Nation's Environmental Team Captures Prestigious UN Award.
The Nation's environmental reporting team recently captured the UNEP Global 500 award. The team is composed of bureau chief James Fahn, Nantiya Tangwisututijit (who is also assistant news editor), Kamol Sukin, Walakkanon Eamwiwatkit,and Pennapa Hongtong. Only twenty other recipients were named this year with famous primate expert Jane Goodall being one of them. Past Thai winners include Khunying Chodchoy Sophonpanich for her Magic Eyes program, Pisit na Patalung of the Wildlife Fund Thailand, Mrs Normita Thongtham and the Bangkok Post, Mechai Viravaidya and his Population and Community Development Association, Phornthep Phornprapha for his Think Earth Project, and Leonie Vejjajiva for her Wildlife Rescue Foundation of Thailand.
James Fahn, The Nation's environment head, has been with the paper since 1990. He hails from Westchester, New York and he attended Amherst College in Massachusetts where he studied astrophysics and history. After graduating he received a Watson Fellowship which gave him a block of money to travel the world and do research while traveling. Fahn decided to research international co-operation in physics, but as he says, "After about a year I realized I liked traveling more than I liked the research. So I worked for a while in Europe, saved up some money, and then I traveled across the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. I was backpacker basically doing the old hippie trail as well as I could. Along the way I met some people who had worked as journalists in Hong Kong and they told me they were good opportunities for journalists in Asia. I had decided by that point that I wanted to try journalism anyway.
"By the time I got to Bangkok I was running out of money. So I got a hair-cut, bought some nice clothes and walked into The Nation with my resume. Luckily they were looking for a journalist with a scientific background to run their technology section (now its called "Byte-line" and Fahn also writes a column called "Net Trek")"I was writing about how science affects society and environment is a large part of that. And the more I learned about Thailand and what was going on here the more I realized how important environmental issues were. so my interest in the environment really grew out of living here in Thailand and talking to other reporters at The Nation."
Fahn says that traveling helped him to gain the confidence that a good reporter needs when asking difficult questions, or when dealing with difficult people. "If I could survive traveling on my own through Turkey, Iraq (between the wars), and Pakistan I figured I could do almost anything. Traveling was my post-graduate education and I highly recommend it to others."
How did The Nation get such a good reputation in environmental reporting? Fahn points to Ann Danaiya Usher a Thai-Canadian who was one of the first environmental reporters in Thailand. "A lot of the credit goes to her. She was a pioneer who laid the groundwork and The Nation has always had a strong history of this type of reporting."
Fahn cites bio-diversity and toxic waste as two of the greatest concerns facing the environment today. Bio-diversity because, "Whatever species goes extinct is a treasure lost forever. It takes millions of years for these creatures to evolve. It is like losing a library. And don't forget the spiritual aspect as well. We should respect life. If we lose these species out of poverty and need it is sad but if we lose them out of ignorance it is just a shame. We will probably never get them back. We talk about environment quality, air and water pollution, and public health but we can change those problems with proper investment and management controls. "Toxic waste is something that has not been dealt with at all in Thailand. There are no proper treatment facilities, and a lot of the waste is just dumped. It is a long-term problem that isn't going to go away."
The Nation's environment editor says improving the educational system by teaching environmental education is very important. "I think the people up-country already understand wildlife and animals. In the cities, the Thai middle class now has a real fascination for wildlife but what they do is buy the wildlife as pets and lock them up in cages, only to abandon them later. So why not use this fascination to save the habitat instead? environment editor says improving the educational system by teaching environmental education is very important. "I think the people up-country already understand wildlife and animals. In the cities, the Thai middle class now has a real fascination for wildlife but what they do is buy the wildlife as pets and lock them up in cages, only to abandon them later. So why not use this fascination to save the habitat instead?
"The election of Bichit Rattakul as Governor of Bangkok was a good sign. His heart is in the right place. He definitely understand the problems he faces. But can he do something? I don't know. It's a long slow process, and the power of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) is limited."
Quizzed about the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MOSTE) Fahn says, "It is good for pollution control and environmental policy making, but the agencies who control the resources have the real power e.g. the Departments of Fisheries, Forestry, Irrigation, Mineral Resources, and the Land Department. There is talk about setting up an Environmental and Natural Resources Ministry some day. It is slightly dangerous because you would be centralizing all the power but I still think it is a good idea.
When asked why more changes aren't being made to preserve the environment here in Thailand, Fahn responds, "The establishment has a very effective way of controlling the status quo. They use the `carrot-and-stick' approach. The carrot being the vote buying. The stick is that if you protest against vested interests too loudly, you get shot. So voters are left with limited choices. Look at some recent examples. An environment leader, Thong-in Kaewwatha, in Rayong was gunned down Mafia style a day after a decision was made by the Industry Minister to move a treatment center from Rayong to Ma Tha Phut. In Loei, Prawien Boonak was shot because he was protesting against rock quarries. And Khun Joon Boonkoonpot was killed in Chaiyaphum for protesting against a dam there.
Fahn admits he was surprised when the award was announced and when you examine a list of past winners (Jacques Cousteau, Sir David Attenborough, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Jimmy Carter and Chico Mendes among them) you can hardly blame him. But he shouldn't have been surprised. The Nation like the Bangkok Post before it justifably has earned its place in the ranks of the Global 500 Role of Honor.
Note: James has since left his post at The Nation (although he still writes a fortnightly column on environment and science for the paper), and is now working on a TV show. It's a weekly half-hour feature program about the environment called Rayngan Si-khiow ("Green Report"). He's hosting the show (in Thai) as well as writing some of the scripts. For those of you living in Thailand, you can check it out every Sunday at 14:00 on ITV. James has since left his post at The Nation (although he still writes a fortnightly column on environment and science for the paper), and is now working on a TV show. It's a weekly half-hour feature program about the environment called Rayngan Si-khiow ("Green Report"). He's hosting the show (in Thai) as well as writing some of the scripts. For those of you living in Thailand, you can check it out every Sunday at 14:00 on ITV.
You can check out http://welcometo/fahn/
James says feel free to pass him on any comments you might have, either by sending him e-mail, or writing in his guest book. Also, please let him know if you spot any glitches.b
"James has now returned to the USA and is taking a Master's Degree in International Relations at Columbia University."