Smoke is not healthy for you or me
by Carol Culver De Leo
I live in Chiang Mai, also known as the “Rose of the North”. It is located in Northern Thailand, offers lush landscape, a city full of culture and friendly people. It is a wonderful place to live.
Until smoky season erupts, much like a volcano, the skies are filled with a deadly haze, obscuring the mountains that surround the city. Reminds me of living in Los Angeles as a child when the smog would get so bad the foothills disappeared.
This year Chiang Mai “won world recognition for the dubious distinction of having the worst recorded air quality during peak conditions“. In fact, we have won that title several times this year.
Recently on a day already thick with haze, I looked out my window and saw a brush fire burning, adding to the polluted air that we are breathing. I was struck by the amount of smoke rising from that one small fire.
The haze that fills our skies and our lungs comes from 2 main sources, agricultural burning of crop waste and forest fires. Small brush fires like this one just add to the problem.
Anyone living in an agricultural area in Asia is probably familiar with the haze I am talking about. In today’s world, farmers simply set their fields on fire after reaping the crop, burning the remaining stubble to clear the field, to get ready to plant the next crop.
In the process, they are creating a health hazard not only for their own families living in the immediate area, but for everyone in the community. But it goes far beyond the local community. Crop burning is also a major contributor to global warming, which affects everyone.
If the farmers realized the value of the crop residue, that rather than “going up in smoke” it can be turned into a cash profit, perhaps they will change their ways. Warm Heart is working on a solution for that.
From smoke to biochar
When I first was introduced to Warm Heart, I was drawn to all the projects they were involved in. For a small non-profit operating on a shoestring, they were having a huge impact on improving the lives of many people in the community. I was impressed, and wanted to get involved.
I have always seen that our climate is going through changes, but until I became involved in Warm Heart’s Environmental Program, I had no idea how serious a problem climate change really was. Nor had I connected the dots in my mind that we were responsible for the global warming that was changing our climate.
Once getting over an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom, I began to see the solutions that Warm Heart was pursuing to help turn global warming around. Needless to say, I have become a fanatical supporter of the biochar program. Teaching farmers how to turn their crop waste into biochar is a huge step in combating global warming. Not only does making biochar clean our air, provide extra income for farmers, when biochar is put back into our earth it cleans and replenish our soils and improves our food production. A win-win proposition, the kind I like.
Forest fires are a whole different story. Fires are often set intentionally by arsonists (at least that is what we call them in the US) so they can harvest the mushrooms that come up after a fire. The thought of someone intentionally setting fires for this purpose makes my blood boil. How can anyone be that stupid, that selfish, to ignore the huge consequences they are inflicting on the world around them?
Managing the forests falls under the government’s domain. Quite frankly I do not know what solutions they are working on the solve this problem. But I have seen where communities have stepped up to maintain their forests with a positive impact.
Led by a local monk, Baan Omlong in Samoeng District has been working to stop wildfires in the local forest. Villagers have taken ownership of their forest. They have dammed local streams to preserve moisture, planted trees, and created firebreaks. Fire-watch teams monitor the forest during the vulnerable summer months.
Their efforts have paid off. Baan Omlong has not had a forest fire for 3 seasons. Mushrooms and wild plants are thriving in the regenerated forest, creating more income for local residents.
Protecting our forests is vital to our survival on this planet. Our forests absorb and hold the co2 that we produce in our everyday lives. Part of the problem with our industrial world is we are producing more co2 than can be absorbed, and add in the loss of forests to deforestation, the rising imbalance is causing global warming. As comedian George Carlin once pointed out “The planet isn’t going anywhere. We are! We’re going away.”
Los Angeles was able to clean up their smog. We can do it too. There are solutions, people just need to care enough to be willing to act on them.
One way to help is to support Warm Heart’s “Stop the Smoke” campaign.