Firstly, over Wuhan, then all of China, then across the industrialised and developing world, the pattern has been the same. Once we humans were disbarred from our ‘normal’ day-to-day activities, the air quality dramatically improved and soon after that, birds, animals, plants and trees all started to burst forth with a new-found vitality and enthusiasm for living.
It is the most graphic critique of the untold damage that our ‘normal human activity’ is relentlessly doing to the very critical natural systems that created and sustain us, and frankly it is terrifying to behold.
You can easily tell how valuable something is to humans by removing it from our lives and then seeing how long we survive without it.
Netflix or Deliveroo we can afford to lose from our lives forever and still happily thrive. We can survive without food for about 35 days without suffering permanent damage. A drink of clean water we can live without for about 72 hours, but just try not taking a breath of air for five minutes and see how well you do.
We humans seem to be experts at taking for granted those things that are absolutely vital to our existence until they are almost depleted and only then taking notice. Clean air is a terrifying case in point.
According to the World Health Organisation over 90% of our species now breath air that is actually injurious to their long-term health. What an achievement in just 250 short years since the start of the Industrial Revolution we’ve managed to create an environment from which an absolutely vital life-supporting element, clean air, has almost vanished.
The pause in ‘normal daily life’ which this pandemic has engendered has, however, given us a window of opportunity to maintain some of the positive activities forced upon us, such as increased cycling and walking, and thereby ‘lock in’ the cleaner air that results.
Many governments are planning initiatives and budgets to ‘lock in’ this unexpected benefit from the viral crisis.
It makes enormous sense as COVID-19, like all viruses, attacks weakness such as respiratory systems damaged by breathing polluted air, or people who are obese, diabetic or otherwise weakened by lack of exercise and outdoor activity. In addition, we are now faced with a new reality which mandates systems of public movement that maintain social distancing and separation.
How can Phuket capitalise on this Golden Opportunity to become a cleaner, healthier, safer and more attractive destination for both residents and future tourists alike?
Two things are inordinately clear and desperately needed.
The first is an efficient, affordable public transportation system linking the airport with all the main parts of the island.
Secondly, an online bicycle ‘rent and ride’ scheme with easily accessible bike docking stations and dedicated ‘bicycle and walking’ pathways around Phuket’s perimeter and again linking to all the key parts of the island.
Bangkok and Thailand’s northern regions displayed appalling air pollution records in 2019/20 elevating them to being the most polluted areas on earth during the ‘burn off’ season.
Phuket can avoid such horrors by capitalising on the opportunities to ‘lock in’ the pandemic’s clean air gains through swift, forward-looking actions such as those suggested above.
While I often advise my visitors to ‘hold their breath’ while passing fume-belching pickup trucks and tour buses while cycling around the island’s beauty spots, I’m not sure that doing so in anticipation of such intelligent initiatives being adopted any time soon is worthwhile advice!
“Bicycling” Baz Daniel fell off his first bicycle aged three... a case of love at first slight. Since then he has spent a further 65 years falling on and off bicycles all over the world, but his passion endures. When not in traction, he found time to become Senior VP of the world’s largest advertising and communications group, finally retiring to Phuket in 2006. He has been penning his Blazing Saddles column, chronicling his cycling adventures in Phuket and beyond, since 2013.