J-Term Practica, 2016During our stay in Bhutan, we were graced with the opportunity to listen to knowledgeable speakers about various topics that concern the country, its culture, and its citizens. Although every speaker was riveting in their own way, one topic, in particular, has lodged itself in my mind and refuses to shake free. It is the concept of the paradox of environmental conservation mentioned by Dr. Karma during his lecture on Bhutanese history. His explanation of this phenomenon was the missing puzzle piece I had been searching for since our first stroll through Thimphu.
We visited downtown Thimphu the first night we arrived. I couldn’t help but notice all the stimulating activities people were participating in, like rollerskating, running, playing soccer, all in public. The community cohesion was palpable and inspirational. However, I also couldn’t help but notice the seemingly endless amounts of litter strewn across the city. It was shocking, especially because Bhutan champions the environment. There had to be an explanation, and as I came to find out, there are many complex reasons for all the trash. However, Dr. Karma’s analysis of the phenomenon resonated with me the most. He explained that the idea and practice of environmental consciousness and conservation were inherited from the country’s indigenous cultures. Modern establishments are merely incorporating wisdom that has always been there, and this is the struggle. In reality, the urban areas of Bhutan are playing catch-up with the rural communities. Indeed, when we visited the country it was pristine.
Environmental conservation may be the face of modern day Bhutan, but it has never been a modern concept. The world would be a much better place if every country could maintain and preserve its indigenous roots during modernization like Bhutan strives to do. I applaud them.