By Ranil Senanayake –
Current politics has degraded to a race to get control of the state’s resources in order to implement ‘development’ projects that line our path to ‘progress’ towards some unknown goal. No one proposes any clear path for the future well-being of the nation, only calls for the public to support their particular push for ‘development’ projects. This is then measured as progress. As Ananda Coomaraswamy notes ‘We who call art significant, not knowing of what, are also proud to progress, not knowing wither’. It seems we have not changed much since that time, merely continuing creating ‘development processes, as long as there are loans or money available. Often, many ‘development processes’ are not progressive but retrogressive, as seen in the plans for investment in coal as an energy source.
It is common knowledge that burning coal is a heath hazard. Innumerable studies have demonstrated the massive negative impact on human health and on cultural artifacts through the burning of coal, but the political system seems totally ignorant of such knowledge. This ignorance enables them justify the large losses in health to be suffered by the population. It is such ignorance that allows ‘agreements’ and contracts have greater value than the health and well being of the citizens of this nation. As an example, consider the debacle of the ‘Port City.’ A project implemented without any consideration of the reduced air quality of Colombo city, without informing the citizens of the price they will have to pay, is presumed valid because, the political powers subverted the laws of the land to approve it.
The current global development agenda is in many ways, anti-human. It seeks the development of an economic and monetary system its primary goal. The ‘Development of the Economy’, has become a mantra that will allow the discounting of human life. The Current Pope is one of the very few world leaders to speak directly to the problem; he has spoken out against the “idolatrous” capitalist economic models that “sacrifice human lives on the altar of money”. Will our current political contenders ever recognize the danger looming before us, move away from the current model and opt for a different vision of what development should mean? Can our religious leaders understand what the Pope is telling us?
The dangers looming before us are many and they are the consequence of a world driven by unbridled consumption of fossil fuels. We should not only question the intelligence of pinning our development processes on fossil energy, but should also examine the dangers that loom s a consequence of their use. Sadly, we seem to lack climate scientists who can convey the sense of urgency that the global data demands for the protection of our coastal communities. We are an island with an ever crowding coastline, when will the public be informed of the expected changes? The land zoning remains unchanged to-date, while the area of hard surface increases its cover over the southern beaches. A drive down the south coast is indeed a salutary experience, what were clear golden beaches just a few years ago, are now rock-covered shorelines.
The price we paid for ‘developing’ our agriculture is evident when we see the health misery wrought upon our farmers. In a country that practiced agriculture for over 2000 years without recording unusual kidney or blood diseases, should not the timing of the appearance of these diseases be of interest? It seems that the epidemic began around the late 1970’s. We should ask ourselves the question, ‘Did we change anything in our agricultural system around this time?’ The answer is ‘Yes, we did, we introduced the ‘Green Revolution’ package of agriculture to Sri Lanka to replace our traditional form of agriculture in the late 1960’s. This is yet another example of how destructive the current model of development is. The horror is just unfolding, last week a ten year old was brought in with kidney failure, what does it take for politics assume the responsibility to protect the well being of this nation? Looking for a single cause is pointless if the problem is systemic and synergistic.
Climate scientists warn of economic crisis and famine—with continental interiors drying out, the chief scientist at the U. S. State Department in 2009 predicted a billion people will suffer famine within twenty or thirty years and yet, we have not even considered any effect of such possibilities on us. It is as if we are on another planet and what happens to planet Earth will not affect planet Lanka. A one-degree rise in ocean surface temperature increases the intensity of hurricanes by 25%. With the current rise in oceanic temperatures, has any consideration been given to the possibility of such an event in planning the ‘development’ of the east coast?
We need a new, informed vision of our future in this changing world. We need to be insured against the upheavals that the future will bring. We need to plan intelligently for a sustainable future. A future that bespeaks of electrified transport for cities, of independent power production, efficient waste management, freedom from toxic environments and sustainable food production. Do we have any models of growth that seeks such a direction of development? Should not these goals be the subject of public debate and discussion, rather than the invective and slogan shouting that we see with the current political contenders?
Will politics and intelligence continue to be an oxymoron in this nation?