed, despite considerable political and environmental obstacles. The project, conceived over 40 years ago by Mao Zedong, is a symbol of Chinese domination and has faced opposition from proponents of Tibetan independence. The railroad runs through seismically active areas, climbs over a mountain pass that reaches 16,900 feet, and crosses permafrost that could move as much as 15 feet over time as it thaws and refreezes. To adapt, Chinese scientists pushed the project budget up nearly 50 percent, to roughly $4.2 billion, by designing a refrigeration system (!) to keep ground underneath some portions of the railroad frozen as the globe warms. They predicted the rate of climate change at exactly 3.6 degrees over 100 years — if global warming accelerates faster than expected, the railroad could be defunct within a decade. If all goes “well,” plans are in the works for luxury resorts and other developments along the route, bringing tourists to Tibet whether nomadic herders want them or not.