But you’re still drinking from a plastic bottle? Did it sting your conscience when you saw 80 plastic bags taken out of the pilot whale that died in Southern Thailand not long ago? You may say that it’s sad but then think that it’s not the plastic bag that you threw away.
What if I ask you to sign your name on each and every plastic bag, straw, cup you abandon? How can you guarantee it won’t end up in some animal’s stomach, some turtle’s nose or eyes? Before you use any plastic item, have you asked yourself whether you can change to use something else?
The first time I took off my blinders to know Dr Chantinee Boonchai she was the lead investigator for Phuket Beach Survey, an activity she and her students carried out under the Phuket Beach Management Project. She said, “(The survey) facilitates the dialogues between the local government, tourists and the local people who are adversely affected by problem beaches in Phuket. Appropriate actions followed, such as the Save Phuket Beach campaign, beach clean-ups, community and youth forums, lifeguard training, and environment volunteer training. For younger children, they had a beach drawing competition to show how their dream beaches are.”
Dr Chantinee was a Thai government scholarship recipient. She obtained a BSc from the National University of Singapore and a master’s and PhD in Environment Management from the University of Queensland. Now a lecturer at the Prince of Songkla University (PSU), she is also a member of Andaman Environment and the Natural Disaster Research and Innovation Centre. As a Phuket resident, she is eager to focus her work toward a better Phuket.
Though tourists pouring in stimulates economic growth, Phuket is increasingly stretched by being an international destination. More visitors packed along a small stretch of beach, more cars, vans, buses and motorbikes moving on the same narrow roads, more hotels, resorts, shopping malls, and so on are growing everywhere like bamboo shoots. Inevitably this leads to more rubbish and other environmental problems.
However Dr Chantinee sees in this both opportunities and challenges. She says, “Yes, with the expansion of the buildings encroaching inland, sea water getting polluted, foul sewage smell, rubbish everywhere. But in the meanwhile, Phuket grows into a mega international destination. It means more chances of development, more economic growth which will bring in more technology, more educated human resource, more advanced ideas. It’ll be beneficial for the new generation to be proactive and be creative to solve current and future problems.”
According to her survey, many local village leaders would like to know how to change or solve the problems and make Phuket a better place to live. They’re motivated, but lack proper environmental education. Dr Chantinee believes that in the long run, changing the prevailing educational paradigm will be essential for sustainable development. “It’s equally important to enhance communication between the local authorities and the people, to work in teams collaboratively, to inspire everyone’s innovation for change and to push workable solutions into more communities.”
With a decade of overseas learning experience, Dr Chantinee knows how important self-initiative is in environmental protection. But in Thai society, there are invisible hierarchical authority rules that lower-status people dare not step forward to break. The psychological stereotype hence remains that the older, the teacher, the higher-status people know better.
Leonard Cohen said there is a crack in everything, that’s how a light comes in. Slowly and gradually, things are changing in the campus.
In her PSU course Global Citizenship, she discusses 75 initiatives that her students can try now to embrace as global citizens. They can practice ways of sustainable development in daily life: knowing how to separate waste and put into recycle banks on campus; pushing into their own communities to separate waste and undertake recycling; adopting reusable containers for food and drinks instead of using plastic product every day; saving energy, and many others.
Dr Chantinee says, “I’m not only preaching but doing 75 activities together with my students. Some students organise in smaller teams to work together which is really beyond my expectation and I fully support their energetic passion. These items in the course should turn into lifestyle habits and get passed on to the next generation, passed on to the whole family and community. Integrated education should be from the community, society, and not simply from universities.”
She is not sure how much one course can change any of her students. She believes, as Carl Sandburg wrote long ago that “Bean by bean, we fill the sack.”
The university is working on providing more educational platforms and opportunities for Phuket’s future leaders. Its endeavours will push Phuket toward a sustainable tomorrow.
Besides the 75 tasks for global citizens, Dr Chantinee is also practicing her own environmental protection motto daily – no disposable Styrofoam products, reusable containers; no plastic bag/straw/bottle, her own cup or cloth bag. She says, “Though it takes a lot of preparation, it’s part of the fun to change oneself too.”
Knowing that one is changing brings delight to one’s mind. Remember the story of a little boy who threw every starfish on the beach back into the sea? A curious old man questioned him, saying that since there were thousands of starfish, he alone couldn’t make any difference. The boy picked up one starfish threw it into the water. He said, “It made a difference for that one.”
Faculty of Technology and Environment Prince of Songkla University (PSU)
Tel: +66 84 260 5319