Artist Taweeksak Molsawat (and panelist for this session) tracks air quality from around the country on a near daily basis. Here we celebrate his dedication and take note of the hazardous levels this year alone, affecting schools as well.

From 2.5PM to Zero: “Grassroots to Government” a recap of Session #3 on how to unite for long term sustainable change

Courtney Savie Lawrence
May 10 · 8 min read

By Courtney Savie Lawrence and Kin Fucharoen of the Circular Design Lab air pollution track with, Weenarin Lulitanonda ,Sivalee Anantachart (Soma), Laura Hammett, Phai Supkulawal and Liepa Olsauskaite

This week the Circular Design Lab, in collaboration with the Thailand Clean Air Network held the third and final installment of the ‘pop up’ live series focused on exploring the dynamics of change in regards to Air Pollution, COVID19 and the opportunities for everyone to be a part of the action to change policy and awareness. You can see the background in our initial thesis here, the recap of Session 1 here, Session 2 here and this one — focused especially on the ‘grassroots to government’ spectrum — with the full overview right below.

All of our posts — from mid-April to now- can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/airtozero

What are we discovering? And what can we do next? What we know is that we’ve had over one hundred people engage from mostly Thailand- yet with participants calling in live from Spain, Germany, Malaysia, India and elsewhere- and that there is already a lot of research and efforts underway. We hope you enjoy the recording, session highlights and become inspired to share with others and contribute to the next steps mapped below- including the crowdsourced R+D map that is growing each day.

Watched what happened during our second session of the series here on YouTube: https://bit.ly/AIRLIVESTREAMMAY6

Session Highlights — don’t have time to watch? You can catch up below

Thanks to fantastic real-time note translation by the Circular Design Lab volunteer and engineer Kin Fucharoen, we have transcript extracts in both English and Thai.

Moderators: Courtney Savie Lawrence, UNDP and Ms. Weenarin, Thailand Clean Air Network

Excerpts of the Opening Remarks from Panelists

From the viewpoint of a doctor, air pollution is a health problem; whereas from the viewpoint of an anthropologist, air pollution is an inequality problem because of its unequal impact on different groups of people. So it’s a complex issue that requires collaboration to solve. The government is responsible because it impacts the well-being of citizens, but the private sector and citizens also have to get involved and support the solutions. I’m trying to look at the air pollution problem both as a doctor and an anthropologist, and I think the first key is the . People have the right to know about air pollution and to protect themselves against it. That is why I started working on Citizen Air Platform that integrates air quality monitoring results from various sources to give people the ability to know the pollution level at their locations. That is also why I’m working with Thailand Clean Air Network (TCAN) to push for a Clean Air Legislation to guarantee citizens’ rights to clean air.

One of the main causes of air pollution is the one-sided drive for economic growth without regards for citizen’s well-being and the environment. What UNDP is trying to do is to push for a more rounded development among and for States in the region to look at the problem systematically. We are positioned to help bring States together and to facilitate international dialogue in hopes of helping governments to collaboratively tackle the problems and lead to sustainable development.

I own Food4Thought cafe in Chiang Mai, where I have called home for 12 years. Everyone in Chiang Mai knows about the air pollution problem as they are impacted by it daily. This year is particularly challenging for me, as my house — situated at the base of Doi Suthep — was directly impacted by the wildfire and pollution up in Doi Suthep. At one point the fire was really bad that my family and I had to be evacuated for more than 2 weeks. The compounding effects of wildfire, open-burning pollution, and COVID-19 have made life in Chiang Mai very difficult for many. We at Food4Thought decided to try to help alleviate some of the challenges by providing free food for those in need, including volunteer firefighters grappling with the wildfires at the moment. Witnessing firsthand the real challenges, I’m hoping to continue being involved and providing assistance where I can.

I’m an artist, and what I’m trying to do is to create inspiration and hope for a better world through arts. My work with air pollution started in 2015, when — as part of Bangkok Art Biennale — I walked between my house to Bangkok Art and and Cultural Center (BACC), totaling 6–8 hours of city walking each day. After a couple of days, the air pollution effect took a toll on me and I could barely breathe, prompting me to put on a face mask. By putting on a face mask and doing a Facebook Live on my walks, I was able to draw attention to the pollution — air, water, and noise — in Bangkok and people starting voicing their concerns and asking questions about the quality of life that they otherwise deserved. My job as an artist is to make arts a part of life, and use arts to raise awareness among the people about problems we are facing. Through the raised awareness, I’m hoping to mobilize citizens’ driven bottom-up approach to solving the problems, putting citizens at the center of city’s governance.

I agree with Christine’s view that we need a more rounded development than just economic growth; it’s important to also look at societal and environmental development. As my expertise is in the financial sector, I’m interested in seeing how financial structure and marketing mechanisms can be adjusted to drive for a more environmentally-friendly way of life. Take Brazil, for example; Brazil is one of the largest exporters of cane sugar, but there’s barely any sugar cane burning there and they managed to do that just by slight adjustments in their [sugar cane] market mechanism. Having spoken to Christine many times about this issue in Thailand, I am inspired and keen to do something.

Key Messages from the Q+A

: I mentioned in the beginning the complexity of the air pollution problem. The conventional wisdom is to use “regulations” to solve it by controlling people’s behaviors, but that is not so much “solving” the problem at its root as “treating” the symptoms. What needs to be done instead is to ensure people can access necessary resources to sustain their and their families’ lives. We need to build the value of respecting the environment, the concept of “sharing”, and the safety net infrastructure to enable people to change their ways of life to be more environmentally-friendly. We also need to understand that a country’s action can impact its neighbors because all countries in the region are interconnected in many aspects. UNDP’s role is to ensure States understand that, and to bring States and stakeholders together for dialogues and system-level changes.

Air pollution should be considered a public health issue, which is rightfully the Ministry of Public Health (MPH)’s area of responsibilities. The challenge is that MPH is a government entity, and the bureaucracy and legislative requirements within the system have limited the Ministry’s ability. One example is the misalignment between the government’s Air4Thai application, which uses the government standard in reporting and color-coding air pollution level, and external popular applications such as AirVisual which uses international standards. The misalignment has confused many people. What we really need instead is the Air Quality Health Index which reports air pollution level in terms of its health impact directly. To circumvent the government’s limitations, we need a citizens’ platform to drive for changes; one such example is the Thailand Clean Air Network which I have also been involved in.

W

: Within Food4Thought; we have been trying to make everything organic but we’re not 100% there yet, partly because we still serve meat and meat-processing — as we know — still produces pollution. Small/Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the area can do their parts by coming together to collaborate against business giants because I believe local SMEs would be more invested in the local environment and people’s well-being. Behavior and mindset change from locals is also required. My neighbors, for example, have been hunter-gatherers for generations and they believe it’s their right to burn the forest for their hunting-gathering purpose. They also believe city people are in no place to tell them what to do as the city people do not understand their lives and their challenges. This needs to change.

: Business sector can affect changes in the marketing mechanisms and financial system to enable changes in people’s way of life and to promote more environmentally-friendly approaches to living.

How you can contribute to the solutions?

  1. read the English version of the White Paper (Thai Version Here) and stay engaged on the facebook page for action here.
  2. - from an education awareness raising and policy shift standpoint. Contact us via Facebook or signup to stay updated at circulardesignlab.org Next up- in June we will launch the “Digital Roadshow” — highlighting policy advocacy that every citizen can support.
  3. — we are crowdsourcing your ideas, perceptions and thoughts around the challenges, opportunities, resources and inspiring examples. Go here to see more: https://bit.ly/AIRKUMUMAP2020
https://bit.ly/AIRKUMUMAP2020
https://bit.ly/AIRKUMUMAP2020
Find the map and add a ‘Virtual Post-It Note’ here: https://bit.ly/AIRKUMUMAP2020

With a very special thanks to the core volunteers and extended support team of the Circular Design Lab ‘air pollution’ track. Want to get in touch and contribute, please let us know here or reach out to the air track co-leads Courtney, Laura, Weena, Soma.

Additionally, huge appreciation is extended to the Thailand Clean Air Network, and the many other volunteer coalition members and organizations, beyond the Circular Design Lab, who have contributed to the development of the White and Blue Papers, and raising the platform, as well.

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