28 September, 2020

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On A Fearful Road

By Ranil Senanayake

Ranil Senanayake

Ranil Senanayake

One of the observations that with climate change comes an increase in peak weather events, became a horrible reality to us last week.  Our mountains, bearing soil on a rocky base, was once stabilized by the unbroken blanket of forests that covered it have become destabilized. The tragedy of the loss of life at Meeriyabedda is a warning, we have to change the way in which we treat our soils and landscapes.

The erosion of our soils and the loss of both soil nutrients and biodiversity have forced us into the current chemical basis of agricultural production. The chemical methods of agriculture do not build up populations of soil bacteria, soil bacteria that produce the polysaccharide gum that binds soil particles and soil without good structure quickly dissolves when wet.

But we are proud of a chemically maintained monoculture over our mountains, a monoculture that precludes the use of trees, a monoculture that does not lend stability to the soil. This is our tea country.

Soil, is one of the most important components of any land, yet its value has been overlooked by most modern approaches to land development, agriculture and forestry. To most of us, soil is the stuff that holds trees up. We see it as a solid surface for us to walk, ride or construct upon. Our perception of its usefulness in our daily lives does not exceed much beyond providing a medium to grow our crops. In fact modern agriculture has discounted the value of soil in providing nutrients for plants by promoting the role of artificial fertilizer to the detriment of good soil management. In Sri Lanka most texts on soil only address the physical or chemical nature of soil, a view that has allowed our farmers to be pushed into reliance on ‘high input chemical agriculture’, by the multinational chemical companies.

KoslandaSoil is a dynamic ecosystem, one gram of ordinary farmyard soil can contain over 1 billion individual bacteria, over 100 million individual actinomycetes and over 1 kilometre of fungal hyphpae, notwithstanding plants like algae and animals like collembolans, nematodes or worms. This massive diversity provides for the multitude of critical functions, that a living soil provides.

When soil looses its tree cover and the input of organic matter to feed the living soil, its biomass goes down, it looses its cohesive strength. The loss of cohesive strength accelerates the erosive processes, that was once held in check by soil binding agents, both macroscopically and microscopically created. The macroscopic binding agents are the roots of plants and plant compounds. The microscopic agents are the bacterial gums, polysaccharides and humates. With an increase of chemical reliant intensive farming there is a corresponding loss of soil microorganisms that provide cohesive strength to soils. The result is, erosion in wet weather and an increase of dust during dry weather.

Having weakened our soils through irresponsible agricultural practices and loss of forest cover, we have now turned our attention to the rock base that these soils lie on. The rocks in much of the mountain areas are now being blown up (quarried) for ‘development’ purposes. The resulting vibrations and shockwaves further weakening the integrity of the soil mass that lies above the rockbase. When blasting, the energy from a blast, which is not used for rock breakage, is radiated outwards in the form of ground vibration and airblast. Seismic waves spread out from the blasthole, along and through the ground, much like ripples in a pond. Ground vibration is comprised of many different waves with different frequencies and travel paths. These components (frequency, displacement, peak particle velocity, and acceleration) are measured with a seismometer. For instance, Peak Particle Velocity (PPV) is a measurement of the maximum speed (measured in mm/sec or in/sec) at which a particle in the ground is moving relative to its inactive state and is a most predictable indicator of  possible damage. Has this been measured for the overburden of soil when giving out licenses for rock quarries?

The experience in Sri Lanka is that rock blasting is a manipulative process, whereby even the decision by the District Secretary on the basis of examination, is surreptitiously overturned as soon as he/she is transferred. A case at point are the quarries at Mirahawatte in Bandarawela, the villages fought against the blasting of a quarry for years and finally had the blasting stopped; But two years later, as soon as the DS who had inquired into the process was transferred, the permits for blasting was issued again, in a total snub of the rights, concerns and danger to the villagers.

In the face of climate change, when the incidences of extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, there will be more and more of such events. But we seem hell bent on increasing these disasters. While it is common knowledge that the addition of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere increases the impact of climate change, we in Sri Lanka have chosen to contribute increases huge volumes of this gas as a product of the current vision of ‘Development’. Climate irresponsible actions such as, coal and oil fired power plants, energy expensive transport on roads, massive concrete construction where I kg of concrete produces 16 times the CO2 equivalent as oil, are the hallmarks of the current regime.

Will we ever have a holistic vision of this nation and the concern for the long-term management thinking that is required to ensure a benign future for our children and us  ? Moving people from point to point after a crisis strikes will not cure anything. The solution is simple; invest in HEALING OUR LAND as the national development priority. Make this land more safe for us to live on, not more dangerous ! Otherwise any statement on the concern for our land and our well being will ring hollow.

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    This is a nonsensical attempt to attribute the land slide to the so-called cliamte change.

    The rug has been pulled under the feat of the so-called “science” of climae change (too detailed to summarise here). The bankruptcy of the climate change fear dealers is reflected in their attempts now to portray every flood, drought, cyclone, tsunami or any other event as an “extreme weather event” that supports their campaign.

    Accept Mr Senanayake that there is no “science” behind what you are trying to sell – Since when is rdiculous weather forecasting (that is proven wrong again and again) based on computer modelling (garbage in-garbage out) science?

    You may be able to fool (freighten?) some people some of the time, but the truth is coming out now.

    Weather has always been changing, and it will continue to be so. Calling it “climate” change is bullshit.

    • 1
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      Sceptic, you are maligning a renowned scientist who is an expert in the field. Your attempt to deride climate change is misplaced. What you are doing is rehashing the so called observations of the anti climate change lobby. Reasons for climate change may be many but climate change is already here.

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        Amarasiri, take it from me son, that everyone is an expert in the field of science.

        I can say to you that it might rain this afternoon with 50% confidence. In no other field of “science” does such confidence level is automatically attached to a forecast! In medicine they struggle to establish 95% with great difficulty, still goes wrong often.

        So with all due respect to Mr Ranil Senanayake, I am as expert as him on the matter of climate.

        No matter what or who he is, I will refute his assertion that the landslide he is referring to had anything to do with “climate change”.

    • 1
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      Ranil Senanayake -and Sceptic

      All Scientists are expected be skeptics until data proves that the skepticism should be removed.

      The land slides would have taken place even if three was no climate change, with the natural accumulation of water and erosion.

      The question is was that accelerated by the climate change, and does the data, support it. Computer models still depend on accurate data.

    • 1
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      When the IPCC just issued another report, when 97% of the climate scientists agree on the science of global warming and climate change, when just about every argument rubbishing the science has been painstakingly debunked and proved to be utterly wrong wiht years and years of data you come along to sling mud at a scientist with credentials in this debate. Go crawl under whatever rock you emerged out of and spare us your nonsense.

      • 0
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        This is the problem with the so-called climate “scientists”. They don’t tolerate dissent of sceptics.

        97% agreement does not make anything “science”, you morons. If that is the case, we would be still thinking the sun is rotating around the earth, because Galileo was the only man who said it and he was stoned. The “scientists” are making good grant money out of this bullshit. Of course there will be 00% agreement.

        As to the Himalayan glaciers, the bullshit of Pachari has been disproved.

        The climate “science” is for the ignorant, driven by fear. They think they are the bright. Shake in your boots, the change is comeng!

        • 0
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          You think you can call scientists morons and the withdrawal of the glaciers as bullshit. As some one who knows about the Hamalayan glaciers don’t try to con people by making false claims. I know exactly where you are coming on this one. I wont get into the detail but just out is a study that goes into this issue in great detail. When you cannot win an argument resort to thuggish behavior. Ignorance is exactly what fuels your fantasy. Don’t try to turn the truth upside down.You make a joke of yourself in doing so. This argument was lost a long time ago accept in your head.

    • 1
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      Sceptic,

      Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding at 400m a year.

      The polar ice caps are disintegrating in front of our eyes.

      Pack Ice which formerly reached the northern shores of Canada are now 300miles away to the north.

      Coral reefs are being bleached due to rising ocean temperatures.

      CO2 which were locked away as fossil fuels for hundreds of millions of years during the carboniferous age have been released back into the atmosphere in just 100 years.

      So do you still believe climate change is a myth and that freak weather is not due to the warming oceans and atmosphere?

      So do you think it is too early to start legislating that all roofs should be coveren with Solar Panels, That all cars should have small hybrid engines. That wind farms should be promoted and not vetoed. That people should use only public transport within cities. And most importantly of all that brakes should be put on the global human population. That punitive measures should be imposed on those having more than 2 children. Afterall population increase will nullify any advances we make in energy efficiency.

    • 1
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      So, will it be the KNOWN Ranil or the UNKNOWN Sceptic?

      Teacher said, better the known devil.

      Ranil, Thank You for giving us your take.

      • 0
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        You are a [Edited out]!

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      Sceptic

      Good to see with clarity and then to declare for all to hear that the emperor is without clothes. What if none has seen? All can be blind.

  • 1
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    Logic is the only answer. Since cutting down trees, excessive use of oil , global warming and abuse of the land by Gemming etc the incidence of land slides have increased. This is a fact . Dr Ranils explanation to me at least is valid. We cannot go on abusing the environment and expect every no consequences.

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