Old politics no answer to climate change

Old politics no answer to climate change

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has still not been able to introduce his new cabinet while the country sinks deeper into disparity and environmental destruction.  Bangkok Post photo
Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has still not been able to introduce his new cabinet while the country sinks deeper into disparity and environmental destruction.  Bangkok Post photo

Despite all-out support from the machinery of the state and the old powers, it took three months for the Prayut regime to form a government because of political infighting, raising the question of how long it will last.

Some political pundits give it a year. Others believe it will manage to hobble on given the support from ultra-conservative forces. But they agree the government won't be able to finish its term.

A more open political environment ahead, though far from satisfactory, will enable people to voice their grievances after long and violent suppression. Critics will be more fierce. Angry young activists will come up with more innovative ways to irk the powers-that-be.

Political conflicts and polarisation will intensify with the government's attempts to get rid of political enemies. Meantime, its frustrations will grow from a failure to keep politicians from the different factions in line.

It's a matter of when the military and its backers get fed up with the democracy game.

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha's recent slip-of-the-tongue threat to use "old methods" to settle political problems does not augur well. It signifies old-world authoritarianism, which will inevitably clash with the young people's refusal to have their future robbed by out-of-date generals who are turning the clock back to the political repression of the 60s.

As maddening as it is, the political theatre that fills daily headlines only distracts the populace from real threats as Thailand sinks deeper into disparity and environmental destruction.

For no matter how political conflicts unfold or whoever wins the political game, the state machinery of social injustice -- the officialdom -- will continue to bulldoze nature and suppress people as efficiently and heartlessly as before.

This means that while Thailand is bogged down in power politics, the country will be totally unprepared for a myriad of man-made disasters from global warming and the onslaughts of Mother Nature.

Rising seawater levels. New diseases. Deforestation. Toxic haze. Loss of biodiversity. Depleted ocean. Toxic chemical farming. Plastic pollution. Shortage of clean water. Extreme and erratic weather. Floods. Droughts. Ever fiercer storms. Famine. Wars.

The threats are real. Yet, officialdom still serves the major criminals in global warming by kowtowing to the fossil fuel power industry and allowing agro giants to destroy the forest for palm oil and animal feed while continuing to poison the environment and public health with toxic farm chemicals.

We all know why.

An avalanche of calamities will soon overwhelm us. Our children will soon suffer from the old generals who refuse to fade away and the corrupt bureaucracy they uphold.

Bangkok will be flooded by rising sea levels within 50 years. With the arctic ice melting much faster than predicted, the catastrophes may well come faster. Yet, the generals and the mandarins do not care.

One thing is certain, the rich and powerful can easily flee to live in their safe and comfortable cocoons while most of us will have to struggle to survive amidst the ruins they leave behind.

This is not pessimism. It is the reality which will get worse if military dictatorship in the guise of parliamentary democracy and centralisation prevail.

What's maddening is that while people are trying to mitigate the repercussions of global warming, state authorities are fiercely punishing them through physical and legal violence.

Protecting existing forests and an all-out effort to increase the forest cover is crucial to save us from global warming disasters. This is what we need to do.

We need to recognise local forest communities, particularly the indigenous peoples as forest guardians, respect their knowledge about forest and wildlife, and engage them in conservation as equals. Also granting them land tenure security, which is key to sustainable forest conservation in various parts of the world.

But what the government has done -- keeping forests as fortresses ruled with militarism and getting rid of forest communities -- has been a failure worldwide.

Right after the coup, the junta immediately launched the "forest reclaiming" policy to evict forest communities across the country. And right before its totalitarian power ended, the junta issued new forest laws to give forest authorities a free hand to evict and destroy the forest villagers' properties on sight.

About 10 million people in Thailand face this state violence threat.

Meanwhile, the government and forest authorities are turning a blind eye to massive forest clearings for corn and palm oil plantations engineered by agro giants, blaming the forest dwellers for the toxic haze caused by forest burning.

The junta also gave the green light to irrigation authorities to build more dams and to mining authorities to give more mining concessions, dismissing the destruction of forests and other ecological systems.

To mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases, we need to stop coal energy. Yet, the government has endorsed more coal-fired power plants and deep sea-port megaprojects, which will also destroy coastal waters and the livelihoods of locals.

Meanwhile, solar energy is kept a low priority to enrich the country's electricity generating monopoly.

In the same vein, the junta passed a new factory law to enlarge the size of "small factories" from those with seven to 50 workers to forego annual inspections and licence renewals, which basically gives them a free hand to pollute the environment.

Despite the public outcry and opposition from the Public Health Ministry, the government also supported the Agriculture Department's decision not to ban toxic weed killers and farm chemicals, which have been banned in more than 50 countries around the globe.

While the watershed forests, the soils and waterways continue to be contaminated and the public suffer from illnesses caused by chemical residues in the food chain, agro giants are more than happy. So are the mandarins who call the shots.

More damage is in the pipeline.

For starters, the government is rushing to join international trade agreements which would rob local communities' rights to indigenous plants, while allowing foreign plant breeders to use and patent them, mostly to produce medicines, without having to share benefits with the places of origin.

This is bio-piracy, no more, no less.

Under these agreements -- the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Thai-EU FTA -- it will be difficult for Thailand to forego international drug patents to produce its own medicines to save lives during public health crises. Farmers will also face criminal charges if they use commercial seeds to breed their own for future use, and the country will need to loosen restrictions on GMO products.

Joining these trade agreements will hit local farmers hard and further strengthen the monopoly of the agro and pharma giants. Yet, the agriculture officialdom press on to serve big business.

The scenario is clear. As Bangkok starts to sink from rising sea levels, forest fires, toxic haze, flash storms, floods, prolonged droughts, and contagious diseases will become the new norm.

As life for most people gets harder, officialdom will continue bulldozing the environment to serve the rich few -- and their bank accounts. Don't be surprised that Thailand is billed as the world's most unequal country.

There's no point asking how long the Prayut regime will last -- or how it will end. We should ask instead how to save our children when Thailand is sliding into the environmental and political abyss.

The ballot-box game alone is no answer. We need to do away with centralisation. We need administrative and political decentralisation. We need transparent decision-making and people's participation down to the grassroots levels so that people can protect themselves against global warming repercussions.

Otherwise, there is no chance of turning the tide.

Sanitsuda Ekacha is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post. She writes on social issues, gender, and Thai Buddhism.

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