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A bushfire ravages Doi Suthep-Pui National Park in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong district on the night of March 25. (Chiang Mai Volunteer Drone Team) credit: Bangkok Post, 9 April 2020

From 2.5PM to Zero in Thailand: why Air Pollution and COVID-19 emergency politics require us to reimagine the status quo

By a few of the co-leads of the Circular Design Lab air pollution track: Courtney Savie Lawrence , Laura Hammett, Weenarin Lulitanonda and Sivalee Anantachart (Soma), crossposted from here

In this post we contend that the role of ‘first responder’ in the COVID, climate change, and air pollution emergency is a role to be taken up by the whole of society. Indeed we have a new reality which requires all of us to reimagine the status quo collectively. We all have a part to play.

We can no longer wait for the pre-COVID era social contract, a dance between citizens and government, to play catch up. In fact, there are too many examples from across the past few months that tell us quite the opposite: global risks are too complex for ill-prepared governments that operate on an emergency politics axis. Perhaps instead of gazing retrospectively towards the past ‘normal’ we should be aggressively asserting our focus on the post-pandemic space that is up for repurposing.

We are vulnerable

We now know that no one is immune to exposure or the harmful effects of COVID and air pollution. We wouldn’t be on a global lockdown if this were not true, at least for the virus. Yet transboundary threats — “invisible enemies” if you will — are not going away unless collectively, civil society and government optimize for alignment, and prioritize taking action based on data. And the data shows that the COVID crisis and the underlying challenges of air quality are inextricably linked.

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‘Migrant children have often been acknowledged as one of the most vulnerable communities in Thailand — some are stateless, and most are excluded from state-provided healthcare or education’. More:

A nod to the possible, and red herrings

Back to dreaming, re-inventing, reimagining: Just as the Google Earth Engine App, allows you to literally see air pollution levels from the atmosphere captured at various points of recent history for comparison purposes, in some places around the world, the return of blue skies is real. For the first time in years, the Himalayan mountain range has become visible in some parts of India, where 29 of the 30 often most polluted cities in the world contribute to a man made air quality pandemic. Cities across Europe, the US, the Middle East and Asia are all noticing pockets of clarity. These examples offer a stark contrast to the usual status quo that many of us have been conditioned to accept as a default. Below, as captured in this recent article, you can see the ‘before and after’ COVID-19 imposed curfew views: a road in Ahvaz, Iran, show the effects on air pollution, an image of the Google Earth Engine Map (set to Chiangmai) and a visual showing the change in NO2 Pollution levels from January-March, versus 2019.

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Yet at the same time, these temporary gains won’t stand much chance of longevity if we don’t consider the quiet politics working in the background.

Indeed over the past few months, countries like China, the US and Japan have reduced or relaxed regulations for emissions and environmental standards- cited as a ‘cost’ to accelerate an eviscerating economy. These decisions have significant cascading effects while trying to circumnavigate the reality forecasted, an alarming one in which half a billion people are projected to be pushed to poverty.

Getting from 2.5PM to Zero — a ‘take action’ campaign for the #right2cleanair

After much zooming and out above, let’s get back to the concrete and pragmatic. In Thailand, the Circular Design Lab, a citizen driven pop-up lab, has been working to elevate the discussion along all threads, from the ‘grassroots’ to government. Six months ago we ran a series of systemic design workshops with the community on the themes of air pollution, waste management and unsustainable fast fashion. Our ‘air’ track, as a result of the series, mapped the ‘system’ and decided to focus on two leverage points to attempt shifting the trajectory of the air quality conundrum: 1) national, citizen and data driven, policy change and 2) education and awareness- clean air in fact is our human right.

How to join, and what will we cover?

We will explore more about the links between COVID-19 and air pollution, the ongoing crisis and existing response in Northern Thailand, the ways in which Thailand can move towards long-term solutions to its systemic air pollution challenges, and how you can take action to guarantee your #right2cleanair. It of course is free and open to the public, you can register here.

  1. Wednesday, 29 April, 5–6pm (Bangkok) “Fighting Fires” — what is happening in northern Thailand today, why it matters and ways to support?
  2. Wednesday, 6 May, 5–6pm (Bangkok) “Grassroots to Government” — how can Thailand turn the tide of air pollution and guarantee citizens’ right to clean air?
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We are a self-organized, citizen-driven project focused on humanity’s big challenges\\ \\ @circular_lab

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