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In the Field: Meeting a Champion of Clean Energy in Vietnam

July 18, 2018

This is a blog post by Program Officer Lindsey Freedman, who writes about her visit to Hanoi, Vietnam, to meet with 2018 Prize winner Khanh Nguy Thi, who used scientific research and engaged state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections in Vietnam.

I warmed up to Hanoi’s winter weather by dining on local cuisine with Khanh (left) and her family

In January 2018, I traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam, to meet with 2018 Prize winner Khanh Nguy Thi. To my great surprise, I landed in the middle of a winter storm for which I was completely unprepared. Yes, I had checked the weather before my trip, but for some reason thought that my impression of Vietnam as a year-round tropical paradise was far more accurate than several different forecasts based on science and weather patterns. I had definitely not packed enough warm clothes (but had plenty of sundresses and sandals), and my sinking feeling was quickly compounded by the fact that I had inadvertently booked my hotel for the correct dates…but the wrong year.

Khanh with a map of hydropower, thermal, and coal plants in Vietnam (at the GreenID office)

While my arrival made me feel a bit frazzled, I couldn’t have asked for a better host. Khanh and her family welcomed me with open arms: I was treated to a home-cooked meal (in addition to being a mother, wife, sister, friend, and leader of one of Vietnam’s few environmental NGOs, Khanh is also an excellent cook!) and they also drove me about an hour outside of the city for a traditional lunch in the countryside. Khanh saved me by lending me a giant orange and white jacket that came down nearly to my knees. Now better prepared for—and insulated against—a Hanoi winter, I spent the next few days in a delightful whirl through this chaotic city full of motorbikes, delicious cuisine, and, yes, smog. Being accustomed to San Francisco’s foggy days, I thought at first that Hanoi was just as cloudy as my home base. It didn’t take long, however, to realize that the thick billowy “clouds” I was seeing were actually pollution from the 20 coal plants that ring Hanoi.

During my visit, I learned more about Khanh’s background and her years of work both in the Mekong Delta and on Vietnam’s energy issues. I was fortunate enough to meet the dedicated staff of GreenID and learn more about Vietnam’s energy plans. GreenID has a map of all the current and planned hydropower, thermal, and coal plants on their wall. The vast majority of these plants are located on or near the coast, and their negative effects disproportionately impact the nearby communities that depend on the sea for survival.

The view of Hanoi from above

Seeing the sheer quantity of proposed power plants made me realize just how important Khanh’s advocacy is and will continue to be as she helps Vietnam transition to a cleaner energy future. It was my great honor to be able to spend time with this incredible activist who is working tirelessly not only for a better Vietnam, but also for a better world.

Lindsey Freedman is the program officer for Europe and Asia at the Goldman Environmental Prize. She assists Prize winners from these regions prior to and during the Prize tour, and visits them in their home countries before they come to the US.

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