By Ranil Senanayake –
In a tragic display of greed and ignorance, the handmaidens of fossil led economic development have begun to perform their dances before the new Government. In a backdrop of a nation like Australia literally burning, as a result their contribution to the fossil carbon load in the Global Commons, we seek to contribute our share. The massive fossil carbon load in cement use, generating sixteen times more than fossil fuel, goes unreported in the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC); we have ‘Coal Mafia’ of the CEB, screaming about a ‘Green Mafia’ in order to grab the attention of the President. Sri Lanka is the worst polluter of the Indian Ocean, because we allow ocean freighters passing through our territorial waters to freely dump and use bunker fuel. Our Tea industry is becoming tainted as a consequence of free acceptance of toxins in agronomic practices.
We have a political and intellectual class who where supposed to understand international processes and help guide this nation safely. Forty one years ago in 1979 when the myth of ‘Development’ was being foisted on us the following was noted in the Sunday Observer:
“In fact many of the present ‘development problems’ are created purely through definition. A fine example of this is the need to ‘develop’ our mineral resources. It is stated that we must exploit our mineral resources so we can begin marketing them (to obtain funds for ‘development’. These resources are, like oil, limited. They are also essential to modern society. To us in Sri Lanka we have no immediate need for these minerals. We market them to obtain the funds to be “developed” enough to have a need for those minerals, but by that time we would have sold most of our easily accessible supplies to others. So that we will have to spend more to extract the more difficult (thus more expensive) ores or even begin to import them?
It may be time for us to act responsibly being aware that the motions of the wheels of development are of not use if it grinds the populace in its progress. Development should mean independence and real well-being, rather than dependence and an illusion of well being.
Is development to be spell out as dependency on oil? If this is the criterion that governs development and our hopes and sense of well-being is tied to the oil purveyors, how safe are we as an independent nation? There is a correspondence cycle to the dependency cycle, that is, to buy oil we have to earn foreign exchange, to earn foreign exchange we have to export. So increasing oil bills will mean an increasing volume of exports to maintain the trade balance. What do we have to export readily? Our national wealth, mineral and agricultural. Will this dependency mean poorer fare, poorer public health and increasing food bills for the citizen?
In this context development means dependency on oil. ‘Development’ would seem to be a product of a pecuniary philosophy where instead of solving problems and meeting needs as expressed by a largest segment of the population, an attempt is made to create through definition, a problem of ‘need’. Next, efforts are made to ‘educate’ people so that they will accept this definition, and; finally a solution to the problem is marketed.”
But the political and intellectual leadership of the day saw no value in considering such views. It must be noted that many of the senior decision makers of today were the policy makers of that time and must accept responsibility for their actions. As the process began, the trend became obvious and much concern was generated. Thus in July the Daily News was published a BALANCED SOCIAL ORDER where it was pointed out that:
“An increase in the foreign debt will require larger and larger acreages of cash crops to be grown, so that we can make the money needed to service the debt and so on…
It may not be long before the multinational begin suggesting that the newly-cleared lands of the Mahaveli are excellent for export-oriented crops. If this happens, the circle will be complete. They loan us money to develop our land so that we may grow crops for their profit.
Develop as a nation we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of such processes. To sell the fundamental rights of the people and the future generations for some immediate gain cannot be counted as development. Clean air, clean water and freedom from man-created toxins, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these among other fundamental rights.“
Can we learn from history ? How will ‘Development’ be interpreted by the oncoming governments ? Will it mean the sacrifice of the fundamental rights of humanity ? The right to breathe clean air, the right to drink clean water and the right to eat clean food ? Will it be measured only by economic abstractions like the GDP or will it also use metrics like the PQLI ( Personal Quality of Life Index) ? The future before us is frightful, climate change is real. Is it not time to consider giving value to humanity ?
Could we not strop for a minute and try to see what kind of future we will have to face if our development is based on fossil use ? Also, Is not a ‘Green Mafia’ based on life better than a “Coal Mafia’ based on death ?