Toolkit for Assessing Potential Allegations of Environmental Injustice (167 pp, 1.4MB)
, serves as a reference guide to assist Agency personnel in assessing potential allegations of environmental injustice and to provide a framework for understanding national policy on environmental justice. Download document (pdf): http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/policies/ej/ej-toolkit.pdf
From Bangkok Post While industrial captains whine and the government struggles to keep up, events on the ground have exposed the real crisis at Map Ta Phut. Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun was only being realistic when he told senior business interests how poorly they had failed in their civic responsibility. As fate would have it, there was another serious industrial accident at the industrial zone. At least 28 people were stricken, five of them seriously, when they inhaled butene-1 gas that leaked from a tanker. The pertinent warning from Mr Anand and yet another serious accident give indirect but strong support to the two recent court verdicts. The rulings by the Administrative Court and its parent Supreme Administrative Court have effectively put industry on notice that if businesses don't clean up their act - literally - they can be shut down in the interests of the entire country. Mr Anand's criticism, if anything, is even stronger. He represents the current last chance for businesses along the Eastern Seaboard to win permission to resume 65 industrial projects which are under injunction by the court. It is surprising to many that the Map Ta Phut area has gone from smokestack to endangered in a little more than two months. The decision by the Rayong Administrative Court to declare the industrial zone as a pollution control area came a severe shock to both businesses and to the government. Immediately after the Sept 29 verdict, an obviously confused government announced it would appeal, and get the 76 banned industrial developments moving again. The appeal rather obviously was a dismal failure, leaving Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his economic ministers with few threads of hope to which to cling. On the other hand, Rayong activist Srisuwan Chanya and his Anti-Global Warming Association are almost cocky about their court victories. Mr Srisuwan and allies intend to continue to press in the courts to restrict industrial development, in the name of several causes: pollution, conservation, climate change and downright danger to various communities. Section 67 of the Constitution effectively makes industry responsible for the health and welfare of surrounding villages and the environment, and that will be the weapon wielded by Mr Srisuwan and allies. One must hope that sooner rather than later, reality will intrude on business interests. The days of unbridled industrial development have clearly ended. Mr Abhisit and his ministers remain firmly fixed on the side of business, because if Map Ta Phut and other areas are shuttered, the chances that the economy will grow are close to nil. What the government is missing, and Mr Anand understands clearly, is that the day has arrived when business, government and local residents must cooperate on responsible industrial projects that help the community and nation, without harming local people. The government has acted unwisely from the start. While the bureaucracy is duty-bound to pursue court action on the side against the activists, the prime minister is not. He should in fact, like Mr Anand, be counselling business interests to take their community responsibility more seriously, that businesses have to act if they hope to salvage public trust and their own companies' images. The day that industry can pollute communities and ride roughshod over villagers is happily over. Business will become responsible voluntarily, or the courts will rightly force it, even at the cost of short-term projects shuttered for the common good.
Tariq Banuri and I mused on the need for a so-called "precipice index" that would show how close we are to crossing over potentially irreversible boundaries. SEI and the Resilience Centre have continued this work and their latest findings have been published in Ecology and Society. Here is some of the press coverage of this important piece of work. For the original article go to http://www.stockholmresilience.org/download/18.1fe8f33123572b59ab800016602/planetary-boundaries-long-version210909.pdf. TOM ARUP September 24, 2009 HUMANITY risks causing catastrophic and irreversible environmental damage by crossing ''nine planetary boundaries'', scientists have warned. In a study from the Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, the scientists found that humans had already stepped over three of those boundaries - climate change, species loss and nitrogen cycles. The boundaries are levels of environmental damage that humanity cannot cross without changing the Earth's natural functions almost permanently. Australian National University professor Will Steffen, who was an author of the study, said he hoped the boundaries would spark an ethical and philosophical debate around humanity's role on the planet. ''Really, what we are concerned about is maintaining a planet that humans can thrive on - the sort of planet in the last 10,000 years that we have been able to develop agriculture, villages, cities, civilisations,'' Professor Steffen said yesterday. Professor Steffen stressed that the boundaries were rough first drafts, which in some cases required further extensive scientific research. Two of the boundaries - chemical pollution and atmospheric aerosol loading such as smog and dust storms - do not yet have a measurable boundary. The study found boundaries could be crossed for short periods so that humanity could pursue long-term social and economic expansion. But crossing one boundary might trigger consequences in other zones, such as climate change affecting the amount of fresh water on the planet. Professor Steffen said there had been debate among the scientists about whether any of the boundaries were more important than the others, but climate change and biodiversity loss were clearly the most pressing. The climate change boundary found that crossing into an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 350-550 parts per million created increasing risk of large polar ice melts. As of March, the concentration was at 387 ppm. But Professor Steffen said just as crucial was the rate of biodiversity loss, including what is now known as the sixth mass species extinction in Earth's history, and the first caused by humans. The study said if species extinctions rose above 10 a year for every million on the planet, it would significantly weaken ecosystems, which are essential to natural functioning of the Earth including food growth. The natural background rate of extinction is up to one species a year for every million. Current rates are estimated to be 100-1000 times the natural rate. ''There needs to be a debate around the philosophical and ethical values of allowing this rate of biodiversity loss to continue,'' Professor Steffen said. The study will be released in an environmental science journal today.
Many of the critics of climate change models claim that current models only project future conditions are not validated by recreating accurately past climate changes. This new model at Oak Ridge started running at 21,000 years ago and accurately replicates what has happened since then. Oak Ridge Supercomputers Provide First Simulation of Abrupt Climate Change Jul 16th, 2009 in In The Spotlight Researchers use ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Jaguar’ to study climate’s past and future Simulations show deglaciation during the Bølling-Allerød, Earth’s most recent period of natural global warming. At the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the world’s fastest supercomputer for unclassified research is simulating abrupt climate change and shedding light on an enigmatic period of natural global warming in Earth’s relatively recent history. The work, led by scientists at the University of Wisconsin and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), is featured in the July 17 issue of the journal Science and provides valuable new data about the causes and effects of global climate change. This research is funded by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE’s Office of Science and by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its paleoclimate program and support of NCAR. In Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, its climate has oscillated between hot and cold. Today our world is relatively cool, resting between ice ages. Variations in planetary orbit, solar output, and volcanic eruptions all change Earth’s temperature. Since the Industrial Revolution, however, humans have probably warmed the world faster than nature has. The greenhouse gases we generate by burning fossil fuels and forests will raise the average global temperature 2 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 6 degrees Celsius) this century, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates. Most natural climate change has taken place over thousands or even millions of years. But an episode of abrupt climate change occurred over centuries—possibly decades—during Earth’s most recent period of natural global warming, called the Bolling-Allerod warming. Approximately 19,000 years ago, ice sheets started melting in North America and Eurasia. By 17,000 years ago, the melting glaciers had dumped so much freshwater into the North Atlantic that it stopped the overturning ocean circulation, which is driven by density gradients caused by influxes of freshwater and surface heat. This occurrence led to a cooling in Greenland called the Heinrich event 1. The freshwater flux continued on and off until about 14,500 years ago, when it virtually stopped. Greenland’s temperature then rose by 27 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) in several centuries, and the sea level rose about 16 feet (5 meters). The cause of this dramatic Bolling-Allerod warming has remained a mystery and source of intense debate. “Now we are able to simulate these transient events for the first time,” says Zhengyu Liu, a University of Wisconsin professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and environmental studies whose team simulated the abrupt climate changes using DOE supercomputers at ORNL. The Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility allocated supercomputing time through DOE’s Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program. “It represents so far the most serious validation test of our model capability for simulating large, abrupt climate changes, and this validation is critical for us to assess the model’s projection of abrupt changes in the future,” according to Liu. The Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility is funded by the Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research in DOE’s Office of Science. Liu, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Climatic Research, and his collaborator Bette Otto-Bliesner, an atmospheric scientist and climate modeler at NCAR, lead an interdisciplinary, multi-institution research group attempting the world’s first continuous simulation of 21,000 years of Earth’s climate history, from the last glacial maximum to the present, in a state-of-the-art climate model. The group will also extend the simulation 200 years into the future to forecast climate. The findings could provide great insight into the fate of ocean circulation in light of continued glacial melting in Greenland and Antarctica. Three parts to abrupt change Most climate simulations in comprehensive climate models so far are discontinuous, amounting to snapshots of century-sized time slices taken every 1,000 years or so. Such simulations are incapable of simulating abrupt transitions occurring on centennial or millennial timescales. Liu and Otto-Bliesner employ petascale supercomputers, capable of a quadrillion calculations each second, to stitch together a continuous stream of global climate snapshots and recover the virtual history of global climate in a motion picture. They use the Community Climate System Model (CCSM), a global climate model that includes coupled interactions between atmosphere, oceans, lands, and sea ice developed with funding from the NSF, DOE, and NASA. Based on insights gleaned from their continuous simulation, Liu and his colleagues propose a novel mechanism to explain the Bolling-Allerod warming observed in Greenland ice cores. The three-part mechanism they suggest matches the climate record. First, one-third of the warming, or 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), resulted from a 45 parts-per-million increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the scientists posit. The cause of the carbon dioxide increase, however, is still a topic of active research, Liu says. Second, another one-third of the warming was due to recovery of oceanic heat transport. When fresh meltwater flowed off the ice sheet, it stopped the overturning ocean current and in turn the warm surface current from low latitudes, leading to a cooling in the North Atlantic and nearby region. When the melting ice sheet was no longer dumping freshwater into the North Atlantic, the region began to heat up. The last one-third of the temperature rise resulted from an overshoot of the overturning circulation. “Once the glacial melt stopped, the enormous subsurface heat that had accumulated for 3,000 years erupted like a volcano and popped out over decades,” Liu hypothesizes. “This huge heat flux melted the sea ice and warmed up Greenland.” Liu and Otto-Bliesner’s collaborators include Feng He, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who is mainly responsible for the deglaciation modeling, as well as ocean modeler Esther Brady (NCAR), atmospheric scientist Robert Tomas (NCAR), glaciologists Peter Clark (Oregon State University) and Anders Carlson (University of Wisconsin–Madison), paleoceanographers Jean Lynch-Stieglitz (Georgia Institute of Technology) and William Curry (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), geochemist Edward Brook (Oregon State University), atmospheric modeler David Erickson (ORNL), computing expert Robert Jacob (Argonne National Laboratory), and climate modelers John Kutzbach (University of Wisconsin–Madison) and Jun Cheng (Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology). “This interdisciplinary team, each member contributing to a different aspect of the project, ranging from a proxy data interpretation to supercomputing coding, has been essential for the success of this project,” says Liu. The 2008 simulations ran on a Cray X1E supercomputer named Phoenix and an even faster Cray XT system called Jaguar. The scientists used nearly a million processor hours in 2008 to run one-third of their simulation, from 21,000 years ago—the most recent glacial maximum—to 14,000 years ago—the planet’s most recent major period of natural global warming. With 4 million INCITE processor hours allocated on Jaguar for 2009, 2010, and 2011, they will complete the simulation, capturing climate from 14,000 years ago to the present and projecting it 200 years into the future. “This has been a dream run of both of ours for a long time,” says Otto-Bliesner. “This was an opportunity to take advantage of the CCSM, the computing facility at Oak Ridge, and the INCITE call for proposals.” No other research group has successfully simulated such a long period in a comprehensive climate model. Science-based forecasts More accurately depicting the past means clearer insights into climate’s outlook. “The current forecast predicts the ocean overturning current is likely to weaken but not stop over the next century,” Liu says. “However, it remains highly uncertain whether abrupt changes will occur in the next century because of our lack of confidence in the model’s capability in simulating abrupt changes. Our simulation is an important step in assessing the likelihood of predicted abrupt climate changes in the future because it provides a rigorous test of our model against the major abrupt changes observed in the recent past.” In 2004 and 2005, climate simulations on DOE supercomputers contributed data to a repository that scientists worldwide accessed to write approximately 300 journal articles. The published articles were cited in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, which concluded that global warming is definitely happening and humans have probably caused most of the warming since the mid-20th century. Liu and Otto-Bliesner’s simulations may soon find their way into IPCC’s data repository and reports as other groups succeed in continuous simulation of past abrupt climate changes and demonstrate the results are reproducible. Meanwhile, Earth’s climate continues to prove that change is an eternal constant. Understanding how we affect the rate of change is a grand challenge of our generation. Petascale computing may accelerate answers that in turn inform our policies and guide our actions. —by Dawn Levy
Biogeochemists Map Out Carbon Dioxide Emissions In The U.S.
December 1, 2008 — Biogeochemists located where the most carbon dioxide emissions occur in the U.S. using a new mapping system. With this program-available to anyone on the Web-researchers were able to extract information about carbon dioxide emissions by transforming data on local air pollution and combining it with geographic information systems (GIS) data to layer the emissions onto infrastructures at the Earth's surface. The map helps us learn more about carbon emissions and gives scientists a way to check the accuracy of satellite images
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates emissions in the United States rose almost 15 percent between 1990 and 2006, and the number will continue to rise. Carbon dioxide is mainly responsible for the increase. A new high-tech map reveals the areas in the country most responsible for the carbon dioxide problem.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most abundant greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Its sources can be found almost everywhere -- from cars, to cows, to power plants -- but scientists are still trying to figure out which parts of the country are pumping out the most CO2.
In the past, CO2 levels have been calculated based on population, putting the Northeast at the top of the list. Now, a new map called Vulcan reveals for the first time where the top carbon dioxide producers are in the country. The answer surprised Kevin Gurney, Ph.D., a biogeochemist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
"There are a lot more emissions in the Southeast than we previously thought, and a lot of that is because it's not necessarily associated with where people live directly, but actually where industry and activities are," said Dr. Gurney.
The high-resolution map shows 100 times more detail than ever before and zooms in to show greenhouse gas sources right down to factories, power plants and even roadways. An animated version of Vulcan reveals huge amounts of greenhouse gas gets blown toward the North Atlantic region.
"We've never had a map with this much detail and accuracy that everyone can view online," Dr. Gurney said.
The map helps scientists better visualize and target the areas where CO2 emissions are the highest and help those areas reduce their negative impact on Earth. It can be downloaded for free online from the Purdue University Vulcan Project Web site.
ABOUT CARBON DIOXIDE: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by about 30 percent since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the late 1800's. Most of this increase comes from using fossil fuel -- coal, oil and natural gas -- for energy, but approximately 25 percent of the carbon came from changes in land use, such as the clearing of forests and the cultivation of soils for food production. Natural sources of atmospheric carbon include gases emitted by volcanoes, and respiration of living things. We breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide.
ABOUT AIR POLLUTION: Air pollution is made up of many kinds of gases, droplets and particles that can remain suspended in the air. This makes the air dirty. The easiest way to visualize airborne particles (also called aerosols) is to exhale outside on a cold day and watch the fog come out of your mouth as water vapor forms into water droplets. The same thing happens in the atmosphere, but for different reasons. Under certain conditions individual molecules come together and form particles -- a chemical soup. In the city, air pollution may be caused by cars, buses and airplanes, as well as industry and construction. Ground-level ozone is created when engine and fuel gases already released into the air interact when sunlight hits them. Ozone levels increase in cities when the air is still, the sun is bright and the temperature is warm.
The American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report. This report has also been produced thanks to a generous grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.
Global Change and Sustainable Development: Asia-Pacific Perspectives
Edited by Pak Sum Low
This book follows the first volume edited by Pak Sum Low, Climate Change and Africa, published by Cambridge University Press in 2005.
This second volume looks at global change and sustainable development from Asia-Pacific perspectives. Global change includes not only global environmental change, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and land degradation, but also social, cultural and economic change. All these changes are interacting with each other in a globalized world and have significant implications for sustainable development and poverty reduction.
The book is composed of contributions by 85 leading experts from nearly 30 countries, in a total of 41 chapters, and has been peer-reviewed by nearly 140 experts. It is divided into three parts. Part 1 focuses on scientific issues of climate change, biodiversity and land degradation, including regional impacts, vulnerabilities and responses. Part 2 discusses issues relating to sustainable development, including sustainability; eco-efficiency; environmental management, trends and tools; sustainable energy, water, sanitation and health; multilateral environmental agreements; and disaster risk reduction. Part 3 examines the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development and poverty reduction within the changing ecological, social, cultural and economic environment in Asia and the Pacific, including different development paradigms as in the case of Bhutan.
The contributors to the volume include Dr Mostafa K. Tolba, former Executive Director of UNEP (1976-1992) to which the book is dedicated; Professor Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate for Economics in 1998; Dr Emil Salim, former Minister of State for Population and the Environment in Indonesia and currently Professor in Economic Development at the University of Indonesia; Dr Qin Dahe, former Administrator of China Meteorological Administration and Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I; and Mrs Bernarditas C. Muller, a former diplomat, who is currently serving as the Environmental Affairs Adviser of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines. Other contributors are: Salvano Briceño, Marcia V.J. Kran, Linda Anne Stevenson, Jan C. van der Leun, Mohd Talib Latif, Yousef Al-Otaibi, Peter Brimblecombe, Jariya Boonjawat, Lu Qi, Wang Guoqian, Yang Youlin, Wang Sen, Su Zhizhu, Jiao Meiyan, Wu Bo, Wang Xuequan, Sun Honglie, Liu Jian, Mohd. Nor Salleh, Michael V. Galante, Thanakvaro T. De Lopez, Ponlok Tin, Nguyen Huu Ninh, Luong Quang Huy, Philip Michael Kelly, George Manful, Vute Wangwacharakul, Kwi-Gon Kim, Anne-Isabella Degryse-Blatau, Jun-Young Choi, Hee Sun Choi, Gernot Brodnig, Yanqing Wang, Ademola K. Braimoh, Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt, Andrew N. Gillison, Mani M. Babu, Amirtharaj C. Williams, Tariq Aziz, , Gopola Areendran, Altamas Baig, Sujit Bairagi, Hiten K.R. Baishya, Pranab J. Bora, Pankaj K. Sharma, Pijush K. Dutta, Chukhu Loma, Rajeev Semwal, Amit Sharma, Pankaj Sharma, John Peet , Rene Van Berkel, Anthony S.F. Chiu, Alvin B. Culaba, Raymond R. Tan, Ruby Pineda-Henson, Sergio Feld, Peter Noel King, Bryant J Allen, R Mike Bourke, Keith Openshaw, S.C. Bhattacharya, Binoy K. Choudhury , Euiso Choi, S. Matsui, Jeongim Park, Alexandre Timoshenko, Karen Hulme, David M. Ong, Ilan Kelman, Cody L. Knutson, Donald A. Wilhite, Shashi Kant, Anoja Wickramasinghe, Ros Taplin, Sk Noim Uddin, Kanokwan Pibalsook, Jamba Gyeltshen, and Chen Ying.
Global Change and Sustainable Development: Asia-Pacific Perspectives will prove to be an invaluable reference for all researchers and policy makers with an interest in global change and sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific.
The book is sponsored by UNDP-Regional Centre Bangkok, United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, China Meteorological Administration, Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) and Tiempo.
WASHINGTON, June 12, 2009 (AFP) - President Barack Obama on Friday set up a task force to craft the first U.S. national policy for sustainably managing the country’s oceans, drawing praise from environmentalists who said the move was long overdue.
“We are taking a more integrated and comprehensive approach to developing a national ocean policy that will guide us well into the future,” Obama said in a proclamation declaring June “National Oceans Month.”
The proclamation was issued along with a memorandum setting up the high-level Ocean Policy Task Force.
“Our nation’s economy relies heavily on the oceans ... They support countless jobs in an array of industries including fishing, tourism and energy,” the president said.
The task force will be led by the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality—the main environmental policy adviser to the US president—Nancy Sutley, the memorandum said.
Made up of senior policy-level officials, it will draft several recommendations and draw up a “comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based” framework for sustainably using the resources of US oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes.
“This is something that two US national commissions have called for,” said Sarah Chasis, director of the Ocean Initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“The Pew Oceans Commission and the US Commission on Ocean Policy in 2003 and 2004 came out and said we really need an ocean policy to bring together all the disparate authorities that manage our oceans and have a cohesive vision of what we want for the oceans and how to manage them,” Chasis told AFP.
The United States, which has the largest ocean area of any country in the world, currently has 140 laws and 20 agencies managing its oceans.
Obama’s plan, which would pull together all the different authorities and laws and focus attention on the problems and challenges facing the oceans, their riches and those who manage them.
“There’s increasing recognition of the problems of the ocean. It’s three-quarters of our planet; it’s something we depend on for the air we breathe, the food we eat, for jobs, recreation,” said Chasis.
“There’s more scientific understanding of the ocean: it’s becoming more acidic with global warming and countries are beginning to understand the seriousness of the threat.
“This action by the president is a step in the right direction for the US,” she said.
This post draws attention to important pillars in the sustainable development debate. The first is the need to measure human progress in ways other than economic development. And Bhutan's national happiness index is a great example. The other is an often unrecognized fact that Japan is making great strides in moving towards a sustainable society and the Japan for Sustainability website, included in our links to other websites, which I recommend that everyone should subscribe to.
Report from Bhutan:
Gross National Happiness (GNH) Versus Gross National Product (GNP)
Following the reports on China in our November and December issues in
2008 as part of our evolution toward "Asia for Sustainability" (AFS),
JFS co-founder Junko Edahiro reports on a meeting she attended in Bhutan,
the Fourth International Conference on Gross National Happiness (GNH).
It was held in Thimphu, the national capital, from November 24 to 26,
Gross National Happiness (GNH) is an index used to measure national
strength and progress based on people's happiness, rather than on levels
of production as measured by gross national product (GNP) and gross
domestic product (GDP). This concept was described in 1976 by Bhutan's
fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, as "more important than GNP," and
was chosen as the nation's primary development philosophy and its
ultimate goal of development.
See also: GPI, GNH, GCH: True Indicators of Progress
The first International Conference on GNH to promote the concept and
creation of a GNH index was held in Bhutan in 2004, the second in Canada
in 2005, and the third in Thailand in 2007.
The theme of the fourth International GNH Conference was "Practice and
Measurement," indicating a step forward into a new phase focusing more
on how to reflect GNH in policies, and how to grasp the current
situation and measure progress, rather than considering GNH as simply a
principle or philosophy.
A total of 90 people from 25 countries attended the conference, with
about 10 from Japan, which was the second highest number of attendees
next to Bhutan. In the morning of the first day, the organizer gave
opening remarks after a ceremony conducted by Bhutanese monks, then H. E.
Jigmi Y. Thinley, the first prime minister of Bhutan following the
country's shift to a democratic parliamentary system, gave the keynote
The prime minister touched upon the words of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel
Wangchuck, Bhutan's fifth king, who, in his coronation address the week
before the conference, clearly said that the "promotion of GNH was his
responsibility and priority." The prime minister in his speech also
repeatedly said that GNH lies at the foundation of Bhutan's national
policies. He also noted that, while most believe economic growth is
necessary in order to alleviate poverty, "to believe this is to believe
in killing the patient in order to cure the disease. Even the
justification for economic growth for poverty alleviation seems very
shaky, unless we radically improve redistribution."
After the opening ceremony, the general meeting began, and one of the
highlights was the announcement of the GNH Index by the Centre for
Bhutan Studies. The idea of GNH is well-known, but how can it be
measured? This is what the world wants to know today.
Bhutan has made four pillars of GNH the basis of its major governance
principles: economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the
preservation and promotion of Bhutan's culture, and good governance in
the form of a democracy. Nine dimensions support the four pillars:
living standards, health, psychological well-being, education, ecology,
community vitality, time use, culture, and good governance.
This time, in order to gauge the progress of advancement with the four
pillars of GNH, 72 variables were selected to correspond to the nine
dimensions, and a national survey was carried out. At the conference, a
researcher from the Centre for Bhutan Studies presented the types of
variables selected and an overview of the survey findings. Participants
from other countries also gave papers on their studies and practices to
measure happiness, which led to some lively discussions.
(See also the Gross National Happiness website, operated by the Centre
for Bhutan Studies, for the GNH Index and the survey results, at
While the Bhutanese government actively promotes GNH, this does not mean
that it guarantees the people's happiness. It simply promises, as the
nation and/or the government, that it will work to create the conditions
under which individuals can seek GNH.
During the conference, one Bhutanese participant said, "Bhutan should
build its own GNH-based economy, politics, and culture. Considering GNH,
it is clear that even democracy is not an end. Democracy is a means of
good governance necessary for GNH." From such comments, I could sense a
move to start considering GNH as a foundation of nation building, not
just as a concept or an index, as many people think.
Obviously, Bhutan is not a utopia just because it advocates GNH. For
example, in many areas of the country, infrastructure such as adequate
water supply has yet to be developed well enough. The country also has
many other problems related to modernization, particularly growing
concern about an increase of juvenile crime and other social problems
since the introduction of television.
In addition, even the term "GNH" is not specifically mentioned in
Bhutan's current tenth development plan. Later on, at the wrap-up
session of the conference, a Bhutanese participant said that GNH should
not be used to solve world issues but to solve national problems in
The three-day conference was concluded with a strong message that
putting GNH into the mainstream of Bhutanese politics will be a driving
force in creating a more holistic society in the country. The next
conference will be held in Brazil.
The fact that the prime minister gave the conference's opening speech,
with many ministers and cabinet officials in attendance, is an
indication of the importance the government places on GNH. On the third
day of the conference, I sensed the essence of GNH at an event at a
luncheon hosted by the king, to which I was invited together with all
the participants from outside Bhutan.
Prior to the lunch meeting, the newly coronated 28-year-old king stood
in front of the entrance of the palace, shook hands with guests one by
one, exchanged words for a while, and welcomed them all politely. I
myself shook hands and talked with him for a while. There was no hurry
with him at all to meet individually with the several dozens of guests.
He focused his entire attention on the here and now, serene like a calm
lake. I sincerely felt that he cherished the time with me, and I was
deeply impressed with this.
In regard to the character of the king, a person I interviewed who knows
Bhutan well said, "At the coronation ceremony last week, citizens
gathered from villages across the country to see him, even for just a
glimpse, with many having made an overnight trip to get there. Tens of
thousands of people stood in line. When people became impatient and were
about to rush to him, the King took the microphone and said, 'I promise
to shake hands with the person at the end of the line. Please wait.'
When the time was almost running out, the King started walking and shook
hands with everyone up to the last person and exchanged words, instead
of standing in place and waiting to greet the people there."
Also, as an example of the character of the former king, who established
the basis of GNH, he administrated state affairs while living in a
modest house, and when the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake hit Japan, he
prayed for three days without eating.
When I talked with Bhutanese people, I felt that they sincerely admire
and respect the fourth king. And also I could feel that the fifth king,
just as his predecessor, wants to cherish his people in earnest.
After greeting the conference participants, the king entered the
luncheon hall alone, and lined up for food just like the rest of us.
When he had his food, he seated himself at one of the tables and started
talking with people around him while eating. Watching him, I realized in
a true manner that the king embodies the essence of GNH as one that
treasures his people one by one, as well as sensing the hearts of those
who respect the king.
Setting the GNH Index itself is only a start. Creating an index and
measuring progress is one thing, while the holistic idea that "there is
something important in those unmeasurables" is another. The question is:
How do these ideas get incorporated into their principle goal of making
the Index useful for Bhutan and the rest of the world?
This is a very important process unfolding. I would like to watch its
progress and promote the idea with like-minded people and groups around
the world who think there is something more important in life than GNP and GDP. If you too are trying to measure or visualize something along these lines and want to change society by communicating it, JFS would really like to hear from you.
Written by Junko Edahiro