Mushroom Making, Thai Style


Last night we drove past our friend’s house (our closest neighbour is 1km away) to see a forest fire encroaching on his doorstep.

fireImage by John Dalton. View Richard Rhodes’ video of the Chiang Mai fires on YouTube here

He was waiting in the living room with all his important documents and 6 month year old son, ready to evacuate. When I reached our house, a fire had already started nearby and from the balcony I could see a further 5 forest fires in full swing. Welcome to the Chiang Mai burning season.

This morning (23rd January) my youngest vomited as result of the putrid air quality and there were several fires still raging. All the mountains have disappeared too. We should have deep blue skies right now. I learnt that there was a fire next to our house that had been quashed by our gardener (Adda “the snake killer” will have a very different role over the next few months)

You might remember from An Inconvenient Truth that 30% of C02 emissions are a result of forest fires and slash & burn agriculture. This weeks BBC environmental column argues that far more attention should be given to the destruction of forest, rather than emissions from airlines. This is a huge problem.

These fires are all deliberately started. And why? Local farmers want to remove all the undergrowth so it is easier to kill EVERYTHING in the forest, grow mushrooms, and harvest orchids (illegally). The authorities are apparently complicit in this activity, which has negligible economic worth but causes significant environmental damage. So think twice next time about buying that exotic toadstool and extolling all “those people in the developing world in touch with nature”. It’s not just about education either. A friend relayed to me this morning that a local professor had held a 2 hour presentation on the health issues resulting to forest burning in his village. The next day the forests were ablaze.

There is now a moratorium where I live, banning all burning. You might remember that Chiang Mai made headline news around the world last year as a result of its appalling air pollution, fires being the culprit. Of course it’s one thing to have laws, it’s another to enforce them. I have seen upwards of 50 fires this season. I have yet to see a single policeman on the scene or anyone making an attempt to extinguish them. Except for me.

By contributor Richard Rhodes. Richard lives in Thailand with his wife and children and runs e-photoframes, an eco photo frame business. If you feel like writing for us, drop us an email!

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