Greatest mistake Bhutan can make is to live in isolation: Environmentalist

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Thimphu : Conservation of the environment is one of the four pillars of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness philosophy but "the greatest mistake" the Himalayan nation can make is "to live in isolation", Daniel C. Taylor, who has been engaged in social change and environmental conservation for over four decades, said here on Saturday.

Taylor was speaking on "Environmental Justice: Questions For The Future" on the closing day of the Mountain Echoes literary festival. Using a powerpoint presentation, the well-regarded environmentalist behind the creation of two massive national parks around Mount Everest, one in China and the other in Nepal, explored the various stumbling blocks in the path of conservation.

Bhutan has mandated environmental preservation in its Constitution and preserves 60 per cent of its land under forest cover. But it is sandwiched between India and China, arguably among the most polluting countries in the world.

Responding to a question on similar lines, Taylor contended that Bhutan should not live in isolation.

He said that pollution and degradation of environment is not limited to one country or one region alone. "It is an ecosystem," he said, elaborating at length how pollution arising from China or India could have impacts on Bhutan.

On its part, Bhutan is a carbon-negative country and home to the highest percentage -- more than 51 per cent -- of protected land in Asia.

"The greatest mistake that Bhutan can make is to remain isolated. The challenge for Bhutan is to work with both India and China. At the same time, it also needs to work with the world.

"Bhutan has to take an active role in teaching the world about environmental justice because you have done tremendous work in conserving the natural habitats in your country," said the 71-year-old.

Taylor said that India and China "are themselves countries in disruption" and thus there was a great deal that the landlocked nation can impart to its neighbours.

Directly referring to China, he said that he worked there for several years and saw the wide-ranging impacts of its policies on the environment.

He pointed out that being so close to the China and India, Bhutan would see implications of pollution arising from its neighbours despite its enormous forest cover.

"We are all riding one giant ball called Earth, which is headed into a future -- a future which may be frightening. What each of us can do is teach each other," Taylor said.

In his 45-minute session, Taylor also presented some rare photographs, audio and visual clippings of his journeys through the Himalayas.

Comparing two photographs -- one taken during his first visit to the Paro valley some 60 years ago and the other taken just four days ago -- he showed that the forest cover increased in the Paro Valley, despite the construction of the Paro International Airport.

"No country is developed or underdeveloped. All countries are developing. Aeroplanes, better homes along with more trees should be the future," he contended.

Mountain Echoes literary festival is an initiative of the India-Bhutan foundation and Siyahi, a Jaipur based literary consultancy agency.

The ninth edition of the festival will reach its culmination on Saturday evening.

(Saket Suman is in Thimphu at the invitation of the organisers of Mountain Echoes literary festival. He can be contacted at