PARIS — In the weeks since France's popular environment minister, Nicolas Hulot resigned, after expressing disappointment with President Emmanuel Macron"s environmental record, newspapers have been filled with articles and opinion pieces sounding the alarm. Those in power are told to take vigorous and urgent ecological action to reduce consumption of polluting energies and output of waste, to increase the efficiency of the means of production, and other familiar responses.
And yet it is striking to note that population growth is absent from these discussions. It's as though demography and the environment were two separate issues. In fact, they are inextricably linked.
Efforts to improve eco-efficiency in developed countries remain the top priority over the short term. But the combined effects of future population growth and the inevitable increase in per capita consumption (in developed and, to a greater degree, developing countries) will be truly catastrophic for the planet over the medium to long-term. Effects will include the destruction of biodiversity, threatened water resources, sea level rise due to glacial melt, reduced fish stocks, degraded and salinated farmland, the mass displacement of people, and a temperature increase of over 5 °C by 2100 in France, with highs of over 50 °C.
To avoid this catastrophe, we must drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developed countries. This is the energy transition. But we cannot overlook the need to significantly decrease global population growth. This is the demographic transition, and it has yet to be achieved in many parts of the world.
More than 11 billion humans by 2100?
The global population has already grown exponentially, skyrocketing from 2 billion to 7.6 billion between 1950 and 2017. The authoritative United Nations population prospects, last released in 2017, indicate that based on the median hypothesis, the global population will reach 8.6 billion by 2030, climbing to 9.8 billion by 2050 and to 11.2 billion by 2100. Notably, these average forecasts tend to increase over time. In 2011, for example, the UN predicted a global population of 10.1 billion by 2100. Although growth will occur on all continents, Africa will be the site of more than 50% of it between now and 2050, and more than 85% between now and 2100 (according to the average hypothesis, the continent's population will reach 4.3 billion by 2100).
During the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, in 2017, 15,000 scientists from around the world published an urgent warning regarding the planet's habitability. They recommended that demographic measures be taken to significantly reduce fertility rates. Although this issue impacts many parts of the world, we will be using Africa as an example due to its cultural proximity to France and because of a major event that happened there, one which we see as positive.
A protest during the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, on Nov. 5, 2017 — Photo: Leonhard Lenz
At a conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in July 2017, the parliamentary presidents of 15 countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as Chad and Mauritania, drafted a charter. Aware that overly large populations are an obstacle to their economic development, they committed to working to lower their respective fertility rates to three children per woman by 2030.
Their approach is based on the idea that it's up to women to decide how many children they want, when they want them, and with whom. But education is key: health workers must go door-to-door to offer women a range of contraceptives. Audio messages, for example, must be broadcast to the community in various dialects, and via cell phones.
All this is possible. Certain countries — Ethiopia is one of them — have made the effort, and the results are very encouraging.
The funding can be found.
All this costs money. But funding could be found in existing budgets, without additional spending commitments. We ask that France and Europe help these courageous African states implement their fertility-rate reduction program. In the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, rich countries committed to paying less-well-off nations $100 billion a year to fight climate change.
It is clear that demographics directly impact carbon dioxide emission increases, and the climate as a whole. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate to earmark a significant portion of this aid for "reproductive health" (contraception and family planning) programs. This policy would also improve the well-being and quality of life of women, who are most often the first to suffer from the present situation.
We must also do everything possible to spur economic development in poor regions with high birth rates. Doing so is one of the best ways — thanks to women's education in particular — to get women to change their behavior and limit the number of children they have.
This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge we must solve collectively over the next 20 years. But as there is no planet B, halting world population growth is an absolute necessity to save our world from impending disaster.
*Collective: Jean-Claude André, Jacques Bentz, Jean-Loup Bertaux, Albert Bijaoui, Jacques Blamont, Philippe Blime, Christian Bordé, Roger-Maurice Bonnet, Guy Brasseur, Marie-Lise Chanin, Claude Darmon, Bruno David, Bernard Esambert, François Forget, Alain Hauchecorne, Georges Jobert, Rosine Lallement, Serge Michaïlof, Michel Pébereau, Jean-Claude Pecker, Philippe Waldteufel.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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