Local fighters lead climate war

As the EU, the US and big business vie with each other to be recognised as taking serious action on climate change, Larry Lohmann wonders whether the real leadership is to be found elsewhere

August 1, 2007
4 min read

Forget, for a moment, the Kyoto Protocol and the EU emissions trading scheme. Leave aside the burgeoning carbon offset business. If you’re looking for real progress on climate change, your time might be better spent paying a visit to a couple of coastal towns in southern Thailand.

For travellers on the road from Bangkok to Malaysia, the crossroads at Bo Nok-Baan Krut might seem only a collection of rice fields, fishing boats, tourist resorts, coconut trees, temples and shops. Yet this is a community that defeated corporate and state plans to build one of the biggest coalfired power plants in Thailand on its beachfront.

The victory cost years of sweat and blood. Charoen Wat- Aksorn spoke up about corrupt land grabs connected with the project and was murdered in 2004. Other villagers spent countless hours exposing the fraudulence of its environmental impact assessment – in recognition of which Jintana Kaewkhao, a local woman who never finished high school, was awarded an honorary PhD. Today the community is consolidating its gains, exploring windpowered electricity and lending a hand to communities battling fossil fuel projects elsewhere.

One such community lies several hundred kilometres south in Chana district. Chana’s local monster is the prestige Trans Thai-Malaysian natural gas pipeline and refining venture backed by Thailand’s ousted tycoon prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Chana is less lucky than its sister community to the north. After years of fraudulent land deals, bribes and intimidation and beatings by police, a huge gas separation plant now sits defiantly on community wakaf land, supposedly inalienable Muslim commons entrusted to God, drawing gas from a pipeline illegally forced across a local beach. A gas-fired power plant is going up. Chemical works may not be far behind. But villagers are not giving up. They say that they are fighting not only for their lives and religion, but for a natural heritage that belongs to the whole country.

Some professional climate activists slight such local struggles as secondary to the task of negotiating global emissions reduction targets. They forget that dealing with climate change means, above all, finding practical means of keeping fossil fuels in the ground. As eminent climatologist Jim Hansen reiterated in June, burning the earth’s remaining coal, oil and gas ‘would guarantee dramatic climate change, yielding a different planet from the one on which civilisation developed’.

No one is better informed about what it will take to prevent that happening than communities like Bo Nok and Chana. Any serious climate change movement will have to connect with such communities everywhere, whether they are battling Shell in the Niger delta or in Rossport in Ireland or contesting the huge new National Grid gas pipeline in South Wales. These are communities dialled into the politics of the future. Their experience reminds us that however brilliantly the world theorises ways of getting carbon out of energy, it is also going to have to get energy companies out of fossil fuel deposits.

UK officials, for example, talk of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Yet they promote airport expansion, back World Bank efforts to ramp up fossil fuel use worldwide and are committed to large-scale carbon trading – a messy US invention that only slows the transition away from fossil fuels. As Oxford development studies professor Barbara Harriss-White remarks, it’s hard to see what British climate policy is doing ‘other than serving as a mass tranquiliser’.

In the private sector, meanwhile, banks such as Barclays parade plans to go ‘carbon neutral’, while at the same time expanding fossil fuel investment and their fossil fuel trading teams. Emblematically, Barclays has even pitted itself directly against the hydrocarbon protesters of Chana. With an investment of US$257 million, Barclays Capital leads the consortium of banks supporting the Trans Thai-Malaysia gas project. Despite repeated invitations, none of its 13,200 staff worldwide has ever even visited the Chana villagers. Contempt – not only for local livelihoods, but also for the aspiration for a liveable climate – doesn’t come much clearer than that.

Chico Mendes, the Brazilian trade unionist who was murdered in 1988 while working to save the jobs of rubber tappers threatened by Amazon clearance, had a famous saying. ‘At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees,’ Mendes said. ‘Then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity.’

The villagers in Bo Nok, Chana and elsewhere could say the same.An account of the struggle in Chana can be found at www.thecornerhouse.org.uk


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope


3