Hong Kong is seeing the effects of the NSL (national security law) and the associated clampdown on freedoms increasing by the day. But the impact of the legislation is affecting far more than Hong Kong. For one thing, it has focused world attention on China’s violations of human rights, exacerbating tensions between Beijing and a nascent coalition of Western countries.
Up to now, officials in Hong Kong have demonstrated an astounding ability to find “national security” violations in contexts that in the past went unnoticed, and that still remain unnoticed in free societies.
Almost every day there is another official threat to use the NSL or anachronistic colonial-era laws against newfound enemies in society, and seemingly every week — sometimes several times each week — there are new arrests. Recent examples include the arrest of speech therapists for producing a book of children’s cartoons deemed to be so threating to national security that the supposed culprits were denied bail.
Normal circumstances would not make this of any professional interest to scholars, including me, who study and work on the human dimensions of climate changes. But, with the NSL’s ever-expanding reach and associated hysteria and the way the law is expanding its reach into more areas of life, how can climate change be considered immune to all of this?
At first glance, such a question seems absurd and even irrational. But in today’s Hong Kong, rationality has been turned on its head. As it turns out, the NSL and climate change have potentially far-reaching connections. The NSL might bring doom to more than Hong Kong’s democrats and free media; it might also help to bring doom to planet Earth.
If you think this is a wild assertion, then consider the role climate change plays in Sino-US relations. These relations have been in decline for a while, and may be beginning to change. Cold War. However, experts and top-ranking officials believe that the two countries could still be united. cooperate on climate change even as they compete on almost everything else. This assumption seems to have overlooked the impact on bilateral relations from the obsession with Hong Kong’s national security.
As the crackdown against dissent in Hong Kong has been carried out over the last year, the US and other countries have intensified their condemnations. The US government has sanctioned officials responsible for the events in Hong Kong and warned businesses about potential liabilities if they are involved in the NSL crackdown.
China and Hong Kong responded with indignation. China is even more furious. recently declared that its cooperation with the United States on climate change would depend on “the overall strength” of the wider relationship. China seems to think that American complaints about NSL crackdowns will undermine, and possibly even prevent, bilateral climate change cooperation.
China produces more of this product every year. greenhouse gas pollution causing climate change than the United States and its democratic allies combined. Without cuts to China’s emissions, there is no hope of averting catastrophic climate change. This year’s deadly floods in China — along with massive wildfires in North America and Russia, and recent fatal flooding in Germany, etc. — will become routine if that happens.
The long-term impact could cause suffering and death for many millions. It is worth asking whether Hong Kong’s top-ranking officials considered such suffering or death when they declared that the NSL would not affect more than a few people.
Locally, climate-related impacts of the NSL crackdown have also been felt. The Hong Kong administration’s preoccupation with imagined national security threats is blinding it to the real threats to China and its people posed by climate change. It is being distracted from taking action against the excessively high per capita levels of greenhouse gas pollution from Hong Kong, which is making these threats worse.
To be sure, for decades Hong Kong’s environmental policies have been piecemeal and out of touch with the scale of the threat from climate change, whether to Hong Kong, China or the wider world. This lacklustre approach is now being made worse by the political pressure on all government departments to orient their operations towards protecting “national security” and away from the Hong Kong people.
For example, instead of redeveloping the educational system so that students of all ages, from kindergarten to university, and in every type of class, learn about climate change — what it is, why it is so vitally important, how to live a good life without costing the Earth — the Education Bureau is pushing for pupils of all ages and in every type of class to become hypersensitive to “national security.”
The brainpower of all local officials is being diverted from the greatest long-term threat to China’s people by the administration. If a fraction of the administration’s efforts against imagined security threats were directed at climate change, Hong Kong could very quickly become an environmentally sustainable city that was part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
The administration should be asking itself simple questions: How many Chinese have been killed by any national security threat, no matter how wildly conceived and originating from Hong Kong? How many Chinese have died in recurring floods, storms, and other events that have been exacerbated by climate change to which Hong Kong has contributed disproportionately?
On a more positive note, the NSL might not have any negative implications for those concerned about climate changes. The government’s crackdown against former freedoms has reduced public support. The establishment knows this and is seeking ways to improve approval ratings. One of its methods has been to eliminate criticisms from the media.
The administration may also seek public support by implementing calls to it to address livelihood issues, including housing. If it listens to those calls, it might be inclined to improve living conditions for the most vulnerable Hong Kong residents to climate change. For example, it might provide new homes to residents of the subdivided flats and “cage homes” that are extremely vulnerable to the oppressive summer temperatures being made worse by global warming.
It could also increase financial aid to the poor to help them deal with rising food costs due to climate change, which will make agricultural disasters more frequent.
Looking ahead, if China’s commitment to address climate change is genuine, Hong Kong may eventually be asked to play its part in helping it meet President Xi Jinping’s pledge to become carbon-neutral by 2060. If so, the local administration’s eagerness to implement Beijing’s priorities might lead to action that reduces Hong Kong’s environmental footprint. Too bad Beijing hasn’t imposed a law requiring that already.
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