By Pedro Walpole
In this time of global financial woes and the expected lingering response of not being able to do anything for the environment globally until economies pick up, Bhutan is a happy turn on world affairs.
Bhutan is where, for once, money is placed where happiness is. Many people smile at Bhutan and its Gross National Happiness Index, but the index has a growing groundedness.
Quietly and humbly Bhutan moves on in the world of banking. Yes, what else could be expected but banking happiness! Bhutan is not to be cornered by economic development.
In conversations with Mr Ashok Khosla, IUCN’s President who provided the critical information in this article, he reported that the Prime Minster and Cabinet of Bhutan decided to approve a series of government resolutions that they feel they can deliver on.
The government intends to ensure that all food served in restaurants and hotels where tourists come must be certified organic. The restaurants do import a lot from abroad to meet the tastes of visitors. Though the country has expressed its disinterest in five-star hotels for its visitors, it is concerned with a deeper quality of living and caring.
Don’t think this is just window dressing leaving the locals with all the chemicals. Bhutan will be a country that aims to farm only 100% organic.
Bhutan is the first country to commit to bioplastics as a national policy. This is to be based on Novamont, a company that subscribes to the development of new products from renewable raw materials made from plant matter. Bioplastics have a low environmental impact and all the properties of traditional materials, but can also be completely biodegradable.
Bhutan is the first country to commit to eliminate all use of fossil fuel. Others have done it before on a community level and Bhutan is focusing upon the example of Gaviotas , a village of about 200 people in Colombia that struggled to develop their remote, barren area beset by political terror. They regenerated an indigenous rainforest by planting millions of trees. They use wind and solar power and practice organic farming. Every family enjoys free housing, community meals and schooling. There are no weapons, no police, no jail and there is no mayor.
This may be hard to swallow that Bhutan can make such a commitment as much of the developed world guzzles gas without any sign of a U-turn in sight. The country does seem to have its governance, people and technology aiming in the same direction – that is the other direction – while the rest or the world can only commit to a level of reduction at best in such critical environmental agendas of today.
And the list continues: Bhutan is the first country to commit to eliminate sewage, septic tanks and water treatment, adopting instead the Swedish system from Anders Nyquist of EcoCycleDesign.
These have to be acknowledged as serious commitments.
Bhutan is the first country to have a transparent investment banking, disclosing who invests, the criteria by which the basis of the investments were made, and the returns to the investors. The first bank will be the GNH (Gross National Happines) Bank of course. Instead of providing a safe haven, Bhutan will be more transparent. Hopefully the World Bank and others will take note of these shifts in national leadership and develop a new track.
At this stage the happiness stuff becomes quite serious business and slowly, too slowly it seems, it is calling on the commitments of others to show a better face. The people of Bhutan want to be seen making these policies work at home.
How then does this knowledge shape commitment to act in our complicated world that needs its natural environment to continue to exist and, even more so, to be happy?