Bhutan, Carbon Neutrality, and SDG12

In 2009, at the 15th UNFCCC Conference in Denmark, Bhutan made a valiant commitment to carbon neutrality, which was then re-vocalized at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit.  Further, this commitment has evolved to claims of carbon neutrality, and even negativity (Tobgay, 2016), based upon rates of carbon sequestration and industrial production.  These claims are justified through unpublished figures that show a “potential to sequester 6.3 million tons (Mt) of CO2 annually, easily eclipsing the country’s estimated year 2013 emission total of 2.2 Mt of CO2 equivalent “(Munawar, 2016).  This is certainly good news for the small Himalayan kingdom that is sandwiched between two heavy hitters, India and China, in regards to carbon emissions.   However, the problem I foresee for Bhutan is that their current calculations only seem to account for production values of carbon within the country, and lack consideration of consumption that has broader international impacts. 

The notion of ecological footprint is important here, because this concept looks beyond one’s immediate impact on the local environment, and assumes that one’s consumption of materials, which may be produced from afar, must be calculated into one’s impact.  The products consumed within the country have broader impacts that go beyond the nation’s borders.  For example, Bhutan currently does not produce enough rice for the population, necessitating imports from India.  The rice grown in India requires various inputs such as land use, water, and fertilizers, but also incorporates transportation costs and emissions.  Therefore, as one consumes such rice in Bhutan, their ecological footprint extends to India.  The same situation applies to energy use.  While Bhutan produces ‘green’ energy through hydropower facilities, many Bhutanese are using fossil fuels for cooking, heating, and transportation.  Where are these fossil fuels coming from?  They come from India.  And these fossil fuel imports are on the rise (Jamtsho, 2015).  Therefore, despite Bhutan’s efforts to produce carbon neutral energy sources, their current imports of fossil fuels likely offset such efforts. 

With Bhutan’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), this may be a humbling experience as the country works to come under compliance with SDG 12, which promotes “Responsible Consumption and Production”.  Sustainability will require calculations of not only production, but also consumption.  While rural living is certainly a strength of the country which may attribute to low levels of consumption and carbon emissions, the number of urban residents rose from 5% in 1980 to 45% in 2016 (NEC, 2016).  Such a transition has most certainly put aspirations of carbon neutrality at risk as the growing urban population develops an appetite for foreign goods and increased consumption patterns.       

All this being said, I have not been able to find concrete calculations for claims of carbon neutrality.  Any such references so far seem to be ‘unpublished’.  Rather, we find numerous references that continue to popularize and reify such claims, all of which ignore consumption patterns in the country.  Therefore, while my assumptions may be proven false in the future, I remain cautious about claims to carbon neutrality, and especially carbon negativity.

Jamtsho, S. (2015). Sustainable Energy in Bhutan. Int. J. on Green Growth and Development, 1(2), 75-102.

Munawar, S. (2016). Bhutan Improves Economic Development as a Net Carbon Sink.  Washington, D.C.: Climate Institute. 

NEC (National Environment Commission). (2016). Bhutan State of the Environment Report 2016. Thimphu, Bhutan. 

Tobgay, T. (2016, February). This country isn’t just carbon neutral – its carbon negative. Retrieved from:

Buddhist Biopower

In a recently published article I proposed the concept of Buddhist Biopower to make sense of GNH/Bhutanese governance in light of Foucault’s governmentality & biopower discussions.  “While governmentality refers to an abstract rationality and techniques for how a state conducts the conduct of target populations, biopower is a state’s claim to promote life used to justify actions in exercising this governance” (Montes & Bhattarai, 2018, p.210).  Therefore, I make an argument that a Buddhist ethic are appealed to in order to legitimize policy & rule in Bhutan.  Primarily the ethic “diminishes the individual in favor of interdependence” (p.212) and conceptualizes happiness as a collective good.  Analyses of the GNH index and Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan are provided to reveal elements that portray such a governmentality and Buddhist Biopower at work.  While much of the work is theoretical and based on secondary document reviews, these conclusions are also based on interviews with governance practitioners as well as from those who have been governed in the country.    It is my hope that such work will lay a base for exploring Bhutanese environmental governance in particular.  The article is free on the Geoforum website for another couple of weeks, feel free to download and read it here.    

Montes, J. and Bhattarai, S.R. (2018). Buddhist Biopower? – Variegated governmentality in Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness agenda. Geoforum, 96, 207-216.

Struggling with GNH

One cannot come to Bhutan without hearing about Gross National Happiness (GNH). It is an idea birthed in the late 1970’s as an alternative to dominant development philosophies that prioritize economic criteria for proxies of well-being. The idea was to provide a more holistic way of viewing human nature and assessing development by recognizing spiritual, socio-cultural, and environmental values. While it originated as a philosophy, based on Buddhist ideals and cultural values, it was later transformed into a development index providing indicators to measure the country’s wellbeing and providing a basis for policy direction. While GNH has received a number of criticisms, especially regarding the measurement of happiness, it has continued to evolve providing a champion for alternative development models. For this, I applaud Bhutan’s contribution to global discourses surrounding development and well-being.

However, I have come to approach GNH with some skepticism. While the GNH philosophy seems to have local origins, the tools, strategies and discourses that have emerged in recent years seem to have external roots. Many international NGOs, donors, and researchers (even like myself) seem to have taken hold of the concept, in their eagerness to find alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, and have helped it progress to its current state. While global cooperation in maturing the concept is certainly not criteria for dismissing GNH, what has happened is that local involvement and understanding has eroded. Local residents are either confused or frustrated by GNH. With a history of state paternalism, many residents look to the government as being responsible for providing ‘happiness’, despite education efforts to promote personal responsibility. Other locals merely know GNH as something mentioned on TV or at school, but know nothing else of its purpose or how it is being used to impact their lives. Although this isn’t the case for all, it seems to be a common theme for rural residents as you get further from the hubs of Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing. However, even urban elites express concern about how GNH has become something other than a ‘home-grown’ philosophy. They feel that GNH has been appropriated by outsiders and no longer resembles their national identity.

I commend Bhutan for offering the gift of GNH, as it has challenged the global community to think beyond economic measures. However, more work needs to be done to ensure that GNH remains a localized concept that accounts for the experiences, understandings and values of the common Bhutanese.

Reconceptualizing the ‘Village’

I recently read an older article, Rigg (1994), that was very enlightening. Rigg confronts the mischaracterization of ‘village’ by appealing to evidence that such a construct is falsely created and thus drives development towards a false standard of measurement. ‘Village’ has been romanticized by many writers, and has created polarized views “of rural life which is somewhat divorced from reality” (p. 124). He addresses specific mischaracterizations such as egalitarianism, and shows how ‘traditional villages’ were very much engrained with hierarchies of power and influence in which labor was used and incorporated into production activities for export. Rigg also addresses the corporate village fallacy and shows how shared labor activities, and other examples, point towards self-interest rather than selfless acts of redistribution to impoverished members of the community. “Relations of mutual help and assistance are not necessarily indicative of a moral economy. Indeed…they may merely be mystifications of exploitation” (p. 127). Thirdly, the autonomous and self-reliant village fallacy is taken up, showing how there are links to export markets very early on. And finally, Rigg addresses the colonial origins of a village. Rather than being a self–induced regional organizing method of a local population, a village is seen as being a state/colonial method to observe populations, imposing control, and facilitating the extraction of surplus labor and production. Therefore, the ‘village’ may have been ‘arbitrarily imposed’ as “the colonial state found that it was necessary spatially and administratively to define villages in order to control the population and then be in a position to extract surplus from them” (p. 129).   With these critiques of ‘village’, Rigg posits that development practitioners need to be aware of false characterizations that do an injustice to current development practice and limit potential outcomes for moving forward. Commercialization of local products and labor being integrated into global markets are “not a case of new technologies operating on a tabula rasa and creating class structures, but rather of ‘capitalism’ building upon structures that already exist” (p. 131). With this new view, then, development can properly move forward by ‘conceptualizing new ways of ‘doing’ development’ while avoiding false images of past/present and “misinterpretation[s] of history” (p.131).

Rigg, J. (1994). Redefining the village and rural life: Lessons from South East Asia. Geographical Journal, 123-135.

Ecotourism Research in the South-Eastern Himalaya

Over the last 18 months I have worked closely with a group of students at the Royal Thimphu College, also in collaboration with Sikkim University (SU) and Kathmandu University (KU) students, conducting research related to ecotourism. The research was funded by a grant from the Himalayan University Consortium (HUC), a chapter of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Each of the three partnering institutes (SU, KU, and RTC) conducted research in their respective region of the eastern Himalayas, training students in research methods, field work, and data analyses. The work culminated in a conference hosted by SU in Gangtok, Sikkim, India from March 30th – April 2nd. I accompanied five of my student researchers to Gangtok where they delivered analysis presentations to a panel of ecotourism experts. After official conference meetings from March 30th – 31st, participants then travelled to South Sikkim to visit Sikkim field sites from April 1st – 2nd. The project was a large success in that it also resulted in signed MOUs between the three institutions, thus laying a groundwork for future collaborations.


Biodiversity, Cultural Resilience, and Potatoes

Preserving biodiversity is a critical area of many conservation programs across the globe. Biodiversity is a determinant for ecosystem health, thus falling rates have produced a significant amount of concern. I recently read an article by Brush (1992) who explored the diversity of potatoes in Andean agricultural fields while fusing the analysis with an ethnoecological perspective investigating the influence of cultural practice and economic decision-making. Essentially, the research examined the resiliency of the potato agriculturalists, which were motivated to preserve indigenous varieties in the wake of globalized market forces that favor one or two varieties.  Brush found that in two particular valleys, cultural norms and values motivated the maintenance of indigenous varieties that were understood as being important to social connections, festivals, and a gift giving culture. Bush notes:

“Ritual meals and celebrations and meals for guests emphasize native potatoes” (p.178)

“Native varieties are favored gift items and are used to strengthen social ties, and some reports refer to them as ‘gift potatoes’ (Spanish: papas de regalo)” (p.178-179)

“Within farming communities, native potatoes are also appreciated, perhaps as much for their cultural significance as for their superior flavor. They are favored gift items, and in a rural economy that is increasingly short of labor, they are used as added incentives by landowners to attract workers” (p.180-181)

In a world that often seems at the mercy of globalizing market forces, these findings provide optimism. Cultural practices are expressive tools that not only shape social interactions, but also shape the world in which we live.

Brush, S. B. (1992). Ethnoecology, Biodiversity, and Modernization in Andean Potato Agriculture. Journal of Ethnobiology, 12(2), 161-185.  

Natural Capital, Neoliberalism and Motivating Conservation

In environmental literature there seems to be a recent fascination with the term ‘natural capital’. While the term seemingly signifies a positive notion, by producing a perspective of natural resources that are now understood as capital, and should thus be valued as such, the term also solidifies a particular socio-ecological relationship in line with a neoliberal worldview. Neoliberal forms of conservation work to provide external incentives that motivate people to act in conservation-friendly ways. So by framing resources, or the environment more generally, as ‘natural capital’, one associates benefits that can be derived and therefore one is motivated to treat the ‘natural capital’ in conservation-friendly ways. While this works towards a positive outcome, the means of providing such incentives contains troubling logic. What happens when the incentives for conservation are removed?

If people’s actions are trained to act towards monetary incentives, this not only puts the environment at risk during times of economic downturn, but also changes significantly the relationship that humans have with their surroundings. We are trained, in the capitalism system, to view objects in our environment according to how they benefit us individually. Therefore, the environment becomes a source of meeting our personal needs and wants and we impose power over it so that it produces what we want. This becomes even more intensified as we live in urban spaces that see ‘nature’ as something ‘other-than’ our current surroundings, thus nature is abstracted as a commodity to be managed and manipulated.

Such a conception of the environment is very different than that experienced by indigenous communities. In pre-modern Bhutanese farming communities, people viewed themselves as being at the mercy of the environment, crops being dependent on weather patterns that were controlled by deities in the landscape. Creation narratives in multiple religions also attest to alternative human-environment perceptions that frame the environment as worthy of protection motivating ethical behavior from followers. These examples point towards different socio-ecological relations that contest the model provided by neoliberal capitalism, one that does not create a vision of dominance over, but rather a symbiotic relationship with the environment.  

Conservation and the Terma Tradition

In the 8th century Guru Rinpoche (not pictured above), also known as the 2nd Buddha, was very active in spreading Buddhism across Asia. He became the figure of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism and is still a highly revered figure in much of the Tibetan Buddhist world. Guru Rinpoche foresaw a time in which Buddhism would be suppressed, and therefore saw the need to hide various treasures (both physical and supernatural) that would be revealed at a later date (Hargens, 2002). This tradition of ‘hidden treasures’ has become known as Terma, and is particularly strong in Bhutan. Along with the hidden treasures, Guru Rinpoche foresaw the Tertön, or Treasure Seekers, who would reveal the Terma. Terma have been found in various features of the natural landscape as Tshewang et al. (1995) comment:

“The entire landscape bears marks and memories; the Terma could also be seen more generally as specific manifestations of the living landscape itself, of the forces available to those whose attitude to their environment is one of constant mindfulness and deep reverence” (p.13).

Hargens (2002) also notes:

“the Terma tradition illustrates that even common-place rocks, lakes, and tress can contain the highest spiritual truths. Indeed the Bhutanese landscape comes alive through the Terma and their beloved revealers” (p.67).

What is of particular interest is the connection of Terma to a conservation practice amongst Buddhist practitioners. With the understanding that Terma may be present in the landscape, it produces a reverence that motivates conservation-minded behaviour.

While the connection between spiritual practice and conservation is not a new finding, it is interesting to see how the Bhutanese tradition of Terma is currently evolving, and is very much in decline due to an ‘opening’ of sacred spaces. Spirituality, as a value, has become less important to the younger generation of Bhutanese who are more and more influenced by globalization and the hegemony of scientific discourse. As a result, the current generation of Bhutanese are an interesting case study to explore how societal values are in transition, as are motivators for conservation practice. Today in Bhutan, modern forms of conservation policy seem much more attuned to a neoliberal agent of the homo economicus nature, rather than a spiritually minded individual. More on this to come in the future.

Hargens, S.B.F. (2002). Integral Development: Taking ‘The Middle Path’ Towards Gross National Happiness. Journal of Bhutan Studies, 6, 24-87.

Tshewang, P., Tashi, K.P., Butters, C., and Saetreng, S.K. (1995). The Treasure Revealer of Bhutan: Pemalingpa, the Terma Tradition and its Critics. Kathmandu: EMR Publishing House.

Cartesian Dualism and Capitalism


Jason Moore (2011) introduces a broad theoretical framework for understanding Capitalism, not so much as a dominant world economy, but as a ‘socio-ecological’ relationship that he calls a ‘world ecology’. Moore states “Capitalism does not develop upon global nature, so much as it emerges through the messy and contingent relations of humans with the rest of nature” (p. 108). One of the main thrusts of this argument is to break down the Cartesian model that sets up a false dichotomy between society and nature. As such, the economy is not seen as an independent institution, but one that is integrated into a broader ecology and host of interactions between human and non-human nature. Moore provides this theoretical framework at a global scale trying to understand the integration of the global economy into larger planetary processes.

Tim Ingold’s work also explicitly confronts a Cartesian/Dualist model and has been very influential as he explores local perceptions of the environment, particularly in what he calls the “Dwelling Approach” (2000). In this approach, Ingold calls out the Cartesian model as a flawed ontology, however approaches the issue with a more localized anthropological perspective trying to understand how humans perceive and interact in their environments. As such, I am curious to explore how Moore’s broader framework might integrate such a localized anthropological approach.

In exploring Moore’s work further I came across an interview conducted after the release of his book “Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital” (2015a). In the interview he was challenged to define how his approach is different from other strategies for breaking down this Cartesian dualism. Moore sees his work as an extension of work that has already been done, but questions “how do you move from a philosophy that says humans are a part of nature into writing stories about the modern world? And what kind of impact does that movement from philosophy to history have on our methodological frames and conceptual premises?” (2015b). Exploring Moore’s philosophical approach, and using it as a basis for understanding Ingold’s musings over how humans perceive and interact with the bio-physical world will create space to ontologically ground future field work.

Why are such musings critical to societal-environment relations? There is a history of societies positioning themselves as somehow separate from nature. As such, particular worldviews develop that fail to develop a proper environmental ethic, viewing nature as something to be harnessed and defeated, rather than something to be cared for. Such instrumental and anthropocentric thinking drives a particular ontology that fails to account for the dependency that humans have on thriving ecosystems.

Ingold, T. (2000). The Perception of the Environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London and New York: Routledge.

Moore, J. (2011). Ecology, Capital, and the Nature of our Times: Accumulation & Crisis in the Capitalist World-Ecology. Journal of World-Systems Research, 17 (1): 107-146.

Moore, J. (2015a). Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso.

Moore, J. (2015b, December 3). New Books in Environmental Studies [Podcast Interview]. Retrieved from

Spatial Fixation in Bhutan

A number of researchers have reflected on Harvey’s (1982) concept of the ‘spatial fix’ in which Capitalism seeks new frontiers of accumulation. This spatial fix can be manifested in both new spaces, but also in structural changes that allow new opportunities for accumulation. However, the ‘fix’ should only be seen as temporary, as the strategy is not able to deal with the contradiction inherent to Capitalism, in that continual growth is being promoted by the use of finite resources (Büscher & Fletcher, 2015).

In terms of research in Bhutan, the spatial fix concept has application both in terms of physical space as well as the ‘Green Economy’ discourse. Bhutan has often been orientalized as ‘the last Shangri La’ and has served as the subject of western imagineries promoting much interest in Bhutan’s virgin territory as the age of exploration has come to a close. While Bhutan has predominately operated as an isolated state, this has served well to protect both cultural and ecological uniqueness from expanding capitalist markets that tend to be consumptive in nature. However, non-consumptive forms of capitalism have taken root in the kingdom, very much in line with the Green Economy, and what Buscher & Fletcher (2015) refer to as ‘roll-back’ strategies. This is exemplified in recent policies related to Protected Areas in which National Parks must seek strategies to ‘fund themselves’ through Ecotourism type strategies. As such, the Royal Government, as a cautious player in globalizing forces, has also created avenues for forms of accumulation to take root in what could be considered a spatial fix of the larger Capitalist agenda, which is constantly seeking new frontiers as it approaches material limitations.

In addition to territorial spaces, the concept of the ‘spatial fix’ is also useful for analysing the Gross National Happiness (GNH) discourse. GNH in many ways reflects the ‘Green Economy’ discourse and can be seen as an extension, and further greening, of Sustainable Development. The 4 pillars that serve as the base to GNH remarkably resemble the pillars of Sustainable Development as they seek 1) Environmental Conservation 2) Cultural Preservation 3) Socio-Economic Development and 4) Good Governance. In many ways GNH can be seen as a cultural adaptation of the Sustainable Development concept, or a reframing in terms of Buddhist values, and is perhaps just another of Tienhaara’s (2014) varieties of ‘Green Economies’ that find common ground with Capitalism. With the ‘spatial fix’ in mind, the GNH discourse can be evaluated in terms of how it further promotes a capitalist style agenda. However, Shear’s (2014) work stands as word of caution to a purely negative critique. The ‘Green Economy’ and GNH discussions should not be seen as destined spaces for reinforcing hegemonic capitalist values, but should also be seen as spaces where imaginaries come into play and have room to explore alternatives beyond capitalism. In this framing, more productive explorations can be made into the possibilities that GNH creates for conceptualizing new economic structures.

Büscher, B. and Fletcher, R. (2015). Accumulation by Conservation. New Political Economy, 20(2): 273-298.

Harvey, D. (1982). The Limits of Capital. Oxford.

Shear, B.W. (2014). Making the green economy: politics, desire, and economic possibility. Journal of Political Ecology, 12: 194-209.

Tienhaara, K. (2014). Varieties of green capitalism: economy and environment in the wake of the global financial crisis. Environmental Politics, 23(2): 187-204.

Druk Path Trek, a prime destination?

From May 1-6, 2016 I took a group of student researchers to hike the famous Druk Path Trek, a 45km path that spans the distance from Paro to Thimphu venturing through alpine lakes, rhododendron forests, and Buddhist monasteries. It was the 2nd time I had conducted the trek, yet I remained cautious in my planning as mountain weather is certainly not to be underestimated. During our stay we saw hail, snow, and rain and also unfortunately experienced minor headaches (due to altitude), diarrhea, and fevers. Despite these misfortunes, we had a great time. Although, there were a number of critical observations I made regarding the Druk Path as a whole.

I have to be careful when I criticize ‘eco-destinations’, as my own western assumptions cloud my assessment. Western ‘framings’ or viewpoints about what a trek in the Himalayas ‘should’ look like are a starting point for many tourists. Their expectations are heavily Orientalized, which is a product of purposeful branding, advertising, and imposed values. When tourists come to the Himalayas, they want to see 7,000-meter mountain peaks surrounded by clear streams, untouched communities of non-English speaking natives, herds of yak grazing in pristine high-altitude grasslands, and an experience that is altogether otherworldly. This is what they pay for, and this is also what many tourist operations are geared towards providing (for more on authenticity, see previous posts).

Approaching the Druk Path with such a framing will likely prove a disappointment to tourists, as it did for myself. Part of this disappointment is well-deserved, why should I assume that Bhutanese yak herders should meet my expectations for living a primitive lifestyle lacking in cellphones and electricity just to meet my experiential longings as a tourist? Such an expectation is misplaced and unfair to local peoples working towards advancement and ease in meeting everyday needs. However, there are other aspects of the experience that are much more practical in terms of basic waste management and cleanliness. Along the various stopping points along the trail there are clear signs of disturbance, some of the garbage is purposefully centralized in piles, but much is scattered randomly. Who is to blame for such mismanagement? Some blame the tourists, some blame the tour guides, and others blame the porters. Regardless of where blame should be laid, it is likely that all parties need to be sensitized to the seriousness of the issue. There are environmental concerns related to the presence of waste and economic issues related to tourist experiences and the decreased likelihood of repeat visits.

Authenticity and Commodification

What does it mean to be ‘authentic’? I put the word in quotes because the word has lost some meaning in that people, or tourists in the context of ecotourism, seek an ‘authentic’ experience, by which they mean to have some experience that is more authentic than the experiences they have in their day to day lives. And much of this understanding is based on the false idea that ‘modernity is associated with inauthenticity’ (Koot, 2013; MacCannel, 1976). There is a myth built into the modernized understanding that those who live more ‘primitive’ lives are somehow more ‘authentic’, thus many travel to places such as Africa, Asia, South America and such, to have a brief window into lives of the less developed, as their lives are seen to be more connected to nature or a truer form of what it means to be human. Authenticity as described above does not exist. There is no specific content ascribed to such a description, only an expectation that an onlooker has about what they consider to be authentic.

In the context of tourism, and ecotourism specifically, the quest for authenticity has driven the creation of mythical cultures that don’t exist in reality, but rather play to the expectations of tourists. As a result, many indigenous communities have marketed and ‘put on a show’ to meet these expectations and capitalize on tourist demands. So the tourist’ expectations are used as a format for the host cultures to model, thus creating a reenactment, not of actual life events, but of a created myth. “It is therefore outsiders who determine what really is authentic to the rest of the world, often not the authentic people themselves” (Koot, 2013, 54). Because of this, local people are further marginalized as such strivings for authenticity are manifestations of power relations, or pressures to conform to a particular way of being (Mowforth & Munt, 2003; Koot, 2013).

This power, or pressure from the outside, entails changes to traditional social relations. Cultural items/practices that previously operated outside a capitalist system and were perhaps exchanged freely amongst indigenous community members, will necessarily be adapted and change as they are appropriated and given exchange values. Such items/practices will be given a new context for operation and will leave behind their previous significance to some extent. The exchange value allows the item/practice to be incorporated in to a market based system and considered a commodity that can be bought and sold. This contrasts items/practices that merely have a ‘use value’, which are not commodities, but still serve a purpose in meeting individual material or immaterial needs such as physical, social and cultural requirements. Local medicines, dances, and practices are now viewed as having additional values that can be capitalized, especially in the context of tourism where outsiders are given access to such a market.

These cultural impacts as a result of interaction with the tourism industry highlights what should be a key concern for the Bhutan government, which so fervently strives for cultural preservation, as prescribed in the pillars of GNH philosophy. One example of this is a call from local Bhutanese to revive the traditional ‘Neypo’ sytem of hospitality. The Neypo system, a traditional practice of offering hospitality in Bhutan, consisted of a cultural understanding in which travelling guests could impose themselves upon a household to find shelter and food as they travelled from one place to the next. However, this practice seems to have diminished in many areas where tourism has been the dominant mode of production, where service providers find it more economically profitable to cater to tourists in which a higher exchange value has been applied to lodging provision. Such services, traditionally serving as a socio-cultural ‘use value’, have now lost their significance causing concern from the host population (Namgay, September 30, 2014).

While tourism is often upheld as a panacea for development opportunities, issues of authenticity and commodification should be critically considered to ensure culturally appropriate modes of development that avoid the deepening of inequalities.

Koot, S.P. (2013). Dwelling in Tourism: Power and myth amongst Bushmen in Southern Africa. African Studies Collection, 54. African Studies Centre.

MacCannel, D. (1976). The Tourist: A new theory of the leisure class. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Mowforth, M., and Munt, I. (2003). Tourism and sustainability: development and tourism in the Third World, 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge.

Namgay, P. (September 30, 2014). A Quest to Revive Neypo System. Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS).

Science and Discourse in Environmental Management

Bumthang Agriculture

Escobar (1996) speaks of a term ‘techno-science’ which entails an evolution of human scientific endeavors. Science has moved forward in the ‘management’ of nature in a way that separates nature from its organic origins. In the scientific age, we manipulated forests in a way that produced ease in extraction for human purposes, for example tree farms. We changed the way in which trees naturally form spatially and even temporally, in order to meet resource needs. In the ‘techno-science’ age, we have moved beyond such ‘simple’ manipulations to genetically modifying species so that they further meet our desires. We now manipulate fruits and vegetables to meet such extraneous desires, and further depart from an ‘organic’ nature.

Such manipulation is in line with the dominant western scientific worldview that sees nature as something to be manipulated and managed. Such a management view has come to dominate not only the West, but also the developing world where potential lies for alternative forms of viewing nature. Escobar (1996) posits that ‘sustainable development’ is yet another form of nature appropriation that solidifies the western mindset at a global scale. While SD discourse may seem harmless, the values that form the base of such a theory are based on a particular human-environment understanding, thus proliferating such a worldview at the expense of alternative knowledges. This critique of SD is critical at such a juncture where more governments are disillusioned with the promises of such a strategy.

Forsyth (2003) goes further and describes the importance of social framings in environmental management. In many cases, the environment is managed in a way that environmental problems are determined according to preconceived ‘framings’ or understandings, which are laden with underlying values and assumptions, thus promoting a strand of particular policies that support the dominant understanding. The discourse of such framings is accompanied by a set of language that promotes the particular dominant view. For example, Forsyth uses the example of ‘deforestation’. At face value, it implies a negative connotation leading the hearer to develop a particular cognitive understanding to what is being applied. However, a straightforward definition of deforestation simply involves the removal of trees, without any negative connotations or whether the removal of the trees is due to destructive human activity or perhaps natural cyclical environmental processes. Therefore, the discourse or framing of discussions around deforestation entail a particular perspective. This perspective becomes dominant as it promotes certain policies that strengthen the base assumptions. In the case of deforestation, the underlying assumption is that it is bad and should be avoided in order to promote stability within a forest ecosystem. This leads to another key point of Forsyth in which much environmental policy is based on such a commitment to equilibrium ecology, despite the fact that much modern critique promotes non-equilibrium within nature.

Forsyth is quick to point out that such criticisms are not to remove merit from claims concerning environmental degradation, but instead he promotes a reframing of environmental ‘crises’ as to encapsulate place-based perspectives that can then formulate appropriate policy measures that avoid discrimination or inequality. A harmful example would be forest policies framed around the protection of ‘wild’ nature, thus promoting national parks while excluding indigenous use of such areas. Such a policy will be seen as socially and economically harmful, and even unnecessary, yet further promotes the hegemonic western perspective. It may be more appropriate to frame the problem in terms of sustainable forestry use, and then create options for conservation and preservation with an appropriate starting point. But such a reframing is difficult within a global culture that is already dominated by a particular framing and where decision makers are unwilling to consider alternative viewpoints.

Escobar, A. (1996). Whose Knowledge, Whose nature? Biodiversity, Conservation and the Political Ecology of Social Movements. Journal of Political Ecology, 5, 53-82.

Forsyth, T. (2003). Critical Political Ecology: The politics of environmental Science. London and New York: Routledge Press.