I was nine when my parents moved all our belongings to the second floor of our house, stocked our bathrooms with black basins of clean water, and filled our bedrooms with instant noodles. It was 2011, and I barely knew how Facebook worked, so I merely watched as my parents scrolled through pictures of people perched on their roofs as torrents of tea-colored water rushed past beneath their feet. I turned on the television and saw boats where there shouldn't be boats, on streets and in buildings and in rice fields...or what used to be rice fields. I thought it was funny at the time, and secretly hoped the floods would reach my area as well, so I wouldn't have to go to school. Living in Bangkok, removed from the struggles of people living in less developed, more affected parts of Thailand, I didn't feel that the floods were anything more than a surprising break from my routine. I didn't know that beneath the boats were bodies, and not just bodies but lost lives, lost dreams, lost futures. I didn't know that the floods were a message from our planet.
Like I said, I was nine.
I was thirteen when the black basins made a comeback in our bathrooms and we started a collection of bottled water. My sister and I weren't allowed to shower for longer than seven minutes each, which seemed like a very short time to me. It seemed ironic, really: we had too much water before, and now we didn't have enough. I was old enough to know, then, that Earth was not just randomly acting out, sending us problem after problem. She had pulled the fire alarm, and not enough people were rushing to save her.
I am sixteen now, and two months ago I looked out my window and saw fog. Except it wasn't fog. It was dust. Dust like no one had ever seen before. Dust that made global headlines, dust that allowed students all over Bangkok to stay home from school, dust that cleaned out every store's supply of air purifiers. I kept my dust mask on every second I was outside, and yet I didn't stop sneezing for weeks. Then the dust moved up to the northern parts of Thailand and we stopped caring as much.
I took a five-minute walk from my mother's workplace to the train station the other day, and it was blazingly hot.
Interestingly enough, that's what it took for me to realize just how much our world needed our help. Living in Thailand, people are always complaining about the heat, whether they're an office employee or a street vendor (or a student, like me). But how much more complaining will it take to realize that, like the natural disasters that were so impactful on our lives, this heat is more than a passing annual event? How long before we realize that we do not need to look to grand gestures from the planet to recognize the state of crisis it is in? The irregular seasons, the heat waves, the melting glaciers are more than natural phenomena: they are warning signs, alarm bells, beeps on the monitor of a planet on life support.
William Shakespeare once said: "one touch of nature makes the whole world kin". This is especially true of natural disasters. Like an inattentive partner in a relationship, we force our Earth to resort to desperate measures before we are willing to take notice of the state it is in. Because when a natural disaster befalls us, for one devastating moment, we are kin. We are family, children of the Earth, working together to save her and ourselves. And when that moment is over, we go back to ignoring her again...but we never do stop caring for ourselves. Unfortunately, caring for ourselves usually means exploiting and damaging our blue-and-green home with little to no regard for the consequences.We forget that our planet may survive without us, but we cannot survive without our planet. It's all well and good to take action in the face of natural disaster, but how many of them must happen in order for us to fully realize the growing urgency of our situation? How many of them can we endure before it's too late?
I stepped outside today and there was no flood, no drought, no dust. And yet I knew that our planet was dying.
The problem of toxic dust is still going on in the northern region of Thailand and yet no one is paying as much attention to it anymore simply because it's not happening in the capital. Countries like South Korea and China are also suffering from a similar situation with toxic dust pollution.