My final two weeks in Chaing Mai this April were horrible…one of the worst experiences of my life. This may come as a shock to you from a returning visitor for the past ten years who has never hesitated to put this beautiful historic city at the top of her list as the most desirable city in SE Asia to visit and possibly live year round. I can only blame this change of mind on climate change. This year Chiang Mai broke all their previous records for high pollution indices and even gained the dubious title of being the most polluted city in the world beating New Delhi and Shanghai, the usual winners. The PM2.5 ( fixed particulate matter) was hovering between 140 to 200+ the whole time I was there. I can’t imagine what effect that had on my all ready compromised lungs where some bronchitis had set in while in Bali.
The deadly smog was caused by the Hill Tribe farmers burning trees to eke out a living by planting more corn and mushroom crops to feed China’s increasing appetite. The burning then morphed into wildfires, brought on by the drought that has plagued all of Northern Thailand and Myanmar. This practice of burning to increase plantings has been going on for years, but this year it moved in and stayed around much earlier and longer.
I had been hearing the frightening news while in Bali but had to return to Chiang Mai against my better wishes to retrieve some luggage I had left there. My visa had run out in Bali where it was getting very hot and always humid. My only choice was to live and breathe in Chiang Mai’s toxic air and endure their temperatures well up into the high 30’s and low 40’s….but much less humidity. Walking any long distance was out of the question. I resigned myself to spending the better part of my days in my room and nearby cafes where there was air conditioning. If I went any further afield, it was to a mall where I could roam around or meet up with friends for a change of scene. Such a restricted lifestyle soon whetted my desire to get back to Nova Scotia’s clean air as soon as possible.
In the the ’60’s and even earlier, we were warned by the scientists that our environment was beginning to show signs of stress. Fifty years later, it was still a subject that no one wanted to talk about. Those who did pay attention to our changing climate refused to accept responsibility for having had anything to do with its creation and looked for other reasons as to why we were having more erratic weather. They argued the earth was going through a cycle similar to our previous Ice Age. They also blamed it on the possibility that our earth was shifting its axis. We bought into such theories conveniently using them as excuses not to accept any blame and, therefore, do nothing. Today after many world wide disasters getting almost too numerous to count, we are beginning to wake up and pay attention.
I am definitely seeing that our past thinking is changing its focus. Many of us are acknowledging that the problems facing us now are a result of the human greed for more of everything with no concern for what the earth has given us in nature and resources. Here in NS, our media is giving climate change tons of coverage. Groups are forming around where I live to hold workshops and discussions on how to prepare for a more sustainable way of life. There is definitely a movement afoot especially among our young people. They know we have created a problem and are willing to do something about it. Our older generation is finally waking up to this as well realising that we can’t wait for our government leaders to listen to the scientists and do something, but we can and must start…now!
How could we not wake up when we witnessed this April how those living near our larger rivers in communities throughout Eastern Canada have had to battle massive spring flooding. Residents along the St. John, Ottawa, and St. Lawrence Rivers have had to flee their homes and are starting to accept that where they live is vulnerable to climate change so will have to move elsewhere. They are having to absorb huge costs and in some cases bankruptcies. Their stress has been palpable. Furthermore, scientists are telling us this is the new norm as the ice in the Arctic continues to melt at a more rapid pace than even they thought at first. Common sense tells us all this water has to go somewhere, such as south. Without a doubt this is going to affect all our rivers and lakes of which we have many. I first heard a prediction over 30 years ago that Prince Edward Island would eventually disappear and Nova Scotia would become an island some time in the early 21st Century. This is now looking like a reality and generating much talk about how to handle such an occurrence.
There are also signs that other countries are doing the same and putting climate change on the top their list of ‘must dos’. Who hasn’t heard about the students in Europe and North America, including our capital city of Halifax, cutting classes to form protest groups in an attempt to gain the attention of their politicians and other leaders who have the power and the money to do something? Who has not heard about 16 year old Greta Thunberg who is responsible for actually starting this? A Swedish student, she has been tirelessly protesting and speaking out to ever growing crowds of people of all ages, first in Stockholm where she lives, and now throughout Europe. This all started last November by skipping her classes every Friday, to sit on the steps of the parliament buildings with her poster to talk to people about what she was trying to do. Surprising, it went viral in days. Since then she has bravely stood in front of world leaders at the United Nations to plead her cause that they must take action now. She reminded them:
“We can’t change the world by playing by the rules because the rules now have to be changed.”
She humbly acknowledges she isn’t a scientist but simply a messenger for them whom we ought to be listening to. Her interest in climate change began at the age of eight. By the age of eleven she fell into a deep depression and simply stopped talking. She was diagnosed as having selective autism. To use her words she said, “I felt like I was dying inside.” Now she is awakening and what she has to say is striking a chord around the world. In fact, Norway has submitted her name to be considered for a Nobel Peace prize.
Will this movement by our youth be enough to finally get our politicians and older leaders to wake up to the serious problem that we have and will continue to have with climate change? Maybe, but there is also another group of like-minded people who are going so far to say that if we don’t start doing something now, we could be facing the extinction of the human race as we know it. It’s a movement which just recently cropped up in the UK who call themselves the Extinction Rebellion. Staging peaceful protests throughout England by closing bridges, they claim this will give people a venue to come together to exhibit their creativity with speech, writing, art, and other creative endeavours portraying what climate change is all about and what we can do about it. They know how serious a problem we have before us and know that it will take drastic changes. They know this can only happen if they can grab the attention of those who have the power and the money. But most importantly, they know we don’t have much time to keep life on this planet in a way that will be sustainable for our young people today and tomorrow.
My Chiang Mai experience was just the tip of the iceberg for me. It has made me more aware of how extreme weather can eventually disrupt our daily living, our physical and mental health, and possibly shorten the number of years we have to live if we are constantly bombarded with heat and smog. No matter what kind of extreme weather we will have to face as a human race, there isn’t any doubt we will have to be prepared to face great suffering of all kinds brought on by the impending economic collapse and an environment that will no longer be able to support us. This is bound to happen if we don’t take action now.
However, it doesn’t have to end up like this if we could first as individuals and then as countries make a commitment to do something. How can we do this? Start with ourselves and begin to live our lives out of love as opposed to fear. We have to strive to give up some of our comforts and make conscious choices that will benefit our environment and our world, not just ourselves. If we can do this, we can then be more productive and creative. It’s about changing our focus from wanting more and making do with less. Most importantly we need to pull together to share our knowledge and creativity within our communities to prepare for our future. This will be our greatest challenge. The question is can we do this in the time frame the scientists are predicting? We can if we listen and take seriously what GretaThunberg and our young people are trying to say to us and look to them as good examples of what is possible.
* PM2.5 between 51 to 100 and over is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. In Chiang Mai it went up to over 200 at times. PM2.5 are fine particles of sand and other matter invisible to the eye, thus, making it a hazard to normal lung function which can cause respiratory problems. India has the highest levels but on some days Chiang Mai’s index was reported to be higher.
A few additional pictures of the still beautiful Chiang Mai without the smog: