The subtle effects of Bhutan and where to from here …

This isn’t a travel piece on Bhutan.

This is a piece about the after effects of Bhutan, for Steve and I discovered only yesterday that it has quietly, pervasively, had a profound effect on both of us.

It’s also a review of Jane Gleeson-White’s new book Six Capitals.

And it’s also about saving the world from environmental disaster and finding a place of peace in the process.

Not my everyday blog lol.

Better get a cuppa.

Just to give you a little back story … the reason Bhutan has long been on our wish list is because I studied journalism (here in Bathurst) with a boy from Bhutan and a girl from Singapore in the early 80s. They ended up getting married and have spent their lives in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, a tiny kingdom to the east of Nepal in the Himalayas. Bhutan is the country that espouses Gross National Happiness (as opposed to GDP) and after spending most of his life setting up and editing the country’s first English speaking newspaper, for the past six years (following the king’s abdication to make way for democracy) our friend Kinley has found himself in the role of Secretary for Information and Communication. When our daughter Madeleine was heading to Nepal with friends we suggested dovetailing into the front of her trip with a week as a family in Bhutan. That was in October just past.

We, like everyone else who visits Bhutan (unless you are invited as a guest), spent the week traveling with a guide and driver but despite the formal arrangements we were able to break away and catch up with Kinley and Pek throughout the week.

On leaving, Kinley left me with this, a book of gentle short stories he’s written that captures the spirit and values of the Bhutan he knows and loves. Values that are being seriously challenged as the country slowly opens its doors to the developed world.

within-the-realm-of-happiness-kinley-dorji

During a very busy three and a half weeks we had three days in both Bangkok and Siem Reap, the week in Bhutan, a week in Nepal and finished with four days in Delhi. The contrasts between those destinations were acute and that’s for another piece but Bhutan is the one that’s stayed with us.

Upon return, a stint in hospital. A quiet recovery. Down time to reflect – for both of us.

Devouring books.

Including this one which I just have to share with you … Jane Gleeson-White’s Six Capitals ~ the revolution capitalism has to have – or can accountants save the planet?

six-capitals-jane-gleeson-white

The dog tags represent insights and aha moments. I couldn’t put it down which is astounding given that it’s largely about economics and environmental law.

six-capitals-jane-gleeson-white-pages

You know me. I’m not an economist, I’m not a political animal, I’m just an individual who has been, in her own way, worrying about the state of the world, the increasing power of corporations, the pervasive ‘endless more’ value system we see in the developed world and ultimately concerned that the environment will be the biggest casualty.

 

In a nutshell, Gleeson-White is putting forward a case that just as the agricultural and industrial revolutions spawned accounting practices to cope with rapidly changing economies, a completely new accounting system is now needed in the technological age to capture and measure all the ‘externalities’ that aren’t included in standard double entry accounting or GDP figures.

And the big one that is missing, the elephant is the room … is nature.

“The problem of externalities is best expressed by former World Bank economist Raj Patel in his hypothetical ‘$200 hamburger’. In this thought experiment Patel estimated the real cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac to be $200. The reason that Big Macs sell for almost one-hundredth of this figure is that their price does not account for their real costs. These include their carbon footprint, their impact on the environment in terms of water use and soil degradation, and the enormous health-care costs of diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Traditional accounting models do not take these costs into account, but they still have to be paid; it is just that the McDonald’s Corporation does not pay them. We do. Society as a whole pays, in the form of environmental disasters, climate change, the depletion of natural resources and higher health costs.”

It is one of many examples she cites.

She describes how, since the 1970s, numerous attempts have been made around the world to try and build these intangible externalities into a new ‘integrated’ accounting framework. The six potential capitals that would be included are: financial capital, manufactured capital, intellectual capital, human capital, social and relationship capital and finally natural capital. The sad fact is though that financial capital will always win out because “the corporation as we know it, is legally bound to make decisions in favour of financial capital.” Corporations currently exist to make profits for their shareholders. Hang the rest.

The six capitals model is noble but ultimately I think it lacks teeth. It’s like asking a gummy octogenarian to try and eat a steak. I think there’s also something profoundly tricky in expecting corporations, whose sole raison d’être to date has been to make profit, to now expect them to change their value system. How can we trust them to tell their stories truthfully? And even though there are some amazing corporations trying to do amazing things it still, to me, feels like applying band-aids to a cancer patient. Over at the guesthouse at Duckmaloi there is a 50 year old washing machine that still works as well as the day it was bought. Why can’t modern corporations do that today? Some are yes, but while the current model is to make profit, no, I can’t trust corporations to do the right thing.

What interested me far more in the book is the idea of giving nature legal rights.

“In 1972, legal scholar Christopher D. Stone published an article called Should Trees Have Standing?: Toward legal rights for natural objects, which challenged the legal precedent that trees–nature–are objects and therefore have no rights in law. Stone argued instead that trees should be given legal rights … He argues that just as over the centuries we have extended legal rights to an increasing number of human beings – including slaves, women, children and racial minorities – and granted legal personhood to various inanimate things such as trusts, ships, nation states and the ubiquitous corporation itself, so it is time to extend these rights of legal personhood to nature.”

Boom!

Think about it.

The Alaskan Coast vs Exxon, The Gulf of Mexico vs BP. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying Stone’s argument, possibly not. But the fact is, it’s happening, very, very slowly.

“On 15 October 2012, Bolivia passed the world’s first law granting all nature equal rights to humans: the Framework Law on Mother Earth and Integral Development to Live Well … The Inclusion of ‘Integral Development to Live Well’ refers to Bolivia’s indigenous philosophy of ‘vivir bien’, which is central to a new body of legislation passed by the country since 2006. It is defined as ‘a civilizational and cultural alternative to capitalism based on the indigenous worldview’ that ‘signifies living in complementarity, harmony and balance with Mother Nature and societies, in equality and solidarity and eliminating inequalities and forms of domination. It is to Live Well among each other, Live Well with our Surroundings and Live Well with ourselves.”

Oh Bolivia!

And while we’re in the neighbourhood a quick look at Costa Rica.

“In 1997, Costa Rica became a pioneer in the developing world when it introduced its own payments for ecosystems services …. to pay landowners for the services provided by the forests on their land … The results have been impressive. Not only have Costa Rica’s forests and natural areas been protected since the launch of the program in 1997, but large tracts of ruined land have also been restored. In the late 1980s, only 21% of Costa Rica was covered by forests; by 2010 that had risen to 52%. This was accompanied by improvements in the country’s living standards and energy savings. In 1985, only half of Costa Rica’s energy came from renewable sources. By 2010, this figure had risen to 92%.”

92%!

Don’t get me started on Australia’s environmental standing at the moment.

But while we’re in our own neighbourhood it’s worth mentioning that in September 2012, a river in the North Island of New Zealand, the Whanganui River, became a legal person.

Boom!

solar fountain

I am sitting at our kitchen table looking out at a beautiful blue day. We have a little solar powered fountain in the garden. It still blows me away that it needs no traditional power.

These past couple of weeks I have been forced to lay low, to take things quietly.

And it has been the most beautiful gift.

Ultimately for me, life comes down to values. I was so pleased to see Gleeson-White reflect on this. Kinley, too, when he signed our book. Every time I’ve ever been in an unhappy workplace there’s been a rub of values. The same with relationships. The value of ‘endless more’ is at the heart of my concerns about the current trajectory of Corporation Earth. Endless more does not preserve our environment. Endless more is not making us happy. It is doing the exact opposite, especially for those who are at risk of having endless less.

I believe the Bhutanese are on to something with their Gross National Happiness model. As Kinley said to me, “My main concern is that a small country with big ideas may not be able to change a big world with small ideas.” Touche.

Apart from the Buddhist beliefs that permeate every layer of society, the Bhutanese spend their lives living in the shadow of the Himalayas. It has a way of keeping you in your place. It makes you realise how small you are in the scheme of things. That every living creature has its place. Even cats ;)

even cats

 

It has definitely left its mark on us.

 

Congratulations Jane on a superb book. I’ve just scratched at the edges here. Friends, if you’re interested, it’s available here.

Unless Kinley has a stash of books somewhere, his is a little more difficult to find.

Have a beautiful Christmas. Be kind to the planet. Be kind to each other.

Thanks so much for being here this year.

I love our little quiet corner of the internet.

loads of love.

Marg

xx

    7 Comments

    The love goes down …

    I have been quiet for a little while here on the blog. And just this week I have realised I have been quiet within myself, for some months now. Not really myself. Not seeking company. Wintering if you like within. Not cold and frosty, just cat-like content within the walls of my own quiet hearth.

    I’ve just had an operation, a hysterectomy, and I’m home today. And all is well.

    I’ve been debating whether to even share this latest here and now with you.

    view from st vincents paddington

    I had five nights in hospital in Sydney doped up on Endone and other lovely drugs until the penultimate day when I refused all heavy meds just to get a real sense of how my hurts were truly traveling. I woke in the middle of the night and for the first time all week, the chatter of work and day to day worries had returned. We talk a lot about being mindful but I realised how utterly blissful it had been to be mind-less for those few days. How long has it been since you have had the headspace to read a page turning novel? How long since you have had regular day-time sleeps or just sat and stared out a window at a late afternoon lightening storm? Or woken early and watched the sun rise, the whole beautiful show from pink to blue?

    Happy to be out the other side.

    Happy just to be.

    To be.

    Here.

    In a week of quiet reflection I was thinking about when my mum had a hysterectomy many years ago, experienced through semi-whispered conversations at some vague moment in my teenage years. And those of my family and close friends who have since been through it or some different, even scarier challenge. And how, on reflection, I wasn’t really there for any of them. Concerned yes but there? Really? Sympathetic? Empathatic? Understanding? In the deepest closest way? I would have to say no. I was on the sideline rooting for them. But that’s different to being on the playing field - with them – part of the same team.

    It got me thinking that life is a series of clubs.

    I am now part of The Hysterectomy Club.

    At different points along the way we suddenly find ourselves admitted to a new club and set out on a whole new round of figuring out what the hell is happening.

    I’m thinking about The Pregnancy Club when the line turns blue and suddenly everywhere you turn you see babies and mothers pushing prams. Or the Pelvic Floor and Everything Post Birth Club that no-one ever talked about because if they did you would probably never get pregnant in the first place. I’m thinking about The Being Bullied at School Club, The I Will Never Have Children Club, The Parents of ‘Adventurous’ Teenagers Club, The Breast Cancer Survivor Club, The Divorced Club, The Friends Who Have Lost Friends Club, The Losing Your Partner Club, The Gone Broke Club, The Club of Broken Hearts, The Dicky Thyroid Club, The Children Who Have Lost Their Parents Club. The list – as life randomly throws its best curveballs at us – is endless. I know you will have memberships of your own.

    I have a glamorous 80-something year old friend Lorraine who has a favourite saying: “The love goes down.” Until this week I’ve never really understood what she meant. But all of a sudden I get it.

    I wasn’t anywhere near the playing field for my mum or older sisters or friends. But they have variously been there for me. When I became a part of the same club, the love flowed down.

    Just as when my daughter and son or nieces or nephews or younger friends will face their own similar challenges in the future. The love will flow down.

    It’s not that as youngies we don’t care. We just haven’t lived some things yet and until you live them, no matter how hard you might try to empathise, you just can’t know.

    Have I crossed a threshold? This week I realised I’m a card carrying member of more clubs than I’d care to count. It comes with getting older. But you know what, it’s not a bad thing, it’s a bloody beautiful thing. This whole getting older business, this getting of wisdom – not buying it, not stumbling on it, not winning it – this getting of wisdom is the gift we receive for having lived through all the trials and tribulations of life.

    Have I crossed a threshold? I dunno.

    I still feel like a 24 year old in my head.

    Then again, it could just be an Endone flashback ;)

    xx

      26 Comments

      … a tale of opium and spanish señoritas

      A Spanish señorita has stepped on to the stage in our garden.

      Neck proud and erect, earrings dangling, skirt flouncing.

      spanish senorita opium poppy

      A whirling flurry of passion immersed in her own red dangerousness.

      opium poppy red skirt flying

      A blurred oblivion of colour and movement.

      pink underside opium poppy

      But behind the facade of bravado and foot stamping she has a trove of quiet secrets, secrets that she keeps close and well concealed.

      The tantalising question is

      hidden secrets opium poppy

      Who will she choose to unlock them?

        6 Comments
        • Get new posts
          emailed to you


        • About me

          Hi I’m Margaret. I live in Australia.
          I sprinkle creative magic onto businesses
          over at red moon creative.
          When I'm not there, I'm here and now, doing my own creative happy dance – primarily to avoid housework and other
          high impact activities. read more...

        • Archives

        • Categories

        • Unless stated all photos on destination
          here&now are my original copyrighted
          photographs. By all means blog
          my photos but please link back
          to this page. Thank you!

          site design (me) red moon creative