Energy, Governance and Security in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma): A Critical Approach to Environmental Politics in the South

By Prasse-Freeman, Elliott | Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, February 2018 | Go to article overview

Energy, Governance and Security in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma): A Critical Approach to Environmental Politics in the South


Prasse-Freeman, Elliott, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies


Southeast Asia

Energy, governance and security in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma): A critical approach to environmental politics in the South

By ADAM SIMPSON

Surrey: Ashgate, 2014, Pp. xviii + 260. Figures, Tables, Index,

The tide of Adam Simpson's Energy, governance and security in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) might lead readers to think the book will focus mostly on macrolevel institutions, discourses, and structures. The individual chapter headings, however, then seem to strike a stark contrast, as they include topics such as 'Activist environmental governance', 'Local activism', and 'Transnational campaigns'. Yet this apparent discordance between statecraft and contentious political action dissolves when Simpson elaborates his objective: as most scholarly treatments of both ecological issues and the movements working with or against them 'still focus particularly on the affluent states of the North' (p. 6), Simpson proposes to instead 'link environmental activism to critical approaches to environmental security' (p. 8) by focusing on politics in the global South. Simpson argues that such movements, which in his research 'encompassed both formal and informal activism and included protests on Thailand's beaches, research in Myanmar's jungles and court cases brought by NGOs in the US and France', should be seen as 'constituting] "activist environmental governance"' (p. 185). In other words, the central claim of this book is that the cumulative effect of these activist movements adds up to nothing less than a new way of regulating ecological (and hence social) dynamics.

To substantiate this claim, the book describes and analyses the political effects of environmental activist mobilisations around four transnational energy projects located in Myanmar and Thailand: the Yadana pipeline, which sends gas from Myanmar to Thailand; the Thai-Malaysia pipeline, which sends gas from southern Thailand to Malaysia; the Salween dams project, which proposed a series of hydroelectric dams in ethnic-minority majority states in Myanmar; and the Shwe Gas pipeline, which sends gas from western Myanmar to southern China.

But before exploring these cases, Simpson destabilises the dominant understanding of 'environmental activist' movements in general, writing that, 'Southern movements are often more concerned about immediate existential "environmental security" priorities, such as access to food and water, while Northern movements are often motivated by post-materialist or longer-term issues such as wildlife conservation and climate change' (p. 5). This broadening of the definition informs Simpson's analysis of the activist organisations. First, he identifies 'four pillars of green governance'--'participatory democracy, ecological sustainability, social justice and nonviolence' (p. 21)--and insists that these pillars must apply to both an organisation's internal operations and to its activities (ibid.). Then, extending the scholarship of Brian Doherty and Tim Doyle ('Green public spheres and the green governance state: The politics of emancipation and ecological conditionality', in Environmental Politics 15, 5 [2006]: 881-92), Simpson delineates activist groups into three categories: Emancipatory Governance Groups (EGGs) who adhere to the four pillars of green governance; Compromise Governance Groups (CGGs) whose internally-hierarchical structures undermine their good-faith pursuit of justice; and the 'organizations of the environmental governance state (EGS), predominantly Northern conservation groups that have both conservative aims and structures resulting in conservative rather than emancipatory outcomes' (p. 21).

The book continues by elaborating the four case studies. Rather than dividing the chapters case-by-case, though, Simpson uses a 'multi-scalar' analytic that divides the cases into local, intermediate, and transnational levels of advocacy, showing how these domains work together in the pursuit of governance objectives. …

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