NatGeo award winner: people can lead to protect environment

Peoples’ behaviors are a more important force in protecting the environment than policymakers’ actions, according to a winner of the National Geographic Thailand’s 2018 Explorer Awards, who insisted last week that changes in consumer behavior can force the adoption of a circular economy.

“I want to show that we can make a change starting with our own behavior,” said Petch Manopawitr, who has worked on environmental projects for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Indonesia.

National Geographic in Thailand named Petch, who also writes columns for Greenpeace, as one of several Explorers. NatGeo said that every year it brings together explorers, scientists, and storytellers from around the world to share their discoveries and insights – along with their solutions for creating a more sustainable future.

Petch said that he has been inspired by recent events in Thailand, such as the public outrage over the poaching of a black leopard in a national park, and widespread consternation over the death of a pilot whale on a southern Thai beach because it swallowed 80 plastic bags. Thai people, and especially younger people, have been avidly signing petitions and joining cyber and real-world campaigns. But they need to do more, he said.

“Instead of signing up for a campaign for change … we can contribute to environmental conservation every day, with our daily activities. It’s us, who can make an impact,” Petch said.

What younger urban Thais need is guidance and direction on actions they can take that could be more effective.

“It is true that young generations who grow up in urban settings have become divorced from nature. They may value an idea of environmental conservation but have never become seriously involved,” Petch said.

He said, however, that the cyber and signature campaigns have created momentum for action and described them as societal capital. For instance, the public attention garnered by the death of the pilot whale led to the government banning imports of plastic waste, and to some Thai companies pledging to reduce their use of plastics.

With his background in marine conservation, Petch regarded the death of the whale as a personal and societal failure. While he may feel down, he certainly is not out. He recently launched a start-up called ReReef that provides practical solutions for ecologically friendly living such as reef-safe sunscreen, reusable straws, and bamboo toothbrushes.

“If we make plastics and other environmentally harmful materials more expensive, we will force a new, circular economy to take place. We will see a burst of nature-based innovations. With a clear goal, Thailand stands to benefit from this as we are rich in natural resources. Our people are creative and good at design,” Petch said.