Chiang Mai Sustainability Assessment

This is the first installment of a soon-to-be-regular blog series that I am responsible for writing as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. I will be researching and reporting on sustainability and environmentalism in Southeast Asia thanks to the program’s generous financial support.

After a good four weeks of living in Chiang Mai, I’ve had a good first look at the city and had a chance to formulate a fair base impression on the state of environmentalism in the city. If not always appreciated or accepted, sustainability in the USA is pervasive regardless and becoming increasingly prioritized. This is good stuff! Changing the undesirable projection of our global natural systems requires global cooperation. While we are focusing on sustainability, how is Thailand doing on this front?


Surface level impressions – The Good:

  • The popularity and standard of motorbike transportation. Traffic is chaotic and hectic and there’s an exceptional amount of disorganized (at least to the Western eye) movement on the streets. But it could be worse. Everyone could be driving cars and larger vehicles instead. This leads to decreased exhaust chemicals being emitted and less gasoline consumed.
  • The cars that are on the road, are smaller on average than in America. Compared to Europe, it’s about the same. And due to enormously high taxation rates on car ownership in the country, most of the cars are older models with better gas mileage.
  • Thailand’s climate and geography is ideal to produce tropical fruits and it’s year-round growing season means local produce is in high supply. Fresh foods; grains, produce, meats, with low carbon footprints (short distances from farm to table, less preservatives) seem to comprise the majority of a Thai diet.
  • Mostly in University settings, there will be posters and flyers advocating eco-consciousness or green-living. Although not saving any energy or planting trees, this is subtly shifting the consciousness of society.

Unfortunately, Chiang Mai appears less environmentally friendly than I had hoped. But as one of the world’s most rapidly developing countries, Thailand’s economic growth at any cost is taking precedence over sustainability and the preservation of natural resources.

Coming soon – Surface level impressions ‘The Bad’.


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