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Travel to Bhutan:

The first nation to be carbon negative.

By Olivia Chamberlain

Located in the Eastern Himalayas between China and India, the Kingdom of Bhutan is considered not only the greenest and happiest country in the world, but also the first to be carbon negative. This is not an act of fate, however, but an effort that has been in the works for about 20 years.

In 2008, the Constitution of Bhutan was finally put into effect; it was based on Buddhist ideology and other modern constitutions, specifically the Constitution of South Africa, for their emphasis on human rights.

The world’s last remaining Buddhist Kingdom, Bhutan’s GNH (Gross National Happiness) was created in an effort to live holistically, unlike measuring economics through GDP (Gross Domestic Product). One of their four pillars is Environmental Conservation; over 50% of Bhutan’s land is protected by the government, and the Constitution itself requires that 60% of the forest cover be maintained.

Interestingly, Bhutan has slowly increased its forest cover over the years, with over 70% of the territory being protected by forest. Similar to the rest of the world, Bhutan is experiencing the effects of climate change, and as a result, traveling to Bhutan could be slightly difficult for the average tourist.

As of Sept. 23, 2022, Bhutan issued a $200 USD Sustainable Development Fee to all travelers hailing from outside of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, a hefty raise from the previous SDF of $65 USD.Added with other fees, including housing and food, there is a minimum fee of $250 each day. The idea of a Sustainable Development Fee was created by Bhutan in order to fight the negative effects of mass tourism in 1973.

Moreover, while Bhutan increased the SDF, they overhauled their mandatory tourism packages, in which tourists would have to preregister with a tourism agency to take part in activities and tours around the small country. While the overhaul now gives tourists the freedom to schedule their own excursions, it has left tourism agencies in Bhutan unhappy.

In a recent New York Times article, Bhutan’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Tandi Dorji, said, “In the long run, our goal is to create high-value experiences for visitors, and well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens.”

In order to transform into what Bhutanese government officials have referred to as “high value, low volume” tourism, the nation markets itself as an exclusive travel destination, helping to preserve its culture, while also decreasing the carbon impact of tourism.

While there are plenty of affordable ways to experience the natural beauty of Bhutan, the cost to maintain a carbon negative country is, understandably, high. To fully experience the natural wonders of Bhutan while also experiencing the impressive cultural significance of philosophy, all it takes (before the SDF) is a $40 visa!

I think we, as individuals, can learn a lot from Bhutan. Their philosophy reminds me to consider my own happiness as the most important thing, which in college, is essential.Above all else, kindness is the most valuable currency, and the Kingdom of Bhutan proves this every day.


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