By Ranil Senanayake –
On the 4th of April 2019 the Foreign Minister, Dinesh Gunewardena, made a statement in parliament pointing to a new area of possible growth. He pointed out that the rural sector has the potential of generating enormous capital through the production of Primary Ecosystem Services. The current model of ‘economic growth’ based on fossil fuel is tending to impact our well-being dramatically, It reduces Primary Ecosystem Services while creating a huge dependency on the purveyors of fossil fuels.
There is an urgent need to examine the model of ‘Economic Development’ based on the consumption of fossil fuels that we have adopted as a national goal. Internationally it was the favorite tool of the ‘Robber Barons’ to command the resources of poor nations and famously, we began our foray into the ‘open economy’ with the fateful presidential invitation to the world, ‘Let the robber barons come’. Indeed they did, and they trained us in their ways, until today, robbing the nation for individual profit became a way of political life.
An example is the decision to tie our energy future to fossil fuel. It has been guided by a group whose interest is short term profit and not the long term well-being of our nation nor our responsibilities as a global citizen.
Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning his fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles are in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis is the profligate activities of modern human society.
As a response to the knowledge that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they said. The tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years and put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree that holds the carbon for 500 years at best.
It has become clear that the principal driver of climate change is the burning of the global stock of fossil Hydrocarbons and that the stability of planetary climate cycles are in jeopardy as a consequence. A very large contributory factor to this crisis is the profligate activities of modern human society in the name of economic development.
Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e. all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.
Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’
It is this biomass that has to grow in order to sequester the biotic Carbon lost through forest loss. With growth in photosynthetic biomass we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the worlds rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.
With the statement made by the Hon. Foreign Minister Sri Lanka becomes the first nation to identify this resource as a foundation for a new economy.
Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy based growth as ‘Economic Development’, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and become the first country in the world to propose setting such a value? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over !