Thailand’s global reputation isn’t great when it comes to environmentalism. While it’s not as bad as some nations (China, USA, for example), the recent economic upsurge has brought a plethora of environmental issues in its wake. Illegal logging is a particular problem, as is development on formerly pristine habitat. However, there is good news! The attitudes of ordinary Thai people – as well as that of late, great monarch King Bhumibol – are staunchly pro-environment. And often, where the people lead, the nation as a whole follows. A green movement is gathering strength in Thailand, encouraging people to transform their latent pro-environment feelings into practical action. And Chiang Mai is at the forefront of this movement.
In fairness, Chiang Mai has a distinct advantage in the renewable energy game. It is sitting on a literal hotbed of geothermal potential, and has plenty of sunshine to take advantage of. Chiang Mai is not like the cold and dark like places in the UK for example, whose renewable energy options are rather more limited. In recent years, Chiang Mai and its citizens have been taking increasing advantage of the abundant renewable resources available.
The Phi Suea House was built in Chiang Mai in 2015. It uses the world’s very first self-recharging renewable energy system, allowing the house to run continuously from solar power via hydrogen energy storage. The house was unveiled during a solar eclipse, allowing its developers to demonstrate how no sunshine is no problem for this power-storing system. It’s generated a lot of global interest (alongside all of that lovely, perpetual energy), and has put Chiang Mai on the map as a global powerhouse (excuse the pun) for renewables. In addition to this, the Fang geothermal energy plant in Chiang Mai is similarly leading the way for this brand of renewable energy in Thailand. Thailand is in general seeking to move away from fossil fuel reliance, towards cleaner, more renewable forms of energy. Chiang Mai’s very own geothermal plant has thus come under approving scrutiny from the government and energy companies – who are even now working on Fang-based models to expand geothermal energy production all over Thailand.
The traffic situation in Thailand often seems to be at odds with a general ‘green’ outlook. It’s true that the roads are crowded, and the traffic pollution hangs thick on the air in places like Bangkok. In recent years, however, a growing group of Chiang Mai residents have begun to buck this trend. The nature of the traffic on the roads may put some cyclists off – but the burgeoning Chiang Mai cycling community does not let this deter them! Chiang Mai sits in a reasonably flat valley, making it ideal for cyclists, whatever their fitness level. Over the last couple of years, cyclists have become an increasingly common sight on Chiang Mai’s roads, with cycling clubs and events popping up all over the place. Competitive cyclists even come to Chiang Mai to train, drawn by the increasingly impressive facilities for cyclists, and growing cycling culture. Needless to say, cycling is excellent for physical health, as well as providing an engaging hobby – both reasons why many have taken it up. However, a lot of our new cyclists are turning to bicycles as a means of reducing their carbon footprint. Once again, Chiang Mai demonstrates its green credentials!
Recycling is, admittedly, a bit of an issue here. A lot of people will go out of their way to keep the rest of their lives ‘green’, but completely lose the plot when it comes to their trash. Littering is a perpetual bugbear for the city authorities, and little is done on either a municipal or domestic level to sort and recycle garbage. However, that’s not to say that Chiang Mai residents are not aware of the problem. As covered by Citylife before, the people of Chiang Mai do know that recycling is environmentally friendly and – when given the opportunity to do so – will happily take their garbage to be sorted and recycled. There are recycling facilities which will sort through and deal with recyclable trash for a price, and many people do take advantage of their service. However, rolling this kind of thing out on a municipal level is something which is yet to occur.