In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, motorcycles screech, drone, and dangerously define their way through cars, in the process, discharging a wide range of pollutants into the atmosphere and human lungs.
Motorcycles in this part of Thailand, as in many parts of Asia, are a basic form of transportation.
Motorcycles constitute 70 to 80 percent of the vehicular traffic fleet of Asia. As many parts of the region undergo economic boom, it is expected that the number of motorcycles will continue to grow which will significantly increase the emission of hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide.
According to the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, motorcycles produce 16 times the amount of hydrocarbons and three times the carbon monoxide emitted by a conventional passenger car.
The impact of motorcycle emissions on the environment as well as human health are severe and given the fact that motorcycles are widely accepted as a convenient and cheap mode of transport, there is little to no action being taken to combat their hazardous emissions either by citizens or governments.
In fact, in Chiang Mai, it appears that motorcycles have escaped environmental regulation, and it is not rare that a motorcyclist can be fined for not wearing a helmet as opposed to the amount of emissions that their motorcycle produces.
Besides the emission of pollutants, motorcycles also contribute significantly to noise pollution, a factor largely ignored by politicians and policy-makers.
A study conducted by the Asia Institute of Technology, Thailand in collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Studies, Japan revealed that “under business-as-usual conditions, regional emissions of sulphur dioxide are expected to increase fourfold by 2030 over those of 1990; while emissions of nitrogen oxides are expected to increase threefold.”
The omnipresence of motorcycles in the region contributes a huge chuck to the environmental pollution in the region and therefore an alternative transportation system needs to be incorporated into the overall, integrated package to deal with the problem.
According to an environment engineer with the World Bank, two and three-wheelers constitute three-fourths of the Asian vehicular fleet, and these emit up to 70 percent of the total hydrocarbons, 40 percent of the total carbon dioxide and a substantial part of the particulate pollution in the region.
Making matters worse, motor-cycles equipped with two stroke technology are inefficient at combustion and emit hazardous forms of unburnt hydrocarbons, which damage human lungs.
Investing in clean technology in indeed a key priority that governments in the region need to put high on the agenda for the sake of future generations.
Replacing two-stroke technology equipped motorcycles in favor of four stroke technology can significantly cut emissions in the region.
“On average, a motorcycle with a 4-stroke engine consumes 30 percent less than one with a 2-stroke engine. The emission of particulate matter from a 2-stroke engine is 1.0 gram per passenger kilometer whereas it is 0.2 grams per passenger kilometer for a 4-stroke one,” states the Asia Institute of Technology and National Institute of Environmental Studies report titled “Alternative Policy Study: Reducing Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific.”
The report adds that investing in non-motorised, public transport systems can save “significant quantities of energy and reduce pollution levels.”
There is also a need for increased public awareness of the damage that is caused by motorcycles to both the environment and human health so that more people can opt for options that are environmentally friendly.
A key indicator of Asia’s step towards a greener future will undoubtedly involve taming its wild motorcycle population.
And hopefully, in Chiang Mai, as in many cities across Asia, there will be less but clean-technology powered motorcycles weaving their way through the sea of equally clean technology powered vehicular traffic.