Air Pollution in Chiang Mai – Please Stop Burning
Chiang Mai is a wonderful city. Unfortunately, this time of year there is a lot of smoke in the air. The growing traffic congestion doesn’t help matters, but the main problem is the slash and burn agriculture practices. It is quite common in Northern Thailand to see fires burning on the side of the road and in the hills. Most of what is being burned is organic debris from rice fields, and farms. To a lesser extent there is some burning of trash mixed in too. Being in a valley, the smoky air gets trapped in Chiang Mai and makes the air quality rather miserable from mid-March to mid-April. Hot, dusty, smoky and dry are words to define this season. It isn’t always like this though…
I was cycling around the Old City while taking these pictures and had to go home because my eyes were red and burning from all the particulate matter in the air. At least I wasn’t coughing, but I’ve been sneezing today. It’s time to wear my heavy duty mask while cycling.
Curious to see just how bad the air was, I looked at this website http://aqmthai.com/ to better inform myself.
As you can see from the chart, most numbers are in white, but red means ‘unhealthy levels’ of particulate matter. The exact number of what is unhealthy seems to vary from place to place, but anything over 100 isn’t good. 237 is horrendous! Trying to get a better sense of the air pollution, I checked the Air Quality Index:
These graphs and charts aren’t fun at all, and the pictures of different faces are hardly original. To help keep some humor about the situation, a woman in Hong Kong devised the Bruce Lee Air Quality Index for her blog Expat Lingo. I like her ideas a lot. Perhaps in Thailand we could use a similar plan – the smiling to crying elephant? Maybe employ Thai comedian Khun Note Udom to liven up the AQI a bit? At least in Thailand, we know this air pollution is seasonal, and when the rains come, it will put out the fires and diminish the smoke.
Why is it so smoky?
As for now, I sleep with the windows closed despite the heat. Each morning I wake up and walk out of my room, I immediately smell smoky air. Upon taking down my laundry, it smelled as if I had dried it over a bush fire, which, in a way, I had.
What is the solution? It’s a very complicated issue here. Stopping burning means using more labor intensive composting and tilling practices. It’s not an easy switch for farmers. I am definitely not an expert on air pollution, or SE Asian farming. As a guest in this amazing country, I have no right to tell anyone how to do their business. Being an educator, I teach. It is my hope that the students will pass on the information and educate others in their communities. Children are the future. They are the ones who will make changes by leading the way to environmental sustainability.
As I was writing this very post, it started to rain for the first time in months. Hooray! Bring on the rain! Chiang Mai looks forward to having its clean air back!