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Getting from (PM)2.5 to Zero: The Creative Response

Roadshow Recap from Session Stop #4, September 23

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In this fourth digital session of the Right to Clean Air “Roadshow” we ask: ‘What role does community, art, education, and streets play when it comes to shaping awareness to societal and policy change?’. One silver lining to the dark cloud of the impacts of air pollution is the many artists, educators, and community members working on creative responses to alert their networks to the crisis and take action. September’s second session, and our fourth of the series, featured a variety of these unusual suspects dedicated to building a #cleanair movement.

From August to December this year, the Roadshow will feature a series of events that bring together experts and active citizens from academia, law, business, civil society, the arts to engage and elevate the discussion around what it means to have the right to breathe clean air. The goal of this Roadshow is twofold: to raise awareness and educate, but also to inspire and catalyze actions to systematically address the challenge of air pollution. Below is an overview of what we covered on our fourth digital “stop”, an effort led 100% by volunteers.

he arts have played a leading role in social and political change throughout history. Artists have a way of pushing boundaries, of shifting perspective, and of helping reflect the systems we live within back to us in ways that inspire us to question the status quo. Transcending language, age, culture, and place, art can communicate the urgency and impact of large scale, systems issues like air pollution and help us all feel and understand that this is something that demands action.

In Thailand, the arts and academic communities are on the front lines of responding to the current air pollution crisis. On September 23, the Circular Design Lab (CDL) and Thailand Clean Air Network (Thai CAN) sat down with several leaders from the arts community who are using film, music, performance arts, teaching, and innovation to inspire action.

This fourth session in the “From PM 2.5 to Zero” digital roadshow series was moderated by Laura M. Hammett from the Circular Design Lab and Green Nitiwat, musical artist, who opened by placing this in context of the work that the Thai CAN has been doing to support the process of developing a citizen-driven Clean Air Act for Thailand.

Starting off the discussion, Christopher Moore, Founder of the upcoming Nov. 20–22 Changing Climate, Changing Lives (CCCL) Film Festival, showed the ways that CCCL is coming together to portray positive stories of people implementing climate mitigation strategies. CCCL was born out of an idea to bring attention and awareness to climate impacts in Thailand. Realizing that there is no clear word for climate change in Thai vocabulary, Christopher saw how difficult it is to process the concept of climate change and pollution. This gave way to the idea of raising awareness through non verbal means like art.

Building on the fact that everyone has a cell phone with a camera, CCCL 2020 is seeking examples where local knowledge is used to mitigate climate change from local filmmakers and artists. One person with a camera can make a difference by going out and recording what people are doing to adapt to climate change. CCCL 2020 is a contribution of people from across Thailand that are attempting to show the compass pointing us back to the path of interconnectedness. As Christopher emphasized, “There are positive steps being taken. We need to showcase them.”

“What climate change teaches us that we have left the path where we were a part of nature. Now most of us live in cities. We move from one room to another. The light is artificial. We are far disconnected from natural resources. As a result we have left our path of ancestors. What this festival is trying to do is to go back to the path of having interconnectedness with nature.” — Christopher Moore

Taweesak Molsawat, an artist and educator, describes himself as an “artivist” who blends art and activism, focusing his work on social, cultural, environmental and political issues. He described how he started his work around air quality in 2018: When participating in an art performance show, to make a statement, he walked the seven hours from his home to the venue for his four-hour performance every day for 22 days. On the second day of walking, he had a difficulty in breathing due to the air pollution. He had to wear a respirator to walk starting the third day. This made him realize the gravity of the air pollution problem and dedicate himself to engaging the community to take action.

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He has travelled across the country to raise awareness regarding environmental and air quality issues, including with youth in primary schools. His recent trip to Chang island, succeeded in inculcating the feeling of “considering the island as their home and acting accordingly” amongst the youth in primary school through participatory techniques.

Speaking about the connections between art and education, Taweesak said “I believe as an educator with 20 years of experience, I don’t think that learning and practicing in a studio only will create enough impact. I am not interested in only providing information as there is enough information available. We have to understand and act right now. When I am teaching, I will not teach inside the classroom but have a participatory approach.”

“We need to construct a curriculum that allows the student to express themselves and be a part of the social movement. We need the younger generation to be a driving force, for all of us.“ — Taweesak Molsawat

As an example of this driving force, “Team Strawberries”, Winners of the recent Youth for SDGs Award in the air pollution category, presented their concept for a solution to one facet of the air pollution problem.

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Team “Strawberries,” a group of current high school juniors Kantanat Pridaphatrakun, Maymoree Tangtipongkul, and LK Tangsamphan, shared their project to convert straw to ethanol alcohol with a hope to decrease the amount of air pollution starting in Thailand. Rice is a major economic crop, with large amounts of harvest waste currently subject to crop burning — a cheap and effective way to dispose of the waste. The team has developed a concept for how to convert rice waste into ethanol alcohol — “strawcohol” — using genetically modified yeast, and then market that ethanol as hand sanitizer and, eventually, gasohol. This innovation can lower emissions from crop burning and improve air quality.

The team described what is next for Strawcohol: “We are going to buy the straw directly from farmers. We will have to create our product ourselves because it is difficult for farmers. We will have to continue further research into converting GMO yeast.”

Taking action for the right to clean air for all is not only the work of the scientific, industrial, and policy-making communities. The arts and education have key roles to play to connect communities to large scale environmental challenges and policy. As Taweesak shared, “Art is used to provide information or encourage. Artworks with the community to understand what the law means for them.”

“We have to work together irrespective of age, it is a team effort. It has to be a lot of collective effort to create a better future for ourselves, and art has a key role to play.” — Christopher Moore

The “From PM2.5 to Zero” Digital Roadshow continues on October 7th with a session focused on “The Gaps that Remain” in data, policy, resources and action towards a clean air future for Thailand. Join in to learn and then take action to support Thai CAN’s work to advance a Clean Air Act for Thailand.

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Register to join the Roadshow here: https://bit.ly/AIRZEROREG2020

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We are a self-organized, citizen-driven project focused on humanity’s big challenges\\ circulardesignlab.org \\ @circular_lab

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