Combating the dual effect of climate change and capitalism – The Bhutan Model

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by  Yuvraj Trivedi      5 July 2020

Fresh air and conscientious industries are the flawless state of affairs that models of government would like to achieve. Regrettably, these affairs are only a façade in contemporary times. Environmental degradation has befallen us due to the active ignorance of capitalistic institutions. Being of prime importance, the ongoing issue of climate change has been acknowledged by several nations across the world but has not been acted upon. Many would like to believe that third world countries are more likely to possess this handicap and refrain from promoting adaptations to survive the epidemic that is climate change. In order to truly tackle climate change, the misconceptions about the issue have to be cleared and the solutions need to be outlined.

To begin with, it is imperative to note that high-consumer lifestyles have been promoted by the world economy’s capitalistic mode of production. This ascertains that the average humans cannot sustain themselves comfortably without enabling detriment of the ecosystems. Even those who acknowledge the gravity of the state of global climate find it exceedingly difficult to rid themselves of capitalist influence in their consumerist lives. This form of denial in a lay person’s life manifests itself in several ways, including humorous comments about the ‘apocalypse’ nearing.

Naomi Klein, a distinguished author of “This Changes Everything” and a climate change activist, believes that the mentality possessed by lay persons has spread far and wide and has corrupted the minds of global leaders. She has deemed this to be a threat as these leaders have the most capacity to influence the way the world identifies climate change. The leaders around the world have been making their administrative policies extremely capitalistic in nature and this has led to the complete disregard of climate change and other concerns that are directly in conflict with the implementation of capitalism. The fundamental reason for the dismantling of capitalistic models of growth is the destruction of the environment merely to accumulate resources. The concern at hand is the fact that the accumulation occurs regardless of the need of resources. Capitalistic conglomerates produce goods in excess to gain as much profit as possible and to do the same they require surplus resources. Some institutions have recognized the aftermath of their actions and have tried to rectify the matter but have failed to maintain a healthy balance of resources taken and resources given.

John Wainwright outlines the procedures followed by the capitalistic conglomerates and their adverse effects in his article “Climate Change, Capitalism and the Challenge of Transdisciplinarity”. Accumulation seems to be the key to the success of capitalism and the downfall of the natural world. The unhealthy mentality of requiring surplus resources and goods which in turn causes the detriment of nature must be discontinued. Accumulation begets accumulation, without or purpose: This is the source of capitalism’s undeniable dynamism. This has several implications for climate change, most obvious is that expansion and accumulation require the constant conversion of the planet into means of production. The principles of capitalism derive their authenticity from this mentality and hence it can no longer be considered a system of survival as it assures no forms of safety to the environment.

Capitalism has been called out as a major concern time and again but no distinct solutions have been proposed. As stated above, third world countries are considered to possess a handicap with regards to curbing climate change. However, the first country to have eradicated its carbon footprint and developed a negative carbon footprint is a third world country. Bhutan has developed the nexus between its political, economic and cultural standards. The close integration of development sectors and environmental policy promotes a high degree of compatibility between resource extraction and conservation. Even though the pressures of a growing population and an increasingly urban society continue to mount, the awareness of environmental issues in Bhutan is strong. Capitalism cannot contribute at all to this form of growth because of its surplus requirements. These requirements are generally resources and labour and hence, there can be no integration between the nutrition that serves as the base for the superfluity.

Bhutan has been able to integrate its system of development by upholding the protection of nature and declaring it as an objective that it works towards diligently. The country declared its objectives back in 2010 as opposed to the rest of the world who declared their objectives about curbing climate change only in 2015 with the Paris Agreement. The 2010 declaration committed Bhutan to maintaining its status as a net sink for greenhouse gases. Its forests have an estimated sequestration capacity of 6.3 million tonnes of CO2, while its emissions were only 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2000, and 2.2 million in 2013. The country attributes this to the expanse of its forest cover, low levels of industrial activity and near total electricity generation through hydropower. Not only did Bhutan declare their objectives, they began drafting policies that strictly followed the model of growth that supplemented the growth of the environment.

It is stated that Bhutan has been able to achieve its goals by taking active steps towards tackling climate change and has involved others by partnering with international institutions at forums and this in turn increases awareness and the need for such steps to be taken.

The most common judgement that has been made against Bhutan’s model of growth is the fact that the country is a Least Developed Country (LDC) and that it has not achieved significant economic success in the private sector as compared to other countries in the contemporary world. The small size of the country’s population and land area, its landlocked geography, and its mountainous topography present constraints that inhibit the exploitation of economies of scale and gains from merchandise trade.

But the truth is Bhutan is able to provide for its people in a self-sufficient manner and does so while protecting the environment and by restraining from methods such as capitalism or foreign direct investments. Bhutan introduced the Gross National Happiness index that has four pillars: good governance, sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development, preservation and protection of the environment. These pillars uphold the structure that has been created above that outlines the happiness of individuals in the country as well as protecting the natural world.

The depth of the issue lies in the fact that capitalistic institutions do not take part in tackling climate change until and unless it affects them. The aftermath of being publicly called out and humiliated works on capitalistic conglomerates as they begin to lose market share and their profits do not look as profitable as before.

The brunt of global warming has befallen a few nations, and yet their economic and political restraints have made it difficult for them to implement effective policies to minimize this impact. In addition, the complex domestic and global political landscape countries navigate today has made it arduous even for developed countries to make headway in the space of climate change action. Nevertheless, some nations, such as Bhutan -with or without the assistance of international and intergovernmental organizations- have been able to pioneer the movement for positive climate change and set precedent for other governments to implement similar policies in their respective states. This has been crucial in keeping the world hopeful that a sustainable future is still possible. However, this hope may simply be a form of disillusionment if global leaders do not make the impacts of high consumer lifestyles known to the average citizen, as they are the strata of society that need to accommodate to the overwhelming change that is going to occur in the near future. Capitalism does not go hand in hand with the environment and must be dismantled as soon as possible. As depicted above, models of growth such as the Bhutanese Model of growth must be implemented as soon as possible as it is now or never.

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