Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns