The Faculty of Economics, Thammasat University held the 42nd annual academic seminar recently at the learning center of the Bank of Thailand. The seminar was on “Inequality life: lifelong inequality”. Dr.Pasuk Pongpaijit, Professor of Political Economy, the Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University, attended and delivered an address.
Prof.Dr.Pasuk shared the idea of a “new variable” that will affect inequality. He also analyzes the weak point of the Thai economy to be a new economic game and suggests the solution, “think big, think green”, to think of the environmental impact.
“New variables are the fact that people believe that global warming and inequality are not related to their life. Similarly, an Australian guy said that these problems would happen in the next life or in 100 years later. However, we are wrong as global warming already affects us. In the last 2-3 years, we have seen the impact of global warming. For example, there were typhoons in Caribbean or meltdown of polar ice that causes flood in Europe, a wildfire in Australia that spreads in a large area accounting for one-fifth of Thailand. Recently, heavy rain in the South Island of New Zealand washed away the road so the rescue team had to send a helicopter to help tourists.”
Climate change or the shifting weather pattern has arrived in Southeast Asia already. The previous research estimated that the effect of global warming would be more serious in cold countries near the polar. However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPCC) in 2014, the worst effect of global warming will occur in the area near the equator. In the last 2-3 years, we have already seen the outcome. According to IPCC’s report in 2019, tropical areas will get affected badly as we can see in many proofs.
For instance, Vietnam shores faced an unusual tropical cyclone in 2017-2018. Jakarta faced the worst heavy flood ever. Thailand faced unusual hot weather, flooding, and drought. The NGO, Germanwatch has calculated the index of the weather, including physical damage, death, and economic effect by climate change since 1998, and found that only the countries in the Caribbean area faced worse impact than Southeast Asian countries as they often have natural disasters like typhoons and monsoon.
When the temperature of the land and the ocean has risen, wind currents and tides bring monsoon and typhoons. The impact of El Niño and La Niña are gradually changing, the result will be much more complex. In other words, the relationship between the rainy season and drought is unpredictable. There is more drought season and the rainy season arrives later than usual but when it rains, it comes with heavy flooding.
Prof.Dr. Pasuk says that scientists only focus on the physical impact of global warming. However, the more important aspect for us is the social and political impact. There are superficial issues that we often neglect because global warming is more and more serious so it is difficult for us to differentiate between “global warming” that leads to climate change and other causes.
In Africa and South American countries, the impact happened before and more severe than what happened in our country. For example, in Sudan in 1990, the drought made farmers have conflict over the land and domesticated animal areas. The conflict became larger in an ethnic level and led to civil war. The migration in Syria in 2011 and 2012 as a result of the war. The lack of rain made people in rural areas to migrate to the city and led to an unceasing civil war which caused many Syrian people to flee to Europe. Recently, in Guatemala, the drought made villagers caravan to Mexico to enter the US. As a result, it caused chaos in the Southern border of the US and led to Donald Trump to build a wall along the border.
These examples have one common thing which is climate change. Climate change causes people unable to work so conflict in society and politics arise. As a result, it leads to migration to live in better places. This might happen on our continent but less severe. The constant lack of rain causes small-scale farmers to lose money, go bankrupt, and migrate to other places.
“Trend of migration from rural to urban areas happened a long time ago because big cities offered more opportunities for earning money and more advanced education and public health. During NCPO in the last 6 years, the rural economy has been declining. The cost of agricultural products has been low. The government less supported the product. Plus, climate change causes many small-scale farmers to go bankrupt. Therefore, more people move to big cities. It leads to the lack of public utility and more severe pollution problems.” said Prof.Dr. Pasuk.
According to the IPCC report 6 from the UN, global warming and urbanization distribute to the increasing heat in urban and surrounding areas. This effect is called the heat island effect. As a result, the overall weather fluctuates more and causes pollution in the leeward area. Therefore, what IPCC 6 is trying to say is what Bangkok and other big cities are facing, which is PM 2.5. PM 2.5 is the source of many diseases and health problems. Moreover, there will be a pause in the tourism industry that causes more inequality.
High modern buildings in cities in tropical countries are urban heat islands that can increase heat up to 10 degrees Celsius when we use these buildings during the daytime. This is because every building uses air conditioning that releases heat. In traffic jams, many cars also release heat; road and concrete buildings absorb the heat and reflect back. “Mountains and hills” of the condominium block the heat to the road level. Most condominiums are not built according to green building measures that help reduce heat and save energy.
Overall, these conditions affect inequality in terms of quality of life, especially health. When people feel hot, they will turn on air conditioning and contribute more heat to the outside building. It leads to the high temperatures in city. Therefore, people who don’t have a car or a room with air conditioning, have low income and are old are the most vulnerable groups to have strokes because of the heat.
At the end of the talk, Dr.Pasuk suggests that we should be aware of global warming. The immediate impact changes our awareness and responsibility for society. The investment plan and economic strategy should move towards a green economy which will be the economic trend in the world. Old traditional economic forms will be replaced by new economic strategies. For example, in December 2019, the director of the bank of England warned that banks that invest in fossil fuel would only have worthless assets. Recently, Tesla produced EV cars or Electric Vehicles and it became the world’s no.2 car maker after Toyota.
If we look for new variables, global warming is an opportunity, not a crisis. We will see new economic opportunities for every country, including Thailand. We need to transform our energy production pattern, land use, and public utility use. Moreover, we need to change the production industry conforming to SDGs goal in 2020.
Every country has to find a solution to reduce heat, energy usage, pollution, and global warming in big cities. It is the duty of society and the government. They need to encourage domestic investors, including medium, small scale, and state enterprises to invest in the green economy, green transportation, wind energy, and solar energy that are plenty in nature. We have to build green cities, green buildings, and green transportation, including private and public transportation. We also can use a green energy motorbike. There are plenty of ways to invest if we have a good plan and attentive government and society.
The result of investment in the green economy will boost the economy in 1-5 years. It will create jobs and reduce the global warming problem. Plus, society will be more livable and fewer conflicts. Many international investors and experts will support us if they see the benefits of it. Therefore, it will not only reduce inequality but also create a new economic strategy and the solution, think big, think green. It is a strategy that kills two birds with one stone.