Bhutan’s secret to happiness. Meet the world's only carbon-negative country.
Economic growth seems to become the main success factor in international politics. In 1972, the king of a small Asian country Bhutan thought, “damn, what is this obsession with money” (not sure these were his exact words but let’s imagine) and created the phrase gross national happiness.
Gross National Happiness (GNH) is believed to be much more important than Gross Domestic Product. Bhutan’s government is confident that sustainable development should take an integral approach towards notions of progress, so they put human happiness on top of economic development. The GNH index is calculated considering nine essential aspects such as financial security, both physical and mental health, ecological diversity and resilience, work-life balance, life satisfaction, etc.
The explicit purpose of the Bhutan government is to give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing. Bhutan is the only place that defines its value based on the happiness of its people, not on profit. The kingdom promotes the GNH in its sacred constitution and encourages the whole world to follow ‘a compass towards a just and harmonious society’.
In 2015, 91.2 % of people in Bhutan reported experiencing happiness, and 43.4% of people said that they are deeply happy (if, after watching recent presidential debates, you are looking for a place to move, take notes). What is also fascinating about Bhutan is that it is THE ONLY CARBON-NEGATIVE COUNTRY IN THE WHOLE WORLD! Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Tshering Tobgay, an environmentalist and a former prime minister of Bhutan, admits that his country has made environmental conservation their priority rather than economic growth, and that’s what makes the kingdom unique. It’s not just a belief that runs through Bhutan – the government has been making constitutional measures to remain carbon-neutral forever. How did they do it?
The very first policy was making the nation consist of a minimum of 60% forest coverage – now, 72% of Bhutan territory are trees. These trees absorb seven million tons of carbon dioxide annually, while the state produces only around two million tons. Every single household in Bhutan plants trees, the tradition gets more and more popular every year. In 2015, volunteers set a world record in Bhutan by planting 49,672 trees in just one hour!
The government has introduced a ban on log exports and been providing rural farmers with free electricity to lessen their dependence on wood stoves for cooking or heating. Bhutan has been generating free hydroelectric power in rivers and slowly shifting to all kinds of alternative energy sources such as wind, biogas, and solar power, maximizing the emissions-free benefits.
Some creative environmental initiatives in Bhutan include a partnership with Nissan to provide the country with electrical cars hoping to discourage the use of vehicles that rely on fossil fuels. The government has also subsidized the purchase of LED lights and sustainable public transportation. The commitment to environmental protection is impressive with its bans on tobacco products and plastic bags and its investment in national environmental programs Clean Bhutan and Green Bhutan.
Bhutan has an easier task balancing the carbon accounts than most countries — considering its size or state of development. The country built its first road in the 1960s! Some experts even find an excuse for Bhutan’s carbon-negativity linking it to religion – trees are very significant to Buddhist culture. Yet, the kingdom offers universal guiding principles on how to reduce our carbon footprint in any part of the world. It is about appreciating nature to a greater extend. It is about choosing to be spiritual rather than fixating on materialistic things. It is about feeling happy but living for a much bigger purpose. It is about the right priorities.
Let’s aspire to become “Bhutan wannabe”!