Love for vehicles worry green, happy Bhutan

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has pledged to absorb more carbon than it emits for “all times to come.” But the urban trend of investing in vehicles, especially Japanese and Indian made four-wheelers, is worrying policy makers.

The 70% verdant forest cover of Bhutan, maintained by strict environment laws, can absorb 6.3 million tons of carbon every year, while the annual emission rate is only around 1.5 million tons. That means, this country of around 700,000 can still afford to emit more without being the bad guy.

But the rate at which Bhutanese are buying vehicles is alarming despite eco-friendly messages and the prime minister Lyonchen Jigme Y. Thinley himself encouraging urban citizens to bicycle to the office. The capital city of less than 100,000 people has around 25,000 vehicles, Bhutan Today newspaper wrote. And vehicles are increasing by around 17% a year.

Rugged terrain, long distances between towns, and the urge to own a vehicle as a status symbol, are forcing people to consider the four-wheeler as a necessity. During peak hours in the capital valley’s main street, gas guzzling SUVs line the weeping willows in this country trying to balance consumerist tendencies and environmental conservation.

In schools, that conduct prayers before and after lessons, students of poor parents are under psychological pressure. “I have heard of children not allowing parents who drive scooters to come to the school parking,” Kuensel newspaper quoted the prime minister speaking at a  Gross National Happiness workshop for school principals late January. “We have to convince the children that what parents have as nothing to do with who they are,” he said.

The newspaper report says 66% of petrol vehicles and 96% of diesel vehicles surveyed in a study did not meet emission standards. “According to the analyses, some of the major problems were low fuel quality, high lead content of fuel, inefficient fuel combustion, and increase in traffic movement in and around Thimphu Valley,” a report by the National Environment Commission says.

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