Climate Change: We Can No Longer Wait For Politicians To Save The Planet

Another so-so summit on the climate, and another set of tepid, if not useless, commitments to curb emissions. If the governments can't get it together, the people must act on their own.

 A man walks past recycling bins next to the COP 20 conference center in Lima on Dec. 3
A man walks past recycling bins next to the COP 20 conference center in Lima on Dec. 3
Eduardo Barajas Sandoval


BOGOTA The history of global warming is often traced back to Thomas Newcomen"s invention of the steam engine in the early 18th century. He effectively initiated the ongoing race to burn coal on an industrial scale, which already had churned out one billion tons of smoke emissions by the early 20th century.

Warnings of the harmful effect of humanity's actions on the environment are hardly new. By the 19th century, there were observations on the principles and phenomena that could lead to generalized warming as a consequence of man's productive activities.

Discovering the uses of oil, beyond its medieval applications in war as Greek fire, would eventually lead to the car-emissions tsunami overwhelming us today. This fabulous instrument of mobility, which has helped individuals and groups travel what were formerly the most unlikely distances, has become a status symbol and vicious poisoner of the air, especially in cities where populations continue to grow.

Caught between these and many other agents of environmental damage, those of us aspiring to survive the avalanches of progress and disaster are shouting at governments and state actors to take decisive action that will mitigate this unprecedented change in climate around the world.

One might say that outside the economic realm, whose fine points and logic may well escape ordinary folk, or geopolitical and strategic considerations, global warming is easily perceived and felt. We really do not need sophisticated analytical models to establish its existence or provoke the reactions of citizens. Indeed, we may find that the biggest mistake will turn out to have been entrusting the whole issue to states at all.

Children forming the image of a tree, next to a sign reading ""The World We Want"" in Lima on Dec. 4 — Photo: ELuis Camacho/Xinhua/ZUMA

Don't call it a dream

The recent Lima climate conference, which fortunately ended with a consensus declaration, was the best example of how countries are unable to confront the problem with disinterested and universalist perspectives. The powerful nations tout themselves as pioneers of progress, innovation and development, barely agreeing to sign proposals they know perfectly well nobody will force them to implement. Lesser culprits that have greater interest in addressing climage change — and yet less to sacrifice — sign on with enthusiasm, but they know they lack the power to really make a difference. And they meanwhile give in to the temptation to protest the "injustice" of the onus and tasks required of them.

The climate convention planned for 2015, which is intended to help clarify some of the proposals that came out of Lima, doesn't look promising in terms of turning back the existing model of inequailty, abuse and impotence. At the risk of sounding utopian, it could be that the world's citizens will be the agents of political intervention, and not the officials governments themselves.

It's not simply about demanding that countries commit, and act on those commitments. It is also about individuals acting and fighting through the irrepressible force of collective action and intelligent use of non-violence to obtain appropriate environmental policies.

It is also about citizens adopting constructive habits and behavior in their daily lives, prompting the principal predators and their political and bureaucratic allies in governments to conclude that humanity prefers having fewer superfluous goods and breathing cleaner air. Progress should not be measured in the accumulation of goods, but in the recovery and preservation of the basic necessities of life — air, soil and water.

This citizen uprising could materialize through existing civil groups and organizations, with existing communication networks fomenting a global consensus about the balance between progress and sustainability. It is not just an act of responsibility toward future generations, but a matter of survival.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

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.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"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.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

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.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

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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