Until 1997, Thailand had one of the world's fastest-growing economies. While people have welcomed the increase in the standard of living this has brought, they have also become increasingly worried about the damage that has been done to the environment. This is a regular topic in the Bangkok Post and if you analyse our coverage of the environment, you will see certain recurrent themes.
Environmental issues involve trade-offs
To most people, economic progress and environmental conservation are both desirable goals. Unfortunately, these two goals are often in conflict and achieving one may require some sacrifices in the other. Thus, stories on environmental issues almost always end up discussing difficult trade-offs and in reading them, therefore, you should always evaluate what is gained and what is lost. Saving a forest for example, may mean the sacrifice of a dam which could control floods and provide water for irrigation and cheap electricity generation. Or, as in the case below, the trade-offs can mean life and death for those involved.
Police suspect elephant slain by pineapple farmers
A police team are investigating a burnt elephant carcass after receiving reports the animal might have been killed by local pineapple planters who were enraged that it had eaten their produce.
The police were earlier tipped off that many pineapple planters had strewn the elephants' path with spikes made from twisted nails to keep hungry elephants from entering their plantations and ruining the crops.
Environmental stories can be complicated and contentious
The issues underlying environmental stories are often complex, giving both sides plenty of evidence to buttress their arguments. And since there is often little room for compromise – a dam is either constructed or it is not, for example – the resulting disputes can become very heated. The Kaeng Sua Ten controversy is typical.
Rivals plan rallies over dam project
Supporters and opponents of the Kaeng Sua Ten dam project are gearing up for mass separate rallies here and in neighbouring Sukhothai province to highlight their causes.
In Tambon Sa-iab of Song district, Phrae province, which has for years been the centre of the protest, the villagers yesterday laid siege to the proposed dam site to prevent officials from conducting a land survey. Posters blasting the Democrat-led government for its recent decision to allocate a budget to design the project were drawn in preparation for a protest scheduled for tomorrow in Tambon Sa-iab.
Choom Sa-iabkhong, headman of Tambon Sa-iab, claimed yesterday that the rally would be the biggest ever organised by the villagers to protest against the dam project which, if completed, will submerge Thailand's only golden teak forest.
Meanwhile, dam proponents are preparing a big ceremony to bless the Yom River in Sukhothai province on April 23.
Circulars have been distributed by Suthee Inthip, president of Sukhothai tambon administrative organisation (TAO) to members of the TAOs in Phrae, Phichit, Nakhon Sawan and Phitsanulok asking them to participate in the ceremony during which they would press for the dam construction.
Saving the environment can be expensive
For companies, environmental preservation is a business expense and it is not surprising that many try to avoid it. Here, the Government must play a big role, often using tax payers’ money to correct a problem created by the private sector. When the blame can be clearly established, however, the government does have the power to make the polluter pay for the damages as the following story illustrates.
Waste dumping tannery told to clean up mess
A tannery in the Northern Region Industrial Estate which used to discard waste at an open dump site in Lamphun Province has been ordered to build a sanitary landfill, Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) Deputy Governor Anchalee Chavanich said yesterday.
Ms Anchalee said Nopmanee Company, the only tannery in the estate, had to fund the landfill project under the so-called "polluter pays" principle with advice from the IEAT and the Pollution Control Department. The landfill, she said, must be lined with materials which will prevent the dumped hides from contaminating underground water supplies.
Environmental science is complex
Our environment is composed of millions of interacting elements and processes, so even the best scientists have difficulty determining what is really happening. Disagreements are common, especially when they concern workplace safety. Here is a good example:
Probe urged on death of workers
AN occupational health expert yesterday called for a comprehensive investigation of the mysterious deaths of workers in the Northern Region Industrial Estate (NRIE) in Lamphun.
According to the findings of a medical team under Dr Sonthaya Pruenglamphoo of the Public Health Ministry, AIDS was the cause of the deaths of eight workers and two babies. Two workers died of encephalitis and one each of tuberculosis and leukaemia.
However, Dr Oraphan Mehadilokul, President of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine of Thailand, challenged the findings and the methods used. "The findings were reached in an investigation which was conducted in the form of a seminar and with very limited information. There was no medical examination of the surviving workers or of the tissue of the dead. I think this is probably the only such case in the world," she said.
Dr Oraphan said that although many workers were infected with HIV, it did not necessarily mean that they died from the killer virus. In her opinion, a comprehensive investigation must be conducted in order that the findings be more scientific.
"For example, when encephalitis was found in two workers, it is of utmost importance that we ask further how the disease developed and whether it is possible that solvents or toxic substances were involved and prove it." There are a large number of solvents and heavy metals such as lead and cadmium used in the electronics component industry.
In Thailand, environmental issues are often highly political
Almost everyone is for a clean environment and for preserving the nation's resources. Thus, it is not surprising that politicians use environmental issues to attack their opponents. Here is a recent example:
Silence as the timber fell
New Aspiration's silence contributed to the plunder of Salween forests when it led the previous coalition, the agriculture minister said yesterday.
Felling in the national park and wildlife sanctuary had been a long-standing problem involving minorities who fled Burma in 1995 and cut trees to make a living and build houses, said Pongpol Adireksarn.
During the Chavalit administration, the Democrats, then the core opposition party, petitioned the House Agriculture Committee to press for an investigation but to no avail.
The opposition, however, traced the damage back to 1993 and blamed Sanan Kachornprasart, then agriculture minister, and now interior minister. Chamlong Krudkunthod, a Chart Pattana MP, said Maj-Gen Sanan had been incompetent in protecting forests. Among his failures was the graft-prone economic forest programme, he said. The auditor-general had found that only 15 percent of the budget allocated to the project had been spent.
Watch for motives as well as "facts". From the many examples above, it should be clear that people have many different motives for bringing up environmental issues. Some are genuinely concerned about saving the environment or at least limiting the damage of economic development. But others may have less praiseworthy motives. So read environmental stories critically.
•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.
Know these words and phrases|
difficulty adjusting to the time changes encountered from a long plane trip
happening again and again
giving up something desireable
an action which has both positive and negative consequences
the parts left of a dead animal
informed (usually secretly and usually about something bad)
gear up (for)
preparing for something difficult
lay siege to
to surround an area, preventing people from entering or leaving
to set aside for a particular purpose
to completely cover with water
a letter or notice distributed to a large number of people
a place where animal hides (skins) are processed
to get rid of
a place where wastes are buried underground
a brain disease
a lung disease
a cancer of the blood
stealing something and taking it away
central part; main component
lacking skill; not capable of doing a job
reasons for doing or saying something