By Ranil Senanayake –
We have emerged, as a nation that is maturing politically and can determine its future in a participatory, democratic manner. Now that the process of lying out of our future has begun, the vision should never again be left to a few individuals, but discussed widely and embarked upon with the widest consensus. We all have to imagine, the future that we want, for us, our children and their country. For without any well-considered goals, there will be a perpetual journey with no direction. Thus, a public debate as to the direction of ‘growth’ and ‘development’ must become a national obligation.
We are told that we need to invest such that economic indices such as the GDP show growth. Development in this context is to move society to activity that increases these indices. The current paradigm would have us dependent on consumption as the driving factor. The more one consumes the better the GDP. But to consume more, one must crave more, a particular worldview driven by a pecuniary philosophy that is replacing the more conservative spiritual philosophies the world over. It has nothing to do with contentment, health or awareness. It is driven by greed, desire and fear, the same values that created the problems that we face, in the first place.
Economic development comes in many forms. The consumption patterns may be renewable, in which case they are sustainable or non-renewable in which case they are unsustainable. Development that relies on fossil fuel is certainly short term , unsustainable and a very dangerous path. Sadly, the growth of fossil fuel consumption has been long cherished desire among some powerful bureaucrats with vested interests in the supply of fossil fuels to Sri Lanka. They have even created a myth that development can only be achieved through the consumption of fossil fuels and sold this myth to the politicians. It is this myth of ‘development’ that has brought us to the energy-addicted state of today and it is this same myth that drives the ‘economic development’ vision for our tomorrow.
It was our great hope that the ‘silly season’ of borrowing money to construct fossil profligate projects such as Coal fired power plants; roads to nowhere and pointless airports will be over with the dismissal of the poorly informed. But now rumors swirl that the new lot might not be much better. Now we hear of megapolises, giant bridges and energy guzzling urban infrastructure. We are being are asked to perceive a future, like Singapore or Dubai. Simplistic, ill-considered proposals by people who have never understood the nature of this nation. Locked away in air-conditioned cocoons in tall buildings or in chummy networks of bankers and businessmen, such proposals may seem practical and perhaps for the short-term gain of money it might be so. But they are neurotic decisions, made with no reference to reality and will wind up hurting us all. The German Psychologist Carl Jung, sums the situation well, “those who know nothing about nature” he states “ are of course neurotic, because they are not adapted to reality”. The more such decision makers move away from reality by abstracting nature, the more dangerous their decisions are to us.
For instance, let us take the fossil carbon cost of Dubai and Singapore as examples and consider what reaching for such a goal will mean to us; the current consumption of electricity in Singapore (43.23 billion kWh), Dubai (85.1 billion kWh) and Sri Lanka (8.927 billion kWh). Where will this energy come from ? Has this proposed ‘development’ scenario that seeks to make us a city-state to rival Singapore or Dubai even considered such fundamental realities?
Whatever flows of money such an urban project is supposed to attract, it looks like suicide in terms of climate change, not to mention becoming a totally irresponsible member of the global community. The fossil carbon cost of such a project attains even further staggering proportions when the fossil carbon dioxide cost of cement (fifteen times more than oil) is brought into the equation.
We have been a nation of wanabee’s for quite some time now. We wannabe like Singapore, we wannabe like Dubai, why are we not satisfied with who and what we are? The current wannabe development processes, only wants the economy to be developed, the assumption is that ‘all else will follow’, not understanding the truth of the saying “money cannot be eaten”. The cost to the individual, in terms of personal health, social health and community stability of these mad schemes are not considered.
The monetary system, as pointed out by innumerable people, is merely a creation of our imagination and there is nothing that can validate it except for a total faith in that system. Of course, the same can be said for religion, the major difference being, that while piety drives one, greed drives the other.
It is to this system then, that we are asked to place our faith in. The tragedy of today is that total faith in the values of monetary system (greed) is rapidly replacing faith in the religious (piety) and it is the handmaidens of the monetary system who seem to control the entire dialogue on ‘development’.
Is it not time to question this vision of ‘development’, so that the consequences of that we are asked to place our faith in, become clearer and we become part of the dialogue?