By Ranil Senanayake –
Internationally there is a palpable sense of urgency among the climate scientists. While waiting for our climate scientists to even twitch from their slumber, we should begin to consider what all this means to us. There seems to be a real concern that the sea level will rise substantially. On July 20th, a major study suggested that mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. While the level is up for debate the fact of sea level rise seems to be certain. One emerging, disturbing fact is that while the IPCC climate [change] models predict a gentle, slow change, the current experience is one so rapid that neither scientists, nor animals can keep up with it.
As our fossil profligate lifestyles, keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a large part of it is absorbed by the oceans. As the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it’s converted into carbonic acid and the pH of seawater declines. Unlike a prediction of massive sea-level rise just decades away, the warming and acidifying oceans represent another problem that seems to have kick-started an oceanic mass extinction on the same time scale. Acidification has a direct effect on mollusks and other marine animals with hard outer bodies: A striking study last year showed that, along the West Coast of the US, the shells of tiny snails are already dissolving, with as-yet-unknown consequences on the ecosystem.
The combination of excessive nutrients from agricultural runoff, abnormal wind patterns and the warming oceans is already creating seasonal dead zones in coastal regions when algae blooms suck up most of the available oxygen. The appearance of low-oxygen regions has doubled in frequency every 10 years since 1960 and should continue to grow over the coming decades at an even greater rate.
In the face of all these global problems, Sri Lanka stands exposed as the worst polluter of the Indian Ocean. The new maps on human impact on the world’s oceans are now on the web.The maps depict a massive halo of pollution that rings our island. If the pattern is studied carefully it will be seen that the damage to the ocean extends well beyond the area where land based pollution would be expected to affect. Further, to the east of the halo of pollution a tell tale line of pollution extends in a straight line following the shipping channel. It seems that the shipping is indeed causing a serious impact on our waters. The massive load of agrochemicals, industrial chemicals and silt from land erosion, that has already brought ill health and misery to out farming population, makes our immediate oceanic environment highly polluted. When the global affects of climate change and ocean acidification are added the future looks bleak.
The volume of shipping along this route is expected to increase significantly in the near future. As we do not have any control over this phenomenon and as shipping uses the most dirty polluting fossil fuels, we can expect the ocean pollution around Sri Lanka to increase significantly in the near future. Nothing has been done to control ship-based pollution or insure that a tanker accident will not cripple our economy, by the galaxy of agencies concerned. There is poor possibility for pursuing accountability if ships have no insurance against such eventualities. A robust risk analysis and subsequent risk insurance should be implemented at a minimum; an effective monitoring program will then become practical.
The prognosis is dismal; Sri Lanka not only contributes to the pollution of the ocean around it, but also has embarked on an insane drive to establish coal fired power plants to supply the national energy need. Not only do we defecate on or own doorstep but we also let others also invite others to do the same. We let foreign vessels use and pollute our waters without fear of prosecution.
It has been pointed out that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that’s also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up.
In an astounding recent announcement White House administration stated that it sees no long-range future for fossil fuel, the state department climate change envoy, Todd Stern, said the world would have no choice but to forgo developing reserves of oil, coal and gas. With this statement, the US administration has acknowledged that the era of profligate use of fossil fuels is over.
But in Sri Lanka the so-called ‘decision makers’ are still running with the thesis that bigger is better, so megapolises, giant unwanted bridges and coal fired power plants are brought in to show that the new lot can be grander than, the useless airport, harbor, sports stadium driven old lot. Not a peep from our scientists, on the climate or on our irresponsibility of linking ‘development’ with the consumption of fossil fuels. Not a peep from the administrators who travel the world attending conferences that shows the folly of reliance on fossil fuels. Have all of them gone the way of the politicians? They should have the capacity to educate the public on the price that we have to pay. But why is there such a silence in questioning the current ‘development’ process that gets this nation addicted to fossil fuels, which makes us contribute more fossil carbon to the atmosphere, accelerates climate change and leaves us completely at the mercy of the fossil market? Not to mention the dubious title of the ’worst polluter of the Indian Ocean’.