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Through Hazy Lenses

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Bangkok is a city bustling with life and activities well into wee hours of the morning. Only last year, I myself got to experience the fast paced night life of this enchanting city as a part of a field research for a class I was taking at GSSE. But of course as the saying goes,  every action has an equal and opposite reaction. While all of us, visitors and residents alike of this great city have been enjoying the unique experiences and good times we are offered, what we don’t see or rather, so blatantly ignore, are the consequences of our actions. We’re taking in all these experiences that enrich our lives but what are we putting out there?

As of late December 2018, Bangkok’s air quality has been deemed not just unsafe but hazardous for the population to breathe. The smog that engulfs the city comes as a result of the combustion exhaust from the ever present heavy city traffic, the field burning practices partaken by farmers outside the city as well as pollutants released into the atmosphere from numerous factories as reported by The Straits Times.

As a reaction to this critical condition, I have been seeing numerous mentions of the term PM 2.5 on social media and online news outlets as of late. What does this term mean really? Fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 is a measure of tiny particles in air that affect visibility and result in the atmosphere appearing hazy owing to its advanced levels. 2.5 is the diameter measurement of the particle.

To put things into perspective, the Thai safety limit of PM2.5 pollution particles is 50 micrograms per cubic meter. However, the Pollution Control Department (PCD) reports that many parts of Bangkok city and areas in its proximity show a reading of 70 to 100 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 levels as of last week, The Bangkok Post states, putting the city on red alert.

These tiny particle releasing activities have affected the residents in many ways, ranging from extremely poor visibility to the most concerning being the effects seen on the health of the people. It is believed that the pollutant particles may very easily enter the respiratory tract and bloodstreams of those breathing in the contamination, to cause severe health concerns ranging from respiratory complications, lung cancer to heart diseases. The Thai government encourages citizens living in affected areas to use face masks of the N95 model to help filter out impurities while breathing.

In addition to this, I’ve been reading about numerous efforts being made by the government to address this major degradation of air quality by attempting methods such as cloud seeding and artificial rain creation. In the sombre state of things, it’s not exactly easy to feel at ease with the fact that special aircrafts are being deployed in order to “spray the skies” in hopes of reducing the PM2.5 levels. This simply goes on to show how utterly horrible we have made the conditions for ourselves by being so careless and perhaps taking things for granted.

So what could be the takeaways from this harrowing condition we have come to put ourselves into? Should we continue to be so nonchalant about our own lifestyles and the seemingly insignificant activities we partake in, leading to this vastly significant deterioration of the atmosphere? Personally, I feel like this isn’t an issue that could be solved single handedly as the problem scale is massive. Diverse stakeholders need to realize the issue here and come together to minimize the adversities. Rather than relying on the government to fix these problems, claiming it becomes their responsibility when the situation becomes a “national crisis”, the public, the corporations and the government need to put their heads together and make a joint effort towards bettering a condition that affects everyone equally.

How do we start? First of all, we have to register into our general consciousness the actions that resulted in these repercussions. We see the number of private vehicles in the capital multiplying rather swiftly as more and more people start to rely less and less on slow moving, non-air conditioned old buses as their main means of public transportation. While efforts are being made by the government to check up on these old vehicles, that are not only less preferred by the public, but also have pronounced smoke emissions. These means of transport needs to be not only eliminated but also replaced with options for the public that are more eco friendly like the BTS.

Another key factor that contributes towards elevated PM 2.5 levels in the city happens to be the ceaseless construction projects. Bangkok has become such a place that there are more skyscrapers and buildings than there are trees or greenery. This is something we must all be concerned about as corporations seem to be simply focusing on erecting buildings, expanding businesses and maximizing profits. Though it could be argued that expanding businesses may create more job opportunities for the citizens and help the nation build a stronger economy, we must not forget to look after the environment and our own health as we attempt to create an economically sound atmosphere.

After all, in the end, it does not matter if we all own private vehicles, build massive cities sprawling with economic opportunities and burgeoning potential or are able to easily afford the comforts of life. None of this matters if we do not tread carefully and act cautiously today to ensure we can all enjoy a healthy, pure and safe environment.

 

Author:

Simron Kharel – Nepal

GSSE, Cohort 2