Editorial: Demanding my right to breathe

As the pollution crisis worsens, Citylife's editor Pim Kemasingki speaks for Chiang Mai, declaring her right to breathe clean air.

By | Thu 9 May 2019

What is to be done about this pollution?

While the horror-days of March and April are behind us, pollution continues to be a massive concern. As the PM2.5 pollution levels drop from the dizzyingly dangerous highs of nearly 500 to a still definitely hazardous 170 of today, we mustn’t become complacent. Especially as we know that it will come back again next year…and the year after…and again after that.

Those who can leave, have left. Lucky bastards. The rest of us sit here feeling helpless, redundant, frustrated, aggrieved and fearful for our health and those of our loved ones.

I have heard tales of dozens upon dozens of expat families packing up and leaving, vowing never to return. This is happening every single day. International schools, I hear, are certainly feeling the loss. A half a billion baht investment into a retirement home also pulled the plug last month, deciding to put their money, and retirees, in cleaner climes. The rich – Thai and international – have all made pledges to evacuate to fresher air for two to four months each year from now on. Hotels, restaurants and spas are all shaking their heads while grimly watching their bottom lines plummet, as tourists cancel and visitors shy away. Online forums are filled with comments from expats and Thais, saying that they were pulling the plug on Chiang Mai; taking themselves, their families and their business elsewhere. There is a mass exodus happening and we are only seeing its beginning; after all, why on earth should anyone stay here and breathe in toxin when they can go elsewhere?

Then there are the thousands upon thousands of people of all ages, especially the vulnerable, who have been hospitalised for pollution-related illnesses; again, this is just the tip of the health iceberg to hit our region in the coming years and decades. The irony that it will be the children and grandchildren of these fire-starters and crookedly incompetent and inactive agencies who will suffer is completely lost on them all.

Meanwhile, for most of us who can’t leave, either because of work, financial restrictions or commitments: we are condemned.

We can only sit here and shout out in anger and frustration as we watch news of another fire being lit, another mountain burning to the ground and PM levels hitting world records as they envelop our bodies and penetrate our lungs with their toxins.

Well, I am not having it. I know I have no power and I can’t fix the problem, but I also know that I am not going to sit here and wait for authorities to pass blame, for the government to insult us with cheap appeasements and ridiculous publicity stunts, for ignorant and criminal fire starters to continue childish games of retaliation and for big agro business to enjoy our money as we devour their products, while subsidising our mass annihilation (OK, I am getting a bit carried away here, but talking to doctors working on this problem, millions could potentially suffer dire consequences from this pollution in the years to come, and that sounds pretty alarming to me.)

So, this is me, this is Citylife, planting our flag in the sand. We are not going to go quietly into the fresh breeze. Once the rains come – and thankfully they will – memories of the annual pollution are left behind. Every year we cover many stories about pollution, but realising that our readers have pollution-fatigue, we often just let the story go, washed away by the monsoon rains, to be picked up again as the threat looms the next year. But that’s not good enough anymore.

We are going to keep the pressure up, keep this story in the public eye – however tiresome it may be – and keep doing our best to raise awareness about this perennial health crisis as well as hopefully be a platform where our readers can come for information and exchange ideas.

I have nothing to offer except my voice and our platform. Thankfully our website is read by over 600,000 people a year, so that is a pretty decent megaphone.

So many of us are deeply concerned for their health. But I have also noticed, quite sadly, that there are many who are only motivated by money. So if you aren’t worried about what this is doing to your body, then please realise that it is going to hit you where it will hurt you the most – your pocket. I believe that this crisis is the biggest threat to the north of Thailand, perhaps even more so than last century’s drug problems. Then, we had HM King Rama IX and the people of the Royal Project, who came together in an ingenious and cohesive way to work towards the near-eradication of drugs, while simultaneously lifting millions from poverty.

This needs the same level of, if not more, commitment. We need the government to declare an emergency, set some tough but important policies, work on a regional level with our neighbours and find a comprehensive solution. On the ground, we need to mobilise the masses, educate the ignorant, support those finding solutions, and actively participate on a local-level to stem the lighting of fire.

The media should use our voices, lecturers and researchers should find solutions, NGOs and foundations should work with one another, educators should educate, business people should face the problem head on and everyone should do whatever we can, even if its writing a letter to your local representative, to keep the pressure up. Expats, write to your consulate or embassies. Hotel and food associations, step up. Travel companies, voice your complaints. Everyone, do something!

Because if we don’t, then we had better just all shut up and wait for our bodies to succumb to the PM attacks. After all, if we aren’t going to take care of ourselves, who will?

Again, I have no power, but what I do is have a voice. I am going to use it. So I urge you all to use whatever tools you have to make a fuss, to pressure, to find a solution…to help us all.