Bhutan’s glaciers are on course to disappear in the next 50 years. Jamyang has carried his bike and trekked for an average of 9 hours a day for 7 straight days to get to a Himalayan glacier. He picked up a discarded plastic bottle along the way and used it to source the melt water from the glacier. The bottle stands for plastic pollution and the melt-water inside represents the rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers.
We have less than 10 years left to act before crossing an irreversible tipping point in the climate crisis. The Constitution of Bhutan decrees that every citizen is a trustee of the environment. As a trustee, Jamyang has pledged to bike around the world until the end of the decade, carrying this bottle as a symbol for the climate crisis and demand urgent action from the world leaders and businesses.
Before 1974, Bhutan was completely closed off to tourists and most outsiders. The small mountain kingdom is home to a thriving, ancient culture, as well as stunning natural beauty. The world’s highest unclimbed peak, Gangkhar Puensum, soars nearly 25,000 feet into the clouds. Gross National Happiness Index, which functions like a social thermometer to ensure economic development doesn’t squelch traditional lifestyles.
What we did in the past can be attributed to the advantage of being a late entrant into the development process and the visionary leadership that had the wisdom to protect the environment. The question is whether we are doing enough to keep up the legacy. The pressure is growing to sacrifice aspects of the environment for economic growth. This includes pollution from burning fossil fuel, waste from increasing consumerism and pressure on our forest.
Bhutan’s Constitution requires the kingdom to have at least 60% of forest cover for all times. Today 72% of the land is under forest cover, out of which 51.4% is protected areas and biological corridors. Our forests help sequester 3 times the carbon emission of the country making us not only carbon neutral but also carbon minus. Beyond these, our activities don’t indicate that we are on the right path. Since the Paris agreement, we have added more cars on our roads and carbon in the air. Today we have one car for 1.5 Bhutanese and import of fossil fuel cannot offset our export of renewable energy. Roads are penetrating into virgin forests making logging more feasible and forests vulnerable.
After decades of harping on electric vehicles or improved public transport, what we have today is about 200 electric vehicles compared to import of 20 fossil fuel driven vehicles a day. We need to do more if we are to keep our pledge of remaining carbon neutral for all times but what’s more important is for the world to take immediate collective action to protect the our planet for our future generations