Bhutan pushes the world to higher values | Finding Solutions | 2013 | Spring | Publications | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Bhutan pushes the world to higher values

Like millions of people, I was inspired to join the environmental movement by Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring. The movement has since celebrated victories such as protecting the porcupine caribou's calving grounds from oil wells, stopping dams on the Peace and the Amazon rivers and halting supertanker traffic along B.C.'s coast.

Now, the same battles are erupting again. In fighting to stop environmental degradation, the movement failed to change society's perspective and values. What was really needed was a "paradigm shift."

It's been electrifying to witness recent efforts by the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan to promote such a shift. Last April, the Himalayan nation of 700,000 proposed "a new paradigm of development" at the United Nations. Sixty-eight countries co-signed the resolution, which states that governments and economic growth must work to advance happiness for people and well-being for all life.

I was delighted when Bhutan's leaders asked me to serve on a working group charged with defining happiness and well-being, and developing ways to measure these states and strategies. Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley cited the David Suzuki Foundation's "Declaration of Interdependence" as an inspiration for the proposal. He later mentioned the need for positive stories that show the practicality of putting higher aspirations ahead of economic growth, as Holly Dressel and I outlined in our books, Good News for a Change and More Good News.

Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Its people have a concept of happiness that can be described with words like acceptance, contentedness, satisfaction and harmony. They understand that well-being and happiness depend on a healthy environment. They vow to protect 60 per cent of forest cover and are already carbon-neutral (they generate electricity from hydro). They still have snow leopards, elephants, rhinos, tigers and valleys of rhododendrons the size of trees, and they know their happiness depends on protecting them.

I'm proud to be part of this important initiative and look forward to the work leading up to a presentation to the UN by 2015.

By David Suzuki