Bhutan is Saving the Planet, Why Can’t We? – Srabanti Sen

Owing to my passion towards travelling, whatever I do, travelling tends to feature in some way or other in it. Likewise, in this recent transforming scenario of climate around, when the queer and weird behavior of the weather, the increase in temperature, lessening of rainfall, sudden earthquakes and cyclones are throwing tougher challenges every day to mankind and its existence, my pen guided me to a couple of years ago. I remembered, my love for mountains took me on a journey to the serene and peaceful country of Bhutan. Speaking of Bhutan, what comes to mind are its breathtaking landscapes, ever-smiling people, spic and span roadways, sprawling greenery – a system, a culture very near to us yet so distinct and unique on their own.

The context of Bhutan, today, surfaced my mind, since this country has achieved the unachievable feat of carbon negativity.

Now what is Carbon Negativity?                                                                 

Various human activities, majorly including combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil, natural gas, deforestation, changes in land use, soil erosion, agriculture including livestock, result in excessive emissions of Greenhouse Gases of Carbon dioxide and Methane thus increasing the atmospheric concentration of these gases to a considerable extent. The atmospheric balance can only be maintained if these emitted gases are removed from the atmosphere by certain natural Sinks which refer to various environmental cycles like photosynthesis or carbon cycles by which the gases are converted to a different chemical compound or by absorption of bodies of water. Carbon negativity is achieved when these emissions are removed from the atmosphere, naturally, even below neutral level within a defined territory.

Bhutan is the only Carbon Negative Country of the world.

Bhutan’s carbon emissions in the atmosphere measures around 2.2 million tons of Carbon dioxide (CO2). However, Bhutan’s vast forest area, which covers over 72% of the land area of the country, serves as the sink capable to absorb almost 6 million tons of CO2, much over the required level. The point here to be noted is that, this is not achieved by any magic or fluke. This is the result of a conscious and planned effort of the Royalty, Administration and people of the state.

Bhutan is a country, which has always emphasized happiness and well-being of their people, their heritage and culture and conserving their natural ecological resources over and above any modernization, technical advancement or industrialization. It is thus the only country in the world which measures the country’s development by index of Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product. The Constitution has recently been amended to ensure that the forest cover never grows below 60%. Under the able guidance and patronage of the Royal Crown, the kingdom of Bhutan not only is protecting trees but is actively encouraging afforestation. One of the best instances can be of the campaign released by the Royal Palace when the baby Prince of the nation was born in 2016. A picture of the King and the Queen with the new born baby showcased the lines – “Baby Shower? Naah… Let’s have a nationwide afforestation campaign instead”. The nation responded overwhelmingly to their King and celebrated by planting over 1 lakh trees across the country. Such has been their dedication, involvement and motivation towards the cause.

Bhutan’s Forest Cover

Balancing temptations of economic growth with social development and environment sustainability – A Herculean task.

In the eternal economic conflict between growth and development, Bhutan has clearly given the later the winner’s hat. The nation has and continues to maintain the enviable ecological harmony by certain simple practices as depicted below:

  • Encouraging usage of LED lights and patronizing electric cars
  • Providing free electricity to farmers to prevent production of CO2 from burning of firewood.
  • Identifying the dashing mountain streams and rivers as the sources of renewable energy. Bhutan produces hydroelectric energy in abundance so much so that it trades the excess electricity with the neighboring countries.
  • Aggressive afforestation as stated earlier. Apart from that it has been able to conserve or create biological corridors for animals to ensure free movements for the wildlife throughout the territory. This not only helps in maintaining ecological balance but also helps in their better adaptability to environment. Does this remind us, just above a hundred kilometers away, here in India, how have we encroached over the forest land and animal corridors in Dooars, resulting in deaths of elephants and other wild animals in train or road accidents on regular intervals?
  • In the absence of large capital industries, tourism is one of the maximum revenue earners in Bhutan. Still it has restricted the flow of tourists in the country by means of permits and permission fees as ease of entry will increase vehicle movement and also add to the waste generation in the country.

Again a contrasting picture of another neighbouring country haunts the mind. The infamous traffic jam in Mount Everest this year resulting from excessive permits issued by Nepal Government actually had claimed a number of human lives while awaiting their turns of ascend or descend to or from the mountain peak in the extreme adverse climate. Not only this, the huge wastes accumulate on the highest peak can give a shudder – this year, after a two months cleaning drive 11000 kgs of wastes have been found on Everest alone.

Bhutan next aims at achieving zero net Greenhouse gas emission and zero waste production by 2030.

Bhutan can, can we?

In India, Sikkim is the only state that claims for carbon negativity. In 2017, the state launched “Sikkim Climate Inventory and Monitoring System” as a part of its initiative, through which all the sectors like transport, tourism, industry, roads, agriculture are being assessed to estimate carbon emission from them.

 The overall picture is of a huge dismay. India stands 4th amongst countries where carbon emission is the maximum, contributing 7% of global emissions after China (27%), USA (15%) and European Union (10%), as per reports from a global Carbon project in 2017. India’s growth rate of Carbon emission has been the highest, recording a growth of almost 4.8% in 2018, according to a Paris based Agency.

The stark difference with the neighbouring country Bhutan lies in the facts –

  • India is a much bigger country than Bhutan and hence action area is huge.
  • Population of Bhutan is mere 7.5 lakhs, much below than even a big city in India
  • Over industrialization with big capital and infrastructural industries, mining, fuel, energy
  • Usage of large quantity of chemicals, both industrial and domestic including detergents, soaps, pesticides, industrial by products etc.
  • Absence of systematic waste management system – domestic or industrial.
  • Public unawareness

Scientist, NH Ravindran, who is working on the Impact of Climate Change in India, country’s first study on the subject, has warned the nation of sudden extreme weather events. Cyclone Fani and Vayu of recent times are examples of such phenomena. India lacks on scientific data and planning to predict, prevent or fight such calamities, as per Ravindran.

Not only in India, the entire world seems to be pushing the ecological boundaries to the last tolerable limit paving the way for destabilization of the planet Earth. The environmentalists have recorded the second highest ever annual increase in the atmosphere in past six decades. The experts fear the loss of biodiversity through extinction of plants or animal species as a result.

How prepare are we to avert the catastrophe?

Speaking of India, it can be stated that our country is not prepared or aware of the graveness of the situation. Reaching the Carbon negative milestone is almost utopian for India, given the present circumstances. But it is obviously possible to near Carbon neutrality with intense planning and aggressive initiations. The main hurdle is the people themselves, who, however educated, are not conscious of such terms or responsibilities associated therein. Most of our reactions are limited to sharing FB posts or expressing surprises in the unusual climatic disruptions. Global warming is no more a thing of future, we are in it. However, sadly, what we do is sought easy respite in our air conditioned rooms with updated features matching the increasing temperature or unbearable humidity outside and never perhaps stop once to ponder how much Greenhouse gases like CFC the AC machines have been adding to the environment since its inception, being a leading factor for Ozone layer depletion and thus warming the globe further.

Then there is massive usage of plastics in form of bags, bottles, covers, sheets and non-biodegradable wastes, food and fecal wastes. We tend to conveniently use the entire world just outside our home and car premise as one big dustbin and urinal.

The emissions from fossil fuels, vehicles, industries, common livelihood and agriculture must also be the centre of concern. In this case, the photograph of the French Prime minister attending office riding a bicycle going viral, may be remembered. Building cycle lanes in big cities, encouraging usage of public transport and pool cars more will certainly reduce carbon additions to air.

This is a world of devices and gadgets. We cannot do without them but obviously we can restrict the usage considerably. Recent introduction of the green clouds to replace the Servers, as means of giant storage of computer data and information is certainly a welcome breakthrough as reduction and subsequent abolition of physical Servers will be largely saving energy.

Also wasting of water and electricity have been common misdeeds amongst citizens of all strata. Water level is alarmingly decreasing since last few years so if we do not conserve sensibly by tuning our regular usage and avoiding any misuse, the day is not far when crisis will be life threatening.

Let’s think a bit..act a lot…

There is no Noah’s arc to hide, no planet out in that Universe where the worldly creatures can take refuge in like science fiction movies. The destruction of the world means not only extinction of lives, it signifies the end of age-old history, culture, tradition, great scientific inventions, natural wonders, greatest minds, philosophies and intelligence – all those that the human race have nurtured, developed, enjoyed and envied. Hasn’t the time really arrived to pause our directionless race towards self-demolition and harness our thoughts and deeds a little? I still believe together we can postpone the inevitable far ahead…

Earth is bleeding …. Do you see?

From the bruises and aches she gets from thee

Earth is crying… do you hear?

She fears your end edging near…


One Comment Add yours

  1. Kumae Sankar Roy says:

    It is a milestone writing on echological balance. My sister Jayanti Sengupta will be very happy to read this article


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