When we first visited Bangkok 20 years ago you couldn’t see the sky due to a constant smoke and pollution haze. It took hours to move around the city by car or Tuk Tuk and things were constantly grid-locked.
On this visit the new freeways mean that it’s far easier to get around with almost constant traffic flow from one area to another and at times three to four layers of tollways allowing the traffic to fan out across the city. The lower roads are still busy but with a city of over 10 million and with an equivalent number of cars it’s going to be hectic.
Add to this the absolutely fantastic BTS mass transit sky train and Underground Metro rail system (both better than I’ve seen in any country) and an increasing number of road vehicles moving to natural gas and Bangkok is moving from a city where black smoke billowing from tailpipes into the humid, tropical air was once a Bangkok trademark to, just 20 years on being a role model for Asia’s pollution-choked capitals, boasting considerably cleaner air than Beijing, Jakarta, New Delhi and Shanghai.
Seems that the local government has played their part as well by enacting simple but highly effective measures like washing the streets to keep the dust down. Buddhist crematoria in and around the city were urged to change from wood-burning pyres to more sophisticated electric incinerators.
The striking result is that, while the number of motor vehicles registered in Bangkok has increased by 40 percent over the past decade, the average levels of the most dangerous types of pollution — small dust particles that embed themselves in the lungs — have been cut by 47 percent, from 81 to 43 micrograms per cubic meter during the same period. Bangkok’s air, on average, now falls within the limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of 50 micrograms per cubic meter, but is above the European Union limit of 40.
In reality though all this means nothing to me. What means something is how the sky looked when I went out this morning……clear blue with no clouds (or smog) to be seen. It seems that Bangkok is moving ahead and in spite of the challenges of a ballooning population and traffic requirements it’s getting ahead of the environmental challenge that so many of the worlds countries, including Australia seem to be finding so difficult to make the hard decisions on.