Environmental Protection

In Tibetan Buddhism, the lamas teach that there are three ages of history. In the earliest of the two ages past, the good age, man was in complete harmony with his environment. The small numbers of people and their respect for the earth left it wholesome (chin lab), fruitful and in balance. In the intermediate age, decline began and people lost their respect for the natural world, but still man's impact was not enough to do any real damage. In these two past ages, the lamas tell of peoples' great magical powers and of the abundance of the fruit of the earth. But in this evil present age the people's faith has declined, they no longer have spirituality, they destroy the earth wantonly without concern for the future.

    The western economic system, be it capitalism or communism, works by adding human value to natural resources and components to create things of greater value. These things may then be sold for money to compensate the people who add the value. In this model the natural environment is not seen as a capital asset to be preserved and enhanced, but merely as a depletable resource. For instance a forest is seen merely as the value of its timber and residual farming and building land. No value is placed upon the lives of the trees and the plants and animals that live there. Nor is there any concept of the net present environmental value of the forest if it is permitted to outlive us in the future. No value is placed upon the spiritual dimension of a forest or its beauty. We persistently undervalue our natural world by measuring it in only western economic terms.

    As the numbers of people on this earth increase, and a greater proportion of them seek western style economic progress rather than spiritual fulfilment, the pressure on the earth's natural harmony is becoming oppressive. Nepal is an economically undeveloped country with great wealth in terms of beauty, spirituality and natural harmony. Many trekkers come to Nepal for a spiritual experience which can no longer be found in the west. Ironically that spiritual quest that brings people to Nepal is fuelling the kind of economic activity amongst the Nepalese which may damage the fragile natural fabric of the mountain state. We may be unintentionally accelerating the evil age in Nepal.

    The Annapurna region is rural, at a high altitude and has a short growing season. Plants and tress take longer to mature. The population of this region has historically been very small. There is a concern that western style trekking holidays may add an unacceptable burden to the environment. The people of the Annapurna region have realised that they may make a good living by supplying the trekking trade. Western trekkers require (or so the locals think) to be pampered. So large lodges have been built, with hot showers and restaurants with huge menus. The net result is that the scarce forests are being cut down to build the lodges, and supply firewood for hot water and cooking. Now the increase in people brought about by the Annapurna circuit trekkers is fairly low in terms of person-days per year, the problem is their western lifestyle. The increase in the use of trees for fuel is out of all proportion to the increase in people brought about by trekking. The people of the Annapurna region have until recently lived in harmony with their environment. Although the forests have been gradually declining (all of Pisang was once a forest), the deforestation has accelerated recently. There is no local concept of tree re-planting. Until there is a policy of sustainable forest use in this region, the only short term way of preventing total deforestation is to use fossil fuels.

    The government of Nepal has recognised the need for environmental protection in the Himalayas. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) is headed by the King's brother and has been instrumental in conserving the environment. ACAP is encouraging the use of kerosene cooking stoves, back burners to provide hot water, solar power for showers, and small hydro-electric schemes to provide electricity.

    It is to be hoped that ACAP will preserve the cultural environment of the Buddhist gompas, Bon-Po gompas, the traditional villages and the way of life of the people who live around Annapurna. Respect for the dignity of traditional dress would also be valued. Many trekkers would like to see local people continue to dress in their traditional styles. The people of the Annapurna region would also like to see western trekkers dress a little more respectfully.