All the TV stations in Thailand show the impact of everyone turning off one unused light on electricity use – in real time.
In just five minutes, Thailand’s national electricity consumption has gone down by over 700 megawatts — enough to shut down one of the country’s fourteen large hydropower stations.
…fourteen million Thai households, whose TVs are showing only this show, are supposed to turn off one unused light. Cameras with aerial views show houses, skyscrapers, whole cities darkening — not fully, but noticeably. And a small moving graph on the screen starts to register the change in energy consumption.
…Chirapol Sintunawa is a happy man tonight, because the whole exercise was originally his idea. He pushed the light switch on national TV like this for the first time several years ago. Now, it’s become an annual event, with greater energy savings every time — and with the Prime Minister himself leading the charge (or rather, reduction in charge). Energy conservation is part of the PM’s national agenda.
Thailand, whose Buddhist culture gives it an extraordinary flexibility, is known for its ability contain paradoxes. I’m told that the mayor of Pattaya, capital city of the country’s famous go-go bars, stood on the main street amidst the neon, looked right at the television news cameras, and declared that there was "no prostitution here." Meanwhile, in a conversation with a business consultant, I learned that such bars are a hot investment commodity in the global market, and the quality of the prostitutes figures prominently in the selling price.
Big, fancy cars are stuck in traffic everywhere. Cell phones glued to every ear. The whole population is noticeably much taller: milk consumption has gone up by a factor of 12 during those years, among many other developments. Lots of "world-class" stuff: metro system, movie theaters, prominent global brands. But there are still lots of simple, world-class food stalls on the street as well.
The whole system, and its growth, looks terribly unsustainable of course — without some significant changes in course. That’s what my friends here are trying to do. The hotels have an environmentally-friendly rating system, the Green Leaf (Chirapol also helped start that program). You can find fair-trade eco-products mixed among the French designer labels.