As one of the Worlds major economies we are used to hearing the mantra about growing GDP (gross domestic product) in the UK – if it falls it is apparently ‘the end of the world’. But what if there is a ‘better way’?
The tiny country of Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not GDP.
Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.
Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La. For the past three decades, this belief – that wellbeing should take preference over material growth – has remained a global oddity. However in the current world which is beset by economic and environmental disasters this approach is beginning to interest the larger world players, and will be discussed in Doha at the UN climate change conference.
Bhutan’s stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.
Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure. At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.
We all hark back to simpler times at some point in our lives, perhaps this is a further example that some of the ‘old values’ are perhaps even more valid today than they were then?