Populist handouts won’t protect the poor from climate change

your say September 04, 2018 01:00

A recent article in The Nation, “Activists to table bottom-up approach to combat global warming and its effects at UN conference” (August 30), suggested that Thailand must develop grassroots approaches to mitigating the consequences of climate change for the poor who suffer its effects most acutely.

This is absolutely true. Unfortunately, although I have devoted the past 10 years to this effort, I can attest that I have never seen any serious or effective, efforts of this variety made anywhere in North Thailand where I work.

To the extent that the big universities, research institutions, government agencies and unnamed “civic organisations” do anything at all, they conduct “action research”, by which they mean field tests of hypotheses. These may provide proof-of-concept, but they are never implemented at scale. Whatever their cost to taxpayers, their utility to poor Thai people is zero.

There are many programmes that could be put into place to save lives, improve food security, increase the viability of the rural sector, reduce the public health burden of haze, etc. Some have been developed here, some elsewhere. But if we will not commit the funds, attention and effort necessary to implement them, they cannot happen. Such programmes are immensely more difficult than simple, populist give-aways of the sort that have long dominated Thai rural public policy. If the poor are to be protected from climate change – and given a productive role in the Thai economy – policy must shift from talk to action and from populist panaceas to productivity-enhancing programming.

Michael Shafer

Warm Heart Foundation, Phrao, Chiang Mai