The Politics of Environment in Southeast Asia: Resources and Resistance

The Politics of Environment in Southeast Asia: Resources and Resistance

The Politics of Environment in Southeast Asia: Resources and Resistance

The Politics of Environment in Southeast Asia: Resources and Resistance


The Politics of Environment in Southeast Asia charts the emergence of the environment as an issue of public debate in the region of Southeast Asia.


The politics of resources and resistance in Southeast Asia

Philip Hirsch and Carol Warren

Environment has finally risen to the top of the global political agenda. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 signified international recognition of the environment as an issue that could not be constrained by the borders of nation states (Robinson 1992). But Rio also revealed deep political divisions on the world environmental stage. Those divisions were represented and articulated primarily as a North-South, rich versus poor country schism (Johnson 1993). Ironically, the ecological internationalism that was to be the breakthrough of the conference gave way to positioning in which negotiations were geared back to the interests of nation states.

Yet the politics of Rio mask a different type of environmental politics, one that is much closer to home for the majority of the worldā€™s people. The politics of environment in most countries of the world are played out not only at a different level, but also within a quite different structural framework. Environmental politics within individual nation states reflect, but also increasingly act upon, specific aspects of social relations and power structure within each country, while interests and interdependencies of the main protagonists often transcend national borders. These politics of environment are an important force in their own right as well as a window on broader aspects of political economy. There is thus a reflexive relationship between environmental conditions, discourses and activism on the one hand and changing economic, social and political relations on the other. Nowhere is this more the case than among those countries of the world where environmental and political-economic change is most rapid, notably the dynamic societies and economies of Southeast Asia whose bio-physical environment and resource base have undergone rapid degradation (Brookfield and Byron 1993; Bryant and Parnwell 1996).

In this collection of studies, environment and environmentalism are treated as a looking glass onto broader, perhaps equally fundamental, processes of change - and responses to them. In particular, attention is given to understanding emerging social forces that stem from material changes wrought by rapid economic growth, associated politico-cultural transformation and ecological change. These social forces include the emergence of new interest groups and new means of articulating demands; the disintegration of old

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