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Climate of Apathy

On Nov 5 another climate change report came out.  Yawn.

But this one made the news.  Not because of the information it contained.  This was just a distillation of countless earlier papers, many of them compilations of yet more reports.

But there were 2 newsworthy features in this report.

One was the language used.  Science reporters noted that this was not the dispassionate prosaic prose of academia but more like the language of advocacy.  The first sentence, for example, ends with “tell it like it is” (the quotation marks are theirs – they don’t get that uncorseted), a phrase straight from the discourse of the reality-challenged Trump base.

The other was the number of signatories.  The paper is just 5 pages, including lots of graphs (and soon to appear in a Thai translation, I am told, so you have no excuse for not reading it).  But the list of people who signed it runs to 324 pages.  There are 11,258 scientist signatories from 153 countries. 

And basically the message is: We’ve been telling you for 40 years that everything’s going whoopsy.  If anything, we’ve downplayed the problem.  But collectively you’ve done eff all about it and look where you have got us now.  There’s still a slim chance that things can change but you must act now and here are 6 areas when you can still make a difference.

Thailand is listed among the countries with signatories.

So is Cambodia with 2 names; Lao with 3; Viet Nam with 7; the Philippines with 10; Malaysia with 14; and Indonesia with 18. 

Thailand has 4. 

And 2 of them are farangs. 

Only 2 Thai climate scientists could be bothered to sign?  2?  TWO??  What the proverbial?

Now I have to admit, I did not scan every name and there may be Thais affiliated with institutions outside Thailand who also signed.  As there could with Cambodia and Lao.

But 2?  With hundreds of universities, thousands of tertiary education programmes and hundreds of thousands of university-level students, this is the best that the country can do?

Next time you read some PR puffery about a Thai university crawling up one of these international league tables of educational excellence, keep this in mind.  However well they manage to game the algorithm that will determine their ranking, by hiring more PhD teachers, by bullying them into more publications or whatever, they couldn’t really give a left-handed about what more than 11,000 scientists claim is the greatest existential threat that this planet has ever faced.

As goes the education system, so goes the nation.

The UK is about to have an election, caused by the Brexit conundrum.  And while Brexit is naturally a lead issue, already the climate crisis is emerging as major concern of voters.  Now compare Thailand’s election last March.  Remember how much the climate crisis featured in that campaign?  No, neither can I.

Or how about the budget which has just been debated in parliament?  Do you recall global heating being discussed?  They did discuss boosting spending on tourism and roads, both of which will directly increase greenhouse gas emissions.  The general mindset was ‘growth is good’ so let’s engineer as much of it as we can and the environmental consequences be damned. 

This past week, hands have been wrung over the layoffs in the manufacturing sector, and this is awful news for those suffering the consequences.  But the biggest hits have been taken in the automotive sector.  And the knee-jerk reaction has been how to get the same workers back into the same factories producing the same products that will ultimately make this planet uninhabitable.

Institutionally, it begins to look like this country just doesn’t really care about the climate crisis.  Or at least only to an infinitesimal degree.  How infinitesimal?

Sometime Thailand resident Malcolm Pryce has written a series of Welsh noir novels about a fictional private detective in the real Welsh town of Aberystwyth.  They have spoof titles like ‘Aberystwyth Mon Amour’ and ‘Don’t Cry for Me Aberystwyth’ and I strongly recommend them for anyone who enjoys Welsh humour.  Or noir.

Aberystwyth has 16,000 inhabitants and a university.  I checked the list of signatories to the climate change report.  Aberystwyth University has 2, or exactly as many as Thailand with a population of 69 million and 170 universities.

‘Don’t Cry for Me Aberysctwyth’, but please cry for Thailand.