A Thai hero for the planet

Feature story - 7 July, 2004
Charoen Wataksorn was murdered by gunmen outside his home in Thailand on June 22. Charoen was an experienced activist who worked closely with us in the successful battle against proposed coal power stations in Bo Nok and Ban Krut. He was unswerving in his dedication despite numerous threats against him and his family. He was murdered shortly after testifying to a parliamentary committee against powerful figures involved in community land grabs.

Charoen Wataksorn worked closely with Greenpeace during the campaign against the proposed coal fired power stations in Bo Nok and Ban Krut, Thailand. He continued to oppose the power plants despite numerous threats against him and his family.

Charoen, a humble, popular 38 year old returned home to the breezy palm trees and tranquil paddy fields of coastal Prachuap Khiri Khan province after telling senators in Bangkok how local officials were colluding to transfer public land in Bo Nok to a local strongman. By the end of the night he was dead.

The fight against the land grab was the latest in Chareon's ongoing battle to preserve the local environment. The successful campaign to stop the dirty coal plants of Bo Nok and Ban Krut was lead by Chareon in an incredible example of grassroots organising. It is the story of a whole community fighting back against large industrial projects, corruption and bad investments that threaten the local people, communities and the environment. It is an inspiration for the whole environmental movement.

Sadly this is not an isolated case. Almost on a daily basis, many community activists, mostly from poor villages in developing countries, face this kind of a threat from vested interests. Sadly, similar cases have gone unreported. This is why we are publicising the struggle of southern environmental activists as epitomized by Charoen.

This community's struggle against coal projects has travelled the world, inspiring many communities including the Pulupandan community in Negros, Philippines to resist dirty energy development. Those who have won their local battles now support other battles. We pay tribute to Charoen and to the many communities out there who continue to struggle against unsuitable development in order to protect the sustainability of their communities.

Turning point

The cancellation of these two coal-fired power plants marked the turning point in Thailand's clean energy future. Had these plants been built, Thailand would be importing coal from Indonesia and Australia, fuelling global warming and racking up huge debts. Now, the country has domestic options ranging from greater energy efficiency to developing new renewable electricity sources for its energy needs. Charoen also led in this area, helping to install a solar power system on the temple where he lived.

Globally, this campaign is probably the first time ever that two major coal power plants have not been developed once the companies involved had committed to them. It was not an easy victory! The proponents of the Bo Nok plant spent millions on greenwashing their proposal with misleading adverts in national newspapers about 'Clean Coal'. They also got the US Ambassador to threaten Thailand's government with 'capital flight' and divestment if such major projects were cancelled. In the struggle to stop global warming, reducing the uptake of coal in economies that largely exist without it is key. Coal is a fuel of the past - renewable energy is the future.

For us, Charoen represents a community that has chosen a path towards a clean energy future for themselves and future generations. In our hearts, we will always carry Charoen's courage, and continue the fight for a clean and healthy environment we all could live in.

Read a tribute to Charoen from one of our former campaigners who worked with him in the campaign against the coal plants.