International Cooperation for Global Survivability: Let the Thai Cave Boys Be a Beacon of Hope

The recent rescue of the Thai Cave Boys serves as a great example of what humans can accomplish under the most challenging, dangerous, and extreme conditions and what we can learn in surviving other environmental crises. When the Thai soccer team went missing, apparently the parents did not even know where they had gone. One boy on the team did not join them for the cave adventure and knew where they had gone as a team many times before. However, this time heavy rains blocked their exit and forced the boys and coach deeper into the limestone cave system. They survived on drinking the relatively clean water from drips coming off the top of the cave ceiling rather than the dirty flood water. The coach had been a Buddhist monk for many years, which most young men in Thailand spend time at the temple for blessing the family. So he instructed the team on being calm and to meditate. The physically-fit children stayed positive and when they were discovered to still be alive by two British divers, they sent back humorous and caring messages to tell their families they would be ok. They asked their teachers not to give more homework!

The rescue became an international event with people around the world sending prayers for hope. Thais, Americans, Aussies, Brits and other diving teams came together to trouble shoot options. These experts had never before experienced such dangerous conditions and they had to brainstorm different ideas on how to swim the children out through the dark, cold, narrow passageways.  The local governor took charge of the situation and made the decision to perform the rescue immediately before the monsoon rains raised the water levels. The Thai King help acquire resources and equipment from other countries. Many people demonstrated courage in the face of adversity! Local farmers allowed their rice fields to be destroyed in order to divert and pump water out of the caves, block water fall entrances and lower water levels.

So in summary, human errors and misunderstanding of the power of nature caused the initial crisis of trapping the explorers. Many did not give up hope of finding them and most importantly as far as I know the children did not panic. When people globally came together to solve the local problem, they worked together and made many sacrifices – including the Thai diver who ran out of air and died – and loss of businesses for the greater good to rescue these children.

So for many problems we face where human errors are due to a misunderstanding of the power of nature, we must find a way to globally come together and realize we are sharing this planet’s resources and we must find solutions to our problems. Americans cannot continue to dump 25% of the world’s carbon in to the global atmosphere and then stay ignorant of the evidence for climate change. We need advanced nuclear power and recycling of spent fuel to provide a source of clean energy in addition to other renewable sources. We cannot be against everything and block all progress. We need to teach more engineers to understand the power of nature and design structures to work with nature rather than believing we can control nature. We can plant more trees rather than destroy the forest. Water restrictions based on the local aridity should be continuous and not just during droughts. We cannot over consume, create trade imbalances, and dump our waste without it having serious economic and ecological effects.

The Thai diver rescue team is now helping rescue flood victims in Laos – an engineering failure of an unfinished dam project due to heavy rains.

Celebrating the Life and Environmental Stewardship of the King of Thailand

This week, Thailand is celebrating and mourning the life and passing of King Bhumibol, with a cremation ceremony one year after his death. I've traveled to Thailand many times over the past 23 years and always felt greatly impressed by the love people displayed for their King. By learning more about his many accomplishments - especially with environmental stewardship, I began to understand the people's devotion. 

I experienced first hand the great accomplishments of the King regarding environmental and economic development. In 1994, I traveled to several Asian countries as a tourist and no where else did I feel so warmly greeted with great kindness as in Thailand - the Land of 1000 Smiles. One of the first things that I noticed was the caring and respect for family and especially the elders, the lack of homelessness, and genuine generosity. 

I traveled with an American doctor friend who volunteered at a hospital in Bangkok. When I saw the newspaper of an environmental conference in honor of the King to be held near Pattaya, I knew I had to go. The conference displayed technology from many countries for air and water purification and ways to improve agriculture. I became very impressed with the many accounts that I heard for the King's direct involvement and creativity to improve the lives of Thai people. One example I observed was the way he worked with rural farmers to improve rice crops, reduce flooding, and clean water.

Here is an article on the King's sustainable development practices and a thoughtful speech last year shown by video of U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power on the life and connections of the Thai King.