A Bumthang Farm

On Friday we went on a FEX (field exercise) to a farm in nearby Tang valley. It was, as you can see from the pictures below, absolutely picturesque.

We have been learning about food security and self-sufficiency in Bhutan recently, and this visit put a face to what we have been learning about the complex dynamics between native land use and agriculture, international development money and agricultural schemes, and the tension between locally-grown organic food and imported, processed food.

We spoke with the farmer, with the help of our professor as interpreter, and heard about his own experience being a “progressive farmer” in the area – meaning he has accepted Swiss brown cows (which produce more milk than the indigenous breed of cow) from the Swiss Development Agency and he has joined a honeybee cooperative through which he sells his honey.

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The vegetable garden

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Chillies!

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A butter churn – the first one I’ve ever seen in real life

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Our professor (right) speaking with the Bumthap farmer

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The family also makes ara, which is a traditional alcoholic beverage consumed in Bhutan. This is one of our SFS/UWICE staff, Rinchen, demonstrating how they make ara.

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Throwback Friday…

… to when the first advertisement I saw in Asia (Bangkok, Thailand) was an anti-elephant poaching ad by Yao Ming. After four months of research on the intersections of elephant poaching, the illicit ivory trade, and terrorist groups last fall, this was super exciting! And there were more ads like this one, but with more educational information about the origins of ivory, throughout Suvarnabhumi Airport.

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Dogs!

From what I have read and seen (including on Google Maps) there are a lot of dogs in Bhutan, both strays and pets. Some people consider this a serious problem, partly because the expanding population of dogs has increased the risk of bites and rabies. The School for Field Studies (SFS) requires that all of their students get three pre-exposure rabies shots in the months before traveling to Bhutan. This is pretty unusual. Many people are surprised when I say I need to get rabies shots, but according to SFS, “rabies is an epidemic in Bhutan.”

I just read an article from Kuensel, Bhutan’s national newspaper, discussing the dog population in Bhutan. The implementation of dog population management strategies began in the early 1970s but due to cultural reasons proved unsuccessful (the article does not elaborate on why exactly).

Many of the dogs who live on the streets are pets, but there is no pet dog policy to ensure that owners keep their dogs inside or on a leash and make sure they don’t bite people. Tenzin Dhendup, the Agriculture Secretary, has said that Bhutan could adopt a pet dog policy, but that it would take time to implement and enforce.

This summer I am interning for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), America’s largest animal protection and advocacy organization, which is mainly to say that I care a lot for animals of all kinds and I find this situation sad, for the dogs and the people. The Chief Executive Officer of Humane Society International (HSI), while attending a dog population management workshop in Thimphu, said that “dog bite cases are significantly less… where there are strong pet dog policies and laws.”

Clearly something needs to be done about this situation, and whatever it is must work for the people and the dogs. It seems that increased pet ownership and education is needed. However, I don’t want to make assumptions about the situation or give prescriptions, given that I am 7,600 miles away from Bhutan. These are my current thoughts, and I look forward to learning more about the situation when I am in the Himalayas myself.

Tourism in Bhutan

Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan

Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan

Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974, when the Bhutanese government, in an effort to increase revenue and promote the country’s unique culture and traditions, opened the remote country to foreigners. During that first year, only 287 tourists visited Bhutan. In 1992, the number rose to 2,850, and it increased even more dramatically to 7,158 in 1999.

Bhutan restricts tourist numbers primarily because the government is acutely aware of the environmental impacts of tourism and the unique biological wealth of the country. Travel to Bhutan is highly regulated under the policy “High Value, Low Impact Tourism.”

Tourists mainly visit the capital of Thimpu, as well as Paro, a city in the western part of the country near India, and the Tiger’s Nest, which is a famous Buddhist temple (photograph at end of post). Druk Air used to be the only airline operating flights to and from Bhutan, but the country is now serviced by Bhutan Airlines as well.

Paro Airport, the country's only international airport

Paro Airport, the country’s only international airport 

It is quite difficult and expensive to get a visa to Bhutan. Only citizens of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives are allowed to enter Bhutan without a visa. Foreign tourists must use a licensed Bhutanese tour operator to arrange practically everything about their visit to Bhutan, including what lodging they stay in, and where they travel and with whom. Outside of Paro and Thimpu, the entirety of Bhutan is considered a “Restricted Area” for foreigners, who need special permits to travel further.

A daily fee of $250 is charged during tourist high season, which is decreased to $200/day during the low season. The minimum daily package required for visa processing covers accommodation, food, guide, and a vehicle with a driver. Part of this fee goes towards free education, free healthcare, and poverty alleviation in Bhutan.

The only way you can enter Bhutan without a visa (and without being a citizen of the countries mentioned above), is by receiving a formal invitation from a “citizen of some standing” or a volunteer organization. In addition, those who come as guests of the Bhutanese government go through a different visa application process. I believe the latter applies to students who study in Bhutan through SFS because we are partnered with a government agency, the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment.

The Tiger's Nest

The Tiger’s Nest, a sacred Buddhist monastery

Dzongkha: The National Language of Bhutan

The languages of Bhutan

The languages of Bhutan

More than two dozen languages are spoken in Bhutan, but the national language is Dzongkha. All of the languages are members of the Tibeto-Burman language family except for Nepali, which is an Indo-Aryan language, and Bhutanese Sign language. Dzongkha is the only language with a native literary tradition in Bhutan, although several other languages, such as Nepali, have literary traditions in other countries.

Dzongkha has approximately 160,000 speakers as of 2006. It is the dominant language of Western Bhutan and has been the language of government and education since 1971.

I don’t speak any Dzongkha yet, but I know that I”ll learn some during the upcoming semester. I have heard that some Bhutanese people, mainly in the southern part of the country, speak Hindi. I speak very basic conversational Hindi and I’m hoping that it may come in handy! I’ll write a different post about my experience with Hindi.

Just for fun, the following are some useful phrases in Dzongkha.

  • Hello (formal): Kuzu zangpo la
  • Hello (informal): Kuzu zangpo
  • How are you?: Gaday bay Zhui?
  • Thank you: Kadrin chhe la
  • I love you: Nga gi che lu ga

Check out the WikiTravel phrase book if you’d like to learn some more Dzongkha phrases! (Haha, why would you? I’m not sure… just for kicks I guess.)

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Climate Change and Economic Inequality

Welcome back to my blog! Let’s get right back into it:

Oxfam International just released a study (called Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More) that states that by next year, the richest 1% will be richer than the rest of the world combined. Whoa. That is completely unacceptable. Oxfam is calling on governments to “adopt a seven point plan to tackle inequality:”

  1. Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals
  2. Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
  3. Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth
  4. Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
  5. Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
  6. Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
  7. Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.

Climate change and many of the other global issues we are facing today are intimately connected with this stark economic inequality. These issues are the result of the political and economic system that is keeping people down and destroying our beautiful world. And, in fact, climate change is exacerbating inequality because poor communities are the ones that are on the frontlines of extreme weather and resource conflict. By fighting climate change, we are fighting inequality.

350.org

350.org

Onwards

With finals around the corner and the last class of World Politics today, it’s time to wrap up this semester. I’m really happy that Vinnie gave us all the push to start blogs and websites because it has been a fun and sometimes a cathartic experience to write these posts. I hope I have covered interesting topics and that I’ve provided a good mix of information, analysis, and personal experience.

I look forward to continuing this blog after a short break. I’ll probably start writing again after Christmas or early in 2015. Thank you, Vinnie, for the most thought-provoking class I’ve ever taken. I left class many times with tears in my eyes, including today. Your analysis of current and historical issues has pushed me to question some of my assumptions and position in this world. And yet this is only the beginning! I hope to hone my skills of analysis and persuasion, and to find what I’m good at, and, as you say, let a career pursue me. Thank you for your faith in me and in my generation.

I’m not going to try to conclude in any decisive way, especially because I will continue this blog. My outlook on climate change, environmental degradation, population growth, and species extinction changes almost daily, so I couldn’t give you any pat answer or interpretation of all of this. What I know is that my generation is inspired and ready for the fight ahead. We have no choice. The challenges we face are colossal. But we have so much love and humanity and grit, that I really believe that through our lives we will continue to fight and create, hopefully, a world worth living in, although probably radically different from the one we have today. We simply have so much to fight for. It’s a beautiful world out there, and that’s my inspiration every day.

And to finish, enjoy these beautiful photographs. Enjoy the natural world. Go outside.

Anjan Lal

Anjan Lal

Anton Belovodchenko

Anton Belovodchenko

Ashish Joshi

Ashish Joshi

Ganesh Ravi Iyer

Ganesh Ravi Iyer

J Venkat

J Venkat

Manohara Kamath

Manohara Kamath

Mihir Mahajan

Mihir Mahajan

Raj Krishnani

Raj Krishnani

Savio Sanches

Savio Sanches

Shaji Mohammed

Shaji Mohammed

Subhash Nair

Subhash Nair

Sucheth Lingachar

Sucheth Lingachar

Tejus Naik

Tejus Naik

Vinit Arora

Vinit Arora

The Transition Town Movement

Throughout most of this semester I have written about the bad news – ranging from mass species extinction to climate change to elephant poaching. We all know there are many persistent, systemic, and overwhelming environmental problems. That’s a given. However, during the last few weeks of this course (but don’t worry – I hope to continue this blog after the course is over!) I would like to turn our attention to the courageous people finding solutions. And the Transition Movement is just the place to start.

The Transition Town Movement consists of local grassroots projects that aim to increase community self-sufficiency and resiliency. These projects also educate people about climate change and peak oil, and work towards decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels. The first Transition Town was created in Totnes, England, in 2006.

Common topics for discussion within these communities include peak oil and local energy resilience, transportation, food production, waste and recycling, environmental psychology, and economics (including alternatives to the current capitalist system). If you would like to know more about how Transition Towns are structured and some of the underlying theory, check out the Seven Guiding Principles and Twelve Ingredients of the Transition Model from the Transition United States website.

Transition Towns aim to foster community, educate residents about a wide range of topics, from local food to species extinction, and offer a concrete localized solution to the overwhelming climate crisis. Individual families and towns will face the brunt of climate change, which is why the Transition Movement aims to localize and democratize energy and promote climate solutions.

Transition Towns exist across the world, including right here in Massachusetts in Amherst and Hadley. As of September 2013, there were 1,130 Transition Towns officially registered with the Transition Network Directory, which is a UK-based organization that supports the international Transition Movement. There is also a specific website for the Transition Movement in the United States.

The Transition Movement acknowledges that it does not have all the answers, and that this effort alone will not solve all the world’s current problems. However, they firmly believe that:

  • If we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
  • If we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
  • But if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.

India and Climate Change

India needs to become a climate leader, and the Editorial Board of the New York Times agrees with me. India will suffer incredibly from climate change, with increased floods from the melting Himalayas and increased droughts that will destroy crucial crops.

And yet, as the number three greenhouse gas emitter behind the United States and China, India continues to guzzle more carbon, particularly through coal. India has long stated that it will not sacrifice growth to limit greenhouse gas emissions. According to the New York Times, in the last five years, “India increased its coal power capacity by 73 percent,” and it plans to double domestic coal production to one billion tons by 2019. Increased coal use by India will not only ensure catastrophic climate change for all of us, it will also kill its own citizens. India’s coal plants already kill up to 115,000 people a year and cost the country’s economy $4.6 billion. India cannot afford coal.

To its credit, India has the largest solar plant in Asia, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has pledged to create a 50,000-strong ‘solar army’ to help rapidly expand India’s solar capacity — and train job-hungry young Indians in the technologies of the future.” But in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change, Prime Minister Modi must show the world that he is not a climate change skeptic and come to the next round of UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, on December 1st ready to make a commitment.

African Elephants are on the Brink of Extinction

Satao, a huge African elephant who was loved by many, was murdered by poachers earlier this year (http://ind.pn/1F5NB15).

Satao, a huge African elephant who was loved by many, was murdered by poachers earlier this year (http://ind.pn/1F5NB15).

As I mentioned in a recent post, the African elephant poaching crisis is reaching a tipping point, where more elephants are being killed each year than being born. Some argue that African elephants may be extinct in the wild within 10 years.

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is a keystone species, meaning it is an integral part of the ecosystem, and if it goes extinct, the ecosystem will change drastically. Unfortunately, African elephants are threatened by multiple factors, including poaching and habitat loss, and are critically endangered.

Poaching fuels, and is fueled by, the international ivory trade, which is primarily linked to China, the United States, and Thailand. Ivory is coveted all over the world, but particularly in East Asia, as trinkets, jewelry, and religious symbols.

African elephant poaching is incredibly lucrative and, in part, fuels terrorism because terrorist networks control much of the poaching and trade. These terrorist organizations create instability in Africa and have global connections, making this an international security issue.

This is a complex issue and necessitates extraordinary cooperation on an international scale in order to prevent the extinction of this majestic species and continued attacks from terrorist groups funded by illicit ivory.

If you would like to learn more, I recommend these reports as further reading: