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Skeptic about Scholars: Climate Change Denial and Southeast Asia

Anthropogenic climate change is one of the biggest issues of today.

Like any issue, there are skeptics of its existence. Many, many people cast doubt on the science, quick to label it as a hoax or a lie. The National Center for Science Education uses the term “climate change deniers” as “intended descriptively...used for the sake of brevity and consistency with a well-established usage in the scholarly and journalistic literature.”

In this regard, climate change denial can be quite dangerous. It prevents citizens from viewing it as a legitimate issue, one that never has solutions in the forefront of their minds when voting for candidates. Policies that involve drastic change, which is a necessity, easily turn off voters. Climate change intersects with economics and everyday lives. Thus, whether you believe in it or not, it has been propelled to the spotlight of politics. In the recent third American Democratic candidates debate, climate change was brought up multiple times. There have been several proposals such as Andrew Yang’s carbon fee, a “market-based solution” that makes fossil fuel companies pay fees if they exceed their emissions. These ideas have be come a key factor in pushing for solutions to address the issue. Across the Atlantic, sixty percent of UK adults did not think their government was focused enough on climate change. Meanwhile, the United States is still considered to be a “hotbed” of climate change denial, polling in at the third highest percentage of people who had this view out of 23 countries.

Bearing the Brunt

The mentality behind many climate change deniers, particularly in the West, is simple: if I can’t see it, it’s not happening. On the other side of the world, the International Monetary Fund describes the scene: Vietnamese people scurrying, carrying as much as possible in their arms, as they slosh through knee-high water in the wake of the latest flood. This chaos is the new norm for the 640 million Southeast Asians who live in low-lying coastal cities.

Asia is known for experiencing exceptionally hard hitting effects of climate change. Monsoons, seasonal wind patterns that control water quality and rain levels, are crucial to the livelihood of many Southeast Asian people. They provide irrigation for acres of crops and form waterways. Unfortunately, monsoons have been experiencing severe alterations since the industrialization of the region, as observed by Deepti Singh from Columbia University. The irregularity of monsoons has serious implications for the region's economic success and food security.

Thai people experiencing extreme flooding. (ECO NEWS/DAVID TWOMEY)

Indeed, in places like Vietnam and Indonesia, where the agricultural sector accounts for a hefty fraction of the countries’ gross domestic product (GDP), climate change manifests itself as direct hits to a family’s livelihood. In some of the coastal areas of the region, there is a lack of proper housing, as any place to sleep or business that is built is expected to be abandoned when flooding gets severe. Conversely, altered water cycles can lead to periods of drought, which can adversely affect up to 66 million people.

Southeast Asia seems to be the leader in its own downfall. While all 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have signed onto Paris Climate Accords, it is projected that the precious threshold of an increased 2 degrees Celsius will be crossed with the rate of coal burning and inefficient fossil fuel usage in this region. Coal, which is cheap and familiar, is projected to account for about 40% of the increase. It seems to still be preferable over cleaner natural gas and other green alternatives. This unravels the progress made in recent years.

Another ecologically harmful trend in Southeast Asia is deforestation. The region has the highest rate of recorded deforestation in the world, with nearly 30 million hectares of forest cut down from 2000 to 2014. The trees have been cut down mainly for the purpose of agricultural expansion.

Graphic made with satellite imaging displaying the extent of deforestation in Southeast Asia since 2000. (Princeton University/Zhenzhong Zeng)

The forests of Southeast Asia provide the natural ecosystem service of filtering out carbon from the atmosphere. With such a decrease, the effects of emissions are felt even more intensely, accelerating climate change.

Initiatives to provide solutions to where the effects are taking place now start with more awareness, understanding, and acceptance. Defending the legitimacy of climate change is crucial to reform. While many have the privilege of not witnessing and experiencing the man made disaster now, it may be too late to wait until everyone has first hand accounts of tangible effects of climate change. The issues will only accelerate without being in the forefront of citizen’s minds as a real, imminent problem.


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