Energy

Travel in a rapidly changing world

 Travel in a rapidly changing world

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 07/14/2016

I extensively planned my year-long trip around the world, but considering today’s quickly changing environmental and political conditions, I still expected — and got — the unexpected. A few examples:

On April 30, 2015, I abruptly left beautiful Jasper National Park, heading for the nearest international airport — in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After a death in my family I needed to fly back to California.

 

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Bhutan: Where environment is key to ‘Gross National Happiness’

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters column

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 10/22/15

 Bhutan opened its doors to tourism only 40 years ago, and it still requires every tourist to be part of a certified tour group. The government of Bhutan wants to avoid the environmental degradation that Nepal has suffered over the past 50 years due to tourism.

Bhutan opened its doors to tourism only 40 years ago, and it still requires every tourist to be part of a certified tour group. The government of Bhutan wants to avoid the environmental degradation that Nepal has suffered over the past 50 years due to tourism.

As our flight ascended above the thick blanket of smog over Kolkata on the east coast of India, I was excited to be heading north to the remote country of Bhutan, known for its ancient monasteries, multi-colored prayer flags and spectacular scenery.

In just 45 minutes, we would be making one of the world’s most thrilling descents into Bhutan’s international airport, nestled in the Paro Valley between soaring Himalayan peaks.

For years I had wanted to visit Bhutan because its government officially measures national progress by the “Gross National Happiness” of its people. This term was coined in 1971 by the king of Bhutan, but the concept has increasingly drawn global attention.

Unlike other indicators of national progress, Gross National Happiness is a scientifically constructed index that ascribes equal importance to noneconomic aspects of people’s well-being, such as education, health, environmental protection and cultural preservation. The concept is rooted in Bhutan’s history. According to the legal code of Bhutan, dated 1729, “If the Government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.”

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a primarily Buddhist country whose population is around 770,000 (about 1/18th the size of the city of Kolkata). Tiny Bhutan is surrounded on three sides by India (population approaching 1.3 billion), while China (population 1.4 billion) borders it to the north.

After we made a flawless landing at the Paro airport we approached the main terminal, which at first it looked like a temple with its curved tiled roof, colorful hand-painted timber-framed windows and whitewashed walls.

As our small tour group made its way through immigration, we met our Bhutanese tour guide named Chen, who would — with grace and humor — treat us to some unforgettable experiences in Bhutan for the next week.

Bhutan, now a constitutional monarchy, opened its doors to tourism only 40 years ago, and it still requires every tourist to be part of a certified tour group. Chen said the government of Bhutan wants to avoid the environmental degradation that Nepal has suffered over the past 50 years due to tourism.

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index gives the natural world a central place in the making of public policy, and environmental protection is a core guiding principle in Bhutan’s constitution. As a result, Bhutan has pledged to remain carbon neutral. In 2015, Bhutan is a carbon sink, meaning it stores more carbon than it emits. This is partly because the country has pledged to keep at least 60 percent of its land forested. Currently, more than 70 percent is forested. Bhutan has banned export logging, so that most of its big trees remain standing in the forests, where they sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

 Bhutan’s happiness index is rooted in the country’s history. According to the legal code of Bhutan, dated 1729, ‘If the Government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.’

Bhutan’s happiness index is rooted in the country’s history. According to the legal code of Bhutan, dated 1729, ‘If the Government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.’

Still, Bhutan faces environmental challenges. Hydropower and tourism are Bhutan’s largest industries. The abundant water supply from glacial fed rivers from the steep slopes of the Himalayas create huge hydropower potential.

According to one source, (www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/328-5) some 24,000 megawatts of hydropower could be feasibly realized in Bhutan, though only about 1,360 MW have been developed to date. Most of these hydropower projects have been financed by India, which takes delivery of most of the electricity produced.

It's unclear how much Bhutan can develop its hydropower potential without causing significant harm to its river ecosystems. No doubt this issue could present a serious challenge to Bhutan’s commitment to environmental protection. During my visit, I photographed one large sign in a local village that expressed concern about the demise of the rare white-bellied heron as a result of hydropower development.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who is on a yearlong journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

 

 

Saying goodbye to the West

Saying goodbye to the West

Last week, after stacking my furniture into a 10-by-15-foot storage unit, leasing my house and selling my car, I felt foot-loose and finally ready for some serious travel. But before embarking on my year-long trip around the world, I wanted to pay goodbye visits to friends scattered throughout the West.

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Going solar: One family's story

Going solar: One family's story

Like many households in Santa Cruz County, Kevin Flynn and Emmanuelle Pancaldi-Flynn recently took the big step to go solar. The Flynn’s house in the mountains above Scotts Valley has good sun access in the middle of the day, which is the primary requirement for an efficient solar system. 

The next step was a financial analysis to see if going solar would make economic sense.

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Yet another attempt to kill community energy choice in California

Yet another attempt to kill community energy choice in California

Remember in 2010 when PG&E poured some $44 million into state ballot initiative Proposition 16 in hopes of subverting the growing public support for community controlled electric power alternatives?

Voters apparently saw the light and rejected Proposition 16. Since then, the momentum for locally controlled energy--known as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA)-- has steadily increased.

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Joshua Tree sojourn sheds light on desert solar controversy

Joshua Tree sojourn sheds light on desert solar controversy

Last December I drove south to Joshua Tree National Park to hang out with friends in the desert. I hadn't visited the area for decades, so I didn't anticipate the major sprawl around the desert town of Yucca Valley on Highway 62 leading to the park -- housing developments, a Walmart, a Home Depot, and other big-box stores.
To avoid the Yucca Valley sprawl, my friends rented a little house between 29 Palms and the town of Joshua Tree, just outside the park boundary. From our house, we could walk up the road a few hundred feet and venture into the park's vast stretches of red rock formations, punctuated with iconic Joshua trees, yuccas, and barrel cacti. Beautiful!
Looking across miles of big sky and expansive desert sands, I observed what appeared to be a strangely irregular, large blue lake. I asked my friend, "Is that a lake in the middle of the desert or is it a mirage?"

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Fracking Fears: County to review state's draft regulations

Fracking Fears: County to review state's draft regulations

"As the nation develops greater awareness of fracking technology, we have growing concerns about what's pumped into the ground, how it impacts water supplies, and how it undercuts our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said county Supervisor John Leopold. "Add secrecy to the mix, and we have a real need for reasonable and effective regulation."

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Hear ye, hear ye: Environmental events that shaped our county in 2012

Hear ye, hear ye: Environmental events that shaped our county in 2012

It's the time of year to pause and reflect -- I list below some of the 2012 events that helped shape our Santa Cruz environment.

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