The day for the climate change protest… or parade* as the Thai prefer to call it… to address the air pollution problem in Chiang Mai came close to being a non-event for me. After having some doubts about braving the heat and smog to get to the starting point, I decided I must do the right thing and make the effort to appear at least to show my support. Grabbing my hand made poster, sunhat, facemask, water and other sundries needed for protection and hydration, I started out.
When I arrived at the Tha Pai Gate Square, I wasn’t too surprised to find no one there resembling a protester. There were some guys in black shirts setting up amps and instruments for some kind of music event along with the usual bunch of people who think that feeding and taking pictures of the pigeons is a fun activity.
After a half hour of walking around and waiting, I was almost ready to throw in the towel and go get a nice cold drink when I spied two women and a man who looked suspiciously like ex-pats. Approaching them, I asked if they knew anything about the parade. They did and thought they might stick around for it. However, like me they were rather vague on the details and after ten minutes they decided to give it up assuming that it was just another Thai event that somehow got cancelled or screwed up in typical Thai fashion.
Meeting them was helpful because I thought that if they had received wind of the event, there had to be others who did. Sure enough in a few minutes, I spied some activity happening over to the left of the gate so I went over to check it out. Aah…this looked more promising! A group of young Thai were busily laying out banners and signs in both Thai and English sporting the words…climate change.
Within a matter of minutes, a group of 35 or more people began to gather and mill around waiting for the event to begin. Apparently it was scheduled for 2:45 and not 1:45 p.m. as I thought. In the meantime, I was able to take pictures and meet some of the English speaking Thai who were more than willing to talk about what they were there for and hoped to accomplish. There were a handful of older ex-pats and a few visitors like me from other countries to round out the group.
I was surprised to find that for most of the Thai in the group, this was their first parade. My impression was that they had to be super careful to keep to the causes, effects, and solutions for climate change and not bring in any reference to the government as in what they should or should not be doing. Their focus was to primarily bring the people’s awareness to the serious problems facing them in this country and to stir them to doing something themselves. I would like to add they were very welcoming to me and curious about what is happening in Canada.
There were two obvious leaders of this event: a young man and a young woman who were probably university students. After banners and placards had been distributed to those who didn’t bring their own, the gathering was called to order with questions directed to us, such as: What is global warming? How is it driving climate change? What causes global warming? What greenhouse gases are responsible for it? This was done first in Thai followed by a shorter version in English which was a definite plus for me and the others who don’t speak Thai.
Following the question period, I realised that she chose to put us through this grill for the young people who had come to learn more about what the problems were that were facing them. There was a group of young boys about 12 years old wearing straw hats and carrying bright blue signs who would have benefitted from this information.
After her question period was finished, I was heartened when she stated with some passion and a sense of urgency: “We have the solutions before us, and we must put them into effect now and not later.” She also went on to mention the need for climate change justice noting that the poor farmers in Northern Thailand who are a major cause for the smog in Chiang Mai are going to need much help to learn sustainable farming methods so they can quit the burning. I later discovered that the worldwide Warm Heart Organization and its local Thai chapter is one of the non-profits who are working on this. One of the later speakers was a representative for them. Unfortunately, he spoke in Thai but if you wish to find out more about this organization and the good work they are doing, you can go to the following website : http://www.warmheartworldwide.org/climate.
Here you will find out how the farmers are learning to make biochar to use for fertilizer. It’s working in some villages but the problem is to get all of them on board. It’s definitely a good solution which needs to be pursued with huge effort and government backing. To find out more about this ancient process go to my previous blog: An Update on Chiang Mai’s Air Pollution Problem
Following the non-profit speaker was a young woman who passionately explained her plans and present progress for introducing courses on climate change into the schools at all grade levels. As a teacher in the Chiang Mai school system, she strongly believes this is the way to reach the younger generation who are inheriting the problems of their elders. Right now she says they are getting next to no education from home because the parents don’t actually see a need and if they do, don’t know how to broach the subject.
After all those who had something to say had made their speeches, we assembled for our march up Rachadamneon Road to the Three Kings Monument.*
I managed to snap a few pictures in front of this historic spot before we were instructed to lie down. Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity to get a picture of the actual lie- in which makes such a strong statement because of my limited, next to zilch Thai. The lie-in lasted for less than five minutes. Just as I was about to muster the energy to get up and take a picture of us, everyone started to rise so I missed my golden opportunity.
As soon as it was over, most people began to disperse. I would have liked for our young leaders to give us a rousing conclusion to send us on our way. Perhaps they were feeling drained and dehydrated as I know I was so just wanted to grab a cold drink. I hung around long enough to get emails from a couple of the people I had spoken to earlier so I can keep in touch to see what their next move will be.
As I was preparing to leave, I suddenly remembered what I thought I had heard when we first gathered at Tha Pai Gate. If I heard correctly, our female leader announced that they were planning to have a demonstration with a walk every week at the same time and place. I hope I heard this correctly because all will be for naught if they don’t keep reminding the general populace to start taking their smog problem seriously. Although we attracted some attention with clapping and smiles as we marched to our destination point, we could have made a much greater impact with more bodies. My hope is that this passionate group will keep up the momentum and have more joining them in the future. Unfortunately, under a military government based in Bangkok with little understanding of the problems of the Hill Tribes in the north, these young folk have a daunting task ahead of them.
Parade* – An ex-pat who lives in Chiang Mai cautioned me about using the word ‘protest’ to describe the event. The word ‘parade’ was more fitting for what the organizers hoped to accomplish. Communication and working together rather than confrontation was their aim.
The Three Kings Monument – stands right in the centre of the Old City of Chiang Mai in front of the Arts and Cultural Centre. The three kings act as sentinels to Thailand’s past: King Mengrai of the Lanna Kingdom and founder of Chiang Mai, King Ramkamhaeng of the Kingdom of Sukothai in the centre of Thailand, and King Muang of Payao. These three kings worked together to build Chiang Mai to what it is today `in the late 1200’s.