3 March, 2024


On Being Prepared; The Sri Lankan Experience

By Ranil Senanayake

Dr Ranil Senanayake

While the political narcissists play their pathetic game of musical chairs and the supporting cast of corrupt bureaucrats support that dance are completely removed from the deadly reality that the rest of us have to face. He who occupies any station of power must have some knowledge how of power is used and how that will determine the well being of this nation and its citizenry. The crises are manifold, best illustrated by the changes in weather patterns brought by Climate Change. Sri Lanka has been fortunate to escape the extreme weather experienced by many other nations, but that should not be a reason for complacency, the changes are real, we too will have to face them.

We know what lies ahead, if anyone involved in national governance, politician or bureaucrat missed the warnings that have appeared in the national press for over fifteen years, we might say they are too busy with the hubris of their own importance, to care about other national voices. But now, after being exposed to the consequences of climate change, there is still a willful, stubborn, ignoring of reality.   

Fifteen years ago, the effect of sea level rise was being experienced, but there was no public awareness of the process. It was at that time the following observations were made and questions asked: ‘Has anyone wondered at the disappearance of the golden beaches that is being replaced by these rocky barriers to the ocean?  Will our beaches go the way of the turtles that need to come up to sandy beaches to lay their eggs? How will tourists react to disappearing beaches? All valid questions; But ask the community living in these areas and there is no understanding of global warming, its causes or effects. Their biggest concern is another Tsunami, not understanding that there is a creeping tsunami at their feet! Will the current system of irrigation locks be sufficient to prevent saltwater intrusion into agricultural lands? What adaptation strategies have we developed nationally? Perhaps the experts and pundits have sorted it all out but, some public capacity building activity must become evident or we will become unknowing victims to the affects of climate change, unable to mount any meaningful response’

Fifteen years later, the international community is informing us that there will be a rise in sea level by at least three to four inches (it could be more) as a consequence of climate change and there is sill no response from the government. I wonder if the climate change bureaucrats or at least the Ministry of Agriculture had taken notice of the fact that this will lead to the salinization of a large area currently under rice production. Have the urban planners taken notice of the fact that this will mean salt water intrusion up the Kelani river ? Has the Colombo Municipality taken notice of the fact that unplanned (corrupt) urbanization, has stopped water infiltration into the soil and will lead to flooding as the Kelani river loses its ‘fresh water tongue’ into the ocean?

While there is the excitement of building for tourists at the beach, what land planning has accounted for the beach being moved serval hundred meters inland? What sea level rise models does Sri Lanka contribute to? Why are sea level rise models not mandatory in coastal land use planning? These seem reasonable questions for an island nation.

Could it be that the government of Sri Lanka, is downplaying the impacts of climate change because they are following an agenda of ‘development’ set by the producers of fossil fuels? When the decision for Sri Lanka to place her development aspirations on energy based on fossil fuels was made the deed was done.

It was in 1979 when an official communiqué on development displayed in the nation’s newspapers stated: “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”, it seems clear that our current state of fossil addiction was not a function of some natural, uninformed social growth, it was designed to create an exponential demand to fossil fuels as the source of energy to power society. The ‘development’ of centralized energy entailed large sums of money in trading coal and oil. Attracting unsavory political and bureaucratic attention. The sleazy dealing behind our coal and oil supplies are now done as a matter of national importance.

However, today the world has woken up to the reality of climate change driven by the consumption of fossil fuels. Every time one travels or takes a flight or even switches on a light we contribute to the acceleration of climate change. Renewable energy has become a catchword into the 20’s. but the focus of the government was on centralized energy generation through the purchase of fossil fuels and renewable energy was ignored. 

Today, due to a tragic mix of corruption and ignorance Sri Lanka became a ‘bankrupt state’ and can not import those quantities of fossil. Sri Lanka has now become ‘the canary in the coalmine’ of fossil powered economic growth, that promises ‘development’. The pain of withdrawal from addiction is felt from the cooking fires of its homes, to the national energy grids. Can this pain provoke a realization that the only way to stop it from happening again, is to cease this addiction to fossil fuels and choose a new paradigm for growth and development.

There are innumerable, creative inventions made by our youth to respond to energy issues at the local level. There are small and medium industries that can arise around sustainable energy production, but unless this potential is recognized and encouraged, we will have to put up with the platitudes of those profiting off our energy dependence and occupying the seats of power that can make the change required.

There is an obvious need to decentralize essential services, as much as there is a crying need for local responsibility and accountability. But while we bicker about the control of our national processes, the shadow of the global impact of climate change is almost upon us and the time that we have to plan and prepare is almost gone.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    No comments here. No one interested in climate change. That may change when their backsides are burning. Perhaps in the meantime Ranil Senanayake needs to change his vocation and the direction of his agitations. He should write instead on the political changes in Lanka. Or about why there is need to cut a road through the Sinharajah forest. Then the reaction will be immediate. There’ll be a flood of commentators agreeing or disagreeing, abusing his views and each other. We want everything to be like a cricket match while the brain goes to sleep. Their side and our side. Good entertainment until the ship sinks.

  • 1

    Thank you, Mr Senanayake for your enduring dedication to the cause of our environment.
    I’ve been trying to find some letters I sent the press in 2007 about a phenomenon that is being seriously grappled with in some other cities, notably Sao Paulo in Brazil. I suddenly noticed that a tree on the pavement in front of the Dutch Burgher Union, facing Tun mulla handiya, had been cut down to accommodate a massive billboard. The great sweep of foliaged-laden branches had been banished.

  • 0

    Writing to a well-known environmentalist, hoping to get the tree identified, I said,
    “You simply cannot miss the huge black ad — it stretches about 60-70ft wide and has about 30 spots along the top! (Let’s not save power, shall we?) Of course, you are most likely to miss the TREE! — or at least what’s left of it, as it disappears into the background now. Its canopy has been totally removed to enable us to gaze upon the morbid (BLACK!) monstrosity! When you look towards the DBU from the middle of T-M-H roundabout, or from Havelock Rd, or from our balcony, or from this end of Bullers Rd or Reid Avenue— you cannot miss the board. I do not know why the soldiers on duty around didnt shoot the guys who were putting it up.”

    Sadly, though the tree did fight back, the axe was laid several times to it. The billboard won & so did the local council which I believe received several millions from the ad. And, of course, pollution in the area is always on the up and up. But who really cares about a single tree?
    But anyone interested can probably still see a few feet of the old trunk….

  • 0

    I’ve just learnt about an interesting book in the Guardian: “Hitoshinsei no Shihonron”
    (“Capital in the Anthropocene”), by Japanese “ecosocialist” Kohei Saito.

    It is expected to come out in English early next year as “Marx in the Anthropocene: Towards the Idea of Degrowth Communism”.

    A more substantial review is available at: https://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviews/20369_hitoshinsei-no-shihonron-capital-in-the-anthropocene-by-kohei-saito-reviewed-by-ulv-hanssen/

    ”Saito’s main argument… is that capitalism, with its perpetual pursuit of growth, is the underlying cause of the intensifying climate crisis. Rejecting the possibility of ‘green growth’, he convincingly argues that only degrowth – a planned reduction of material use – can ensure a sustainable future…. fully dismisses the idea by some degrowthers that capitalism could be made compatible with degrowth. The attempt at removing the growth imperative from capitalism, Saito states, is like trying to ‘draw a circular triangle’…. Nothing less than systemic change will do. Recognizing capitalism as the greatest cause of climate change, Saito is unambiguous about the danger it poses to us all, warning that ‘if we don’t stop capitalism by our own hands, the history of humanity will come to an end.’”
    His earlier book, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy, was published in English in 2017.

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