Focusing on the environment
Each day the Bangkok Post publishes dozens of news stories. If you look closely, however, you will see that they usually fall into a relatively small number of categories, such as politics, crime, science, disasters, and international relations.
This is one reason you can learn to read news stories more quickly than many other types of English-language reading materials. By focusing on particular topics, you will quickly become familiar with the subjects covered and their most common vocabulary. In fact, I used this technique to good advantage in my book, English By Newspaper.
This week we are going to look at one of the most important categories
most environmental stories follow some very clear patterns. For example, they tend to involve conflicts. This often involves industries and the people in the surrounding areas who are affected by the wastes they produce. Or it may concern a disagreement over how a piece of land should be used whether it should be "developed" or whether it should be preserved in its natural state, for example.
To help us better understand environmental stories, I have asked an expert to give us some assistance. He is Wasant Techawongtham, our Deputy News Editor for Environment and Urban Affairs. Mr Wasant is in charge of assigning and editing environmental stories which appear in the Bangkok Post and he also writes a weekly Friday commentary.
According to Mr Wasant, people are interested in environmental stories because they know they might be affected. They know that they and their family members could one day be harmed by air pollution, toxic water or a chemical spill.
Deputy News Editor
for Environment and
They are also interested in environmental stories, says Mr Wasant, because they usually involve conflicts often between ordinary people like themselves and vested interests like rich business people or influential politicians.
In covering environmental stories, Mr Wasant says his team of reporters usually begin with the people involved, especially those who have been harmed in some way. In this way, environmental stories often differ from other types of stories which focus on more "important" people like government ministers or leaders of the opposition. It is not unusual for an environmental story to focus on poor farmers or fishermen.
Reporters, says Mr Wasant, are trained to get the facts and to present them as fairly as possible. Environmental reporters, however, are often faced with a dilemma because they are forced to take sides. Sometimes, he says, it is pretty obvious that one side in a conflict has done something wrong.
Still, both sides must be presented. But, says Mr Wasant, this does not mean they also must be given equal space or attention. When something bad happens, for example, it is natural to focus on the people adversely affected.
According to Mr Wasant, environmental reporters also face another daunting challenge. The science involved is often extremely complex like the recent dioxin scare in Hua Hin, for example. It is not necessary to be a scientific expert, however, says Mr Wasant. "We are communicators, not experts.We go to experts to help us understand the science," he says.
It is also important, says Mr Wasant, to remember that most Bangkok Post readers are not experts either. Thus, his team tries to explain the science in terms that ordinary people can understand.
Mr Wasant says environmental stories in the Bangkok Post are selected mainly in two different ways. First, there is a reaction to something that happens a chemical spill, for example. Here reporters go to the scene and get the facts, later interviewing experts if they need to. Secondly, his team also looks for trends or recurrent events and then investigate to find out what is going on.
|toxic||poisonous||vested interests||people or groups who benefit from something and who want to continue to benefit
||dilemma||a problem which is very difficult or impossible to solve
||daunting||so difficult as to be frightening or worrisome
This week's stories
This week I have selected two news stories for you to read. They are both good examples of the issues commonly found in stories in stories involving the environment. Here are some things to consider as you read:
Stories which deal with environmental issues often involve conflicts. That is certainly the case in this story.
Story 1: Songkhla Bay
- This story involves a dispute. Which two groups are directly involved in the dispute?
- What is the environmental issue involved?
- Is there an economic issue involved as well? If so, what is it?
- What action did one of the groups take to try to force a solution to the problem?
- What is this group demanding?
- Have any other people or groups been affected by this dispute?
- Has the dispute been resolved, i.e., has a permanent solution been found?
Here is some vocabulary to help you better understand the story.
|fragile||easily damaged or broken||orchestrated||planned and organised
||depleted||used up; reduced in quantity
||fine-meshed nets||nets with very small holes
||got their way||won their demands (i.e., got what they wanted)
Songkhla Bay blockade lifted
But trouble looms at Andaman ports
Inshore fishermen ended their 12-day blockade of Songkhla Bay at noon yesterday as an estimated 400 police officers stood by.
But as a fragile calm returned to the Gulf port, inshore and deep-sea operators on the Andaman coast threatened to mount their own blockades.
The 300-boat blockade ended as one police unit persuaded 100 fishermen to leave their vessels, and another kept order at the Krom Luang Chumphon Monument, where a larger number was rallying.
Police said the inshore crews, protesting against night-fishing by deep-sea boats, did not resist, and they were taken to Singha Nakhon district office for questioning.
So far, none had been charged, but there had been reports police wanted to arrest six men alleged to have orchestrated the blockade.
The police moved in after the inshore crews ignored appeals to end the blockade from the prime minister and two MPs from his Democrat Party.
As the blockade was lifted, two freighters set out from Songkhla.
Pol Lt-Gen Supachai Liewchalermwong, deputy chief of Region 9, said the protest had damaged the local economy. Local sources said the protest had held up many consignments, among them 5,000 tonnes of sheet rubber bound for China. The inshoremen in Songkhla and other southern provinces say night operations by the bigger boats have depleted coastal fish stocks and other marine resources. They have demanded a ban on fine-mesh nets and the use of lights.
However, the deep-sea operators are determined to resist any such ban. Pol Capt Aryuth Ammartyothin said he and other deep-sea trawler operators would take action to protect their businesses.
In Phang-nga, 300 inshoremen said they would blockade Andaman ports unless the National Fisheries Policy Committee responded positively to their demands by Monday.
They said the Agriculture Ministry's March 15, 1996 announcement allowing deep-sea boats to use lights within 3km of the shore must be scrapped.
More than 100 deep-sea operators gathered in support of the announcement in Phuket and said they would mount a blockade if the inshoremen got their way.
* * * * * * *
Story 2: gas emissions
This story is a bit more positive than the first story since its shows that environmental problems can sometimes be (at least partially) solved. The story is also an excellent example of the type of vocabulary you are likely to see in stories dealing with air pollution caused by industries. As you read, make a list of all the words and phrases the refer to bad smells. You will find nouns, verbs and adjectives.
Here are some points to consider as you read:
- What is the environmental problem covered in the story?
- What was the cause of the problem?
- What has been done to resolve the problem?
- Has the problem been completely eliminated?
- Who has been most affected by the problem and how have they been affected?
- Is it possible to say with complete certainty that the people's physical problems were caused by air pollution?
Here is some vocabulary to help you better understand the story.
|abatement||reducing the strength or seriousness of something||endure||to experience something painful or unpleasant for a long timed
||volatile||likely to change quickly and often
||haunted||frightened or worried, esp. by a memory
||spectre||the expectation of something unpleasant happening
||guinea pigs||small animals which are often used in scientific experiment
Residents admit gas emissions reduced
Factories improve anti-pollution device
Residents around Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate are resigned to living with the stench that occasionally hangs over the area, but agree it is not as bad as it was.
Phra Khru Sara Dhamma Sobhol, abbot of Wat Sobhol Wanaram, said the reek of waste gases from factories has lessened as offending factories have improved their pollution abatement equipment.
The occasional foul smell was unavoidable as a result of minor accidents or plant shutdowns for maintenance, he said.
Residents around this mainly petrochemical industrial estate agreed.
"Overall, it is far better than it was two years ago when we had to endure the stench many days in a month. Now it is about once a month," said Tiwa Poplook, leader of Soi Ruam Pattana community.
The rank odors are caused by sulphur used in petrochemical processing, chemical leakages during transportation, and chemical waste, as well as emissions from burnt crude oil from the refinery, according to Virah Mavichak, deputy director-general of the Industrial Works Department.
At the height of the problem in June 1997, two refineries, four petrochemical plants and a fertiliser plant were found to have failed to prevent leakages.
The petrochemical plants have largely solved their problems but the two refineries' efforts were delayed until last year because they had to wait for pollution control equipment.
Star Petroleum Refining Co (SPRC) said it has spent 200 million baht on a sulphur filtering system and a "ground flare" system to incinerate volatile organic compounds and crude oil emission, the major causes of stench.
The company said it completed the installation last June. Rayong Refining Co (RRC) claimed to have invested 100 million baht in a similar scheme and said installation was finished in March this year.
At Map Ta Phut Phan Phitthayakan School, staff and students continue to be haunted by the spectre of the foul smell which had disrupted classes and sent many to the nurse's room.
Students conceded that the stench has lessened, but they still visit the nurse's room.
On some days, the nurse's room may treat up to a hundred students.
Chaweewan Suwanthong, 41, a health education teacher who supervises the nurse room, said most students complained about breathing difficulties and headache.
However, she said it could not be concluded that the foul smell was the cause of the high rate of admission.
Five teachers were recently reported to be suffering from cancer.
However, a provincial doctor said it was too soon to concluded that the tumours found were caused by pollution from the industrial estate, given the fact that such tumours take 15 to 20 years to form.
A teacher who did not want to be named said students and teachers have inhaled chemical-tainted air for nearly three years, and it was hard to believe that their symptoms of nausea and respiratory problems were just psychological.
"The school has decided to relocate rather than continue exposing our students to chemical emissions, like guinea pigs," the teacher said.
We have spent much of this term looking for patterns in the Bangkok Post looking for items that appear regularly. Thus far, we have found out about the types of stories that are most likely to appear in the Bangkok Post and we have also seen how they are written.
This week we are going to take a close look at one particular type of story that is featured in the Bangkok Post almost everyday. That is the environmental news story, a topic which should be of interest to many of your students. As usual, we have a guide. This week it is Wasant Techawongtham, our Deputy News Editor for Environment and Urban Affairs.
Our purpose in this lesson is to familarise your students with how our newspaper covers environmental issues. As Mr Wasant explains, there are some very clear patterns. Your students should look for them when they read the example stories or any environmental stories they may choose on their own.
Begin by having your students read Mr Wasant's comments. Discuss with them what he says about why people are interested in environmental issues, how reporters cover them, and some of the problems they have in doing so.
Next have them read the two example stories. To save time, you might want to do this as groupwork, with each group consider one of the two stories. My questions are only guidelines. You may want to add some more of your own.
The last story is especially good for vocabulary. In it you will find many terms common to air pollution stories, especially those where bad smells are concerned words like stench, foul, reek, rank, odors, and chemical-tainted. Notice that stench is the key word and is repeated several times. That makes it much easier to remember.
Be sure to point out that other subject areas (elections, fires, medical discoveries, etc.) have similar patterns. Reading a number of stories within one subject area will give your students excellent preparation for reading other stories on the same topic. That is one of the big reasons I write my weekly What's news column each Thursday.
•This lesson was prepared by Acharn Terry Fredrickson, BA Stanford, MA (TESL) University of Minnesota, Manager of the Educational Services Department at the Bangkok Post and general editor of this programme.