Thai Ambassador to UN cites Vermont as a prime example for sustainability

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MANCHESTER — According to Thai Ambassador to the United Nations Virachai Plasai, there is a lot Vermont can learn from Thailand when it comes to sustainability — but there is also much that Thailand can learn from Vermont.

Plasai visited Manchester on Saturday to speak on the U.N.'s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, though it was not the diplomat's first excursion to the Green Mountains. Last summer, Plasai was among 45 foreign diplomats from over 20 countries to visit the Northshire for a "Retreat on Sustainable and Resilient Communities," organized by the Dorset nonprofit The Grace Initiative.

"We have great admiration for this state and its people. We have great admiration for the United States of course, but Vermont has something special," said Plasai in an exclusive Journal interview. "I came here last year, and what your people are doing here in terms of sustainability is remarkable."

Plasai says that in this visit he hopes to not only share Thailand's sustainability efforts with audiences in town for Manchester's first Independent Television and Film Festival (ITVFest), but to also learn how Vermont and Thailand can continue to collaborate.

"Of course Vermont is a model in sustainability; in living in harmony with the environment and nature it's a model for us," said Plasai, who also served as the 2016 chair of The Group of 77. "What we can also share with you is our philosophy of living, which for me is more of a philosophy of decision making."

This philosophy was formulated by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, says Plasai, and has come to be known as "sufficiency economic philosophy."

"There are different ways of looking at life. I look at life as an endless series of decision making. Every day, every moment of your life, you have to make decisions when you wake up until you go to bed," said Plasai. "This is a decision making framework, and it's based on simple values including prudence, and reasonableness. You use knowledge and virtue in order to achieve self-resilience."

Plasai notes that the philosophy focuses on self-resilience rather than self-sufficiency, as the latter denotes a certain isolationism not adept for a globalized world.

"It's sufficiency in the sense that you know where that sweet spot is in your life, you live in harmony with yourself and with others," said Plasai. "By the same token, if you live in harmony with nature and the environment you can achieve sustainability."

According to the ambassador, this philosophy could have a multitude of applications in the state of Vermont.

"It can be applied in agriculture; you have a great agricultural sector here," said Plasai. "It can also be applied in the business sector, in public administration, and even in your everyday life."

In his ITVFest discussion, Plasai sat down with television producer Libby O'Connell at the Manchester Community Library to discuss the way in which this "sufficiency economic philosophy" can interact with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) for 2030.

Following a brief introduction by O'Connell, the ambassador explained his view of the SDG's and how they improve upon the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which Plasai asserts were designed with primarily developing nations in mind.

"The philosophy behind this is that everybody works together," said Plasai, noting that many of the 2030 SDG's are appropriate for developed nations as well as those continuing to develop. "Nobody is left behind."

When it comes to sustainability, says Plasai, Vermont is a state that decision makers can look to as an example.

"From my visit here last year with my colleagues from the G77, we saw that in Vermont you are already very advanced in achieving sustainability," said Plasai, citing experiences with organizations such as Green Mountain Power and Merck Forest and Farmland Center. "I can only commend the approach of the State of Vermont. I hope you can continue in that direction; it is the right way and you can be a model for other communities. Certainly for us in Thailand."

Still, the state is ahead of the U.S. as a whole according to Plasai, who cited issues including: poverty, income inequality, obesity, student debt, the imprisonment rate, life expectancy, greenhouse gas emissions, and assistance to poor nations.

Regarding national politics, Plasai was asked by audience member Lana Hauben of the Manchester Designer Outlets how the Trump administration has responded to issues of sustainable development thus far.

"The U.S. administration understands the need for development and the need to participate in this process of implementing the sustainable development goals," said Plasai. "At the same time the administration sees a need to reform the U.N. system, so we work together to ensure that that reform does not jeopardize the development efforts."

Still, in his visits to Vermont Plasai notes that our similarities are more evident than political differences.

"It's a great honor and always a pleasure to come back to Vermont, a state that a lot of people in Thailand, and in my office, admire a lot for what you're doing for sustainability, for the environment, for the world," said Plasai. "After coming here, we concluded that much of what we do looks a lot like what you're doing here."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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