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From kingpin to beggar on horseback!

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By I. P. C. MENDIS

For “homo sapiens”, destiny is undoubtedly very much in charge and control in any aspect of life from the cradle to the grave, and very much so in the history of a country. In the context of the grave crisis we are facing today in Sri Lanka, it would indeed be opportune to reminisce into our journey down the slippery slope, particularly during the post-independence era. Many a conscience would certainly have gone pita-pat hearing our own icon, Sunil Perera, the veteran band leader, lamenting just before his unfortunate demise – “When I was attending school this was a Third World country, now when I am in the throes of death, it is still a Third World country” ! Did we have a Statesman worthy of that name in the mould of Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore or Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia, who even attempted to put the country before party politics or self? The answer is an emphatic “NO’. If they did, a National Plan would have topped the priority list. Instead, we have had plans of varied hues baptized as Mid-Term Plans, Short-Term Plans, Crash Programmes, Integrated Programmes, etc., no doubt faithfully funded often by foreign aid. And that, too, has been faithfully and systematically squandered in various ways not excluding personal advancement.

We had the much-respected Hon. D.S. Senanayake who, despite lack of certificates to brandish, was able and well -equipped to lead a qualified team comprising practically all races. DSS is remembered undisputedly as the Father of the Nation for his contribution to the development of the country, agriculture in particular, holding together inter-racial amity. Notwithstanding the lack of paper qualifications, he could walk with kings without losing common touch. He was nattily attired in a tail coat and tie for the occasion, mingling with the British aristocracy. Even he did not see the merit in a national plan for organized continuity. However, our stock was held high internationally, and one of the hallmarks was the international acclaim for the then Finance Minister, JRJ’s plea at the San Francisco Conference after World War II, on behalf of Japan quoting the Buddha – “Hatred does not cease by hatred but by Love alone”. Japan to this day has it in its memory.

DSS’s son, Dudley Senanayake , who was recognised as the epitome of democracy having succeeded his father as Prime Minister , found to his dismay not very long to his first term, that a rather tumultuous environment, created by the Marxist movement via a hartal, was not his kettle of fish and decided to throw in the towel in the Westminster tradition with Sir John Kotelawela assuming control. Sir John started off with a bang and flair with welcome ceremonies, tamashas topping the precedence list, culminating in his being crowned as the King of Delft Island in the North. While D.S. Senanayake used to ride his horse (more for exercise) down Galle Face way sometimes in the mornings, Sir John too had similar inclinations and the “Laird of Kandawela” was often observed down Ratmalana way in majestic trot clad in jodphurs. He was known to be quite at home in the trappings of a Knight in shining armour given the opportunity. His breakfast table was open for a visitor who had any penchant for egg-hoppers and was famous for “off the cuff” remarks which were often eagerly used or mis-used by the Press to boost up their sales. It was during his tenure that a Non-Aligned conference was held in Bandung, Indonesia, and his pro-American stance did raise eye-brows earning him the sobriquet “Bandung Booruwa” here in Sri Lanka. His speech may have surprised even his own Advisers in terms of reports that trickled in. However, it did concern Jawaharlal Nehru who was provoked to inquire from him why he (Sir John) had not consulted him, in reply to which he had shot back – “Why should I – You do not consult me before you speak?” Indeed, he had the honour of receiving Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillp at the then Parliamentary premises (now Presidential Secretariat) at Galle Face. The Royal guests were ceremoniously led up the stairway outside in what was described as a very windy day. Sir John, who was quite at home with Royalty or commoner, had his favourite – veteran Lake House photographer Rienie Wijeratne – close by. Sir John had forgotten himself for a split second observing the majestic apparel being embarrassingly disturbed by the strong gust of wind and was reported to have whispered to photographer Rienzie W. – “Ganing yako ganing!”

He enjoyed seeing himself caricatured by Observer Cartoonist Aubrey Collette and one which had him depicted as a damsel before a mirror had been enlarged and hung in his office room at Transworks House when he was a Minister. That was the colourful Sir John Kotelawela – the author (clandestine) of “The Premier Stakes’ written when DSS had bequeathed the Premiership to son Dudley. He gracefully bowed out to Her Majesty’s country-side resort “Brogueswood” the purchase facilitated by his one-time arch rival, SWRDB in the release of scarce foreign exchange.

The Age of the Common Man

Then came the Pancha Maha Bala Vegaya, led by SWRDB – an Oxford product of no mean repute, who with all its perfectly good intentions ( as paved in the path to heaven ) was ham-strung by political, racial and trade union problems not totally unexpected from quarters that had hitherto been neglected and/or restrained in many ways. As a prelude, they gate-crashed into Parliament and occupied the Speaker’s chair. If that was not enough, vested interests within the camp which had been waiting long on the wings to capitalise on the victory became restless, conspiring against SWRDB who, to make a long story short, fell vicitim, paying with his life after only three years in office. He did make an attempt to draw up a national plan which died a natural death thereafter.

1959/60.

The era that followed with W. Dahanayake as the PM was a disaster. Parliamentary elections followed after a few months and Dudley Senanayake formed a minority government in March 1960 which was defeated in Parliament. The SLFP-led coalition won the July 1960 general election and Mrs Bandaranaike was sworn in as Prime Minister from the Senate and launched many people-friendly nationalist projects. The election campaign was bitterly fought and some of the slogans and propaganda were centred on Mrs Bandaranaike mostly targeting her inexperience (nothing more than a housewife) and lack of qualifications, while some of the foul-mouthed did not spare her from personal remarks (also insulting to women in general) unprintable in its content. She nevertheless proved herself to be a woman of steel leading the coalition to victory. Strangely, in next to no time she forged herself into the spotlight as the world’s first woman Prime Minister, fitting herself well and truly as an effective leader hobnobbing with some of the world’s greatest, particularly in the Non-Aligned Movement, earning respect. She carried herself well and proved to be a no-nonsense leader, much respected and feared no less. She maintained cordial relations with practically every national leader, particularly Indira Gandhi, so much so that she was picked to mediate on one of the Indo-China burning issues. She was able to solve to a great extent the Indian plantation labour issue. She mooted the idea of declaring the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace.

The Non-Aligned conference held in Colombo was a feather in her cap. She had no personal agendas and while any other in her position would have accepted with both hands an invitation to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London soon after taking office, she opted to stay back arranging for her Minister of Justice to represent her – a long shot from the great effort another VVIP of a different regime was said to have been made to cadge an invitation to attend the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana. Mid-way in her term, she decided to coalesce with the Left but .some of her rightist members did not see eye to eye with the decision which ensured the defeat of the government on the Press Bill and subsequent disintegration of the coalition and the rise of a coalition of convenience in a seven-party outfit led by Dudley Seanayake, prominent among them being the TULF and the MEP which ruled for the full term.

Mrs B’s Second Term

Mrs Bandaranaike won the general elections in 1970 fortifying herself with a coalition winning a 2/3rd majority which helped her to declare Sri Lanka a Republic. In doing so, the two years spent on that effort was sought to be compensated by a similar addition to the five-year term in the new Constitution. Many an important activity was undertaken, but progress was hampered with the JVP uprising in 1971. This together with the LTTE problems aggravated the situation faced and if that was not enough bickering within the coalition camp began to surface and the coalition broke up in around 1976 resulting in the UNP-led by J.R. Jayawardene obtaining a 5/6th majority .

Executive Presidency

JRJ ensured the birth of a new Republican Constitution and the transformation into an Executive Presidency in which he was deemed to be the first Executive President. Many changes in the economic sphere were introduced, including liberalization of the economy. Development work was expanded, the most important being the accelerated Mahaweli development opening the floodgates for corruption not excluding duty –free facilities of one kind or another. In fact, reports had it that once JRJ had opined that commissions obtained were not bribes . The Mahaweli programme carried out mostly through aid programmes did bring many benefits but the liberalisation policy undermined local agricultural and industrial programmes. The shift in policy was so pro- American that it infuriated Indira Gandhi , which coupled with adverse personal remarks targeting Indira Gandi and son Rajiv, drove India to support in a very big way the LTTE which is well known. JRJ was succeeded by R. Premadasa who can be applauded for his foresight in embarking on the apparel industry which is now a foreign exchange winner. He was generally believed to have had some prejudice against professionals and his style of governance somehow infuriated the likes of Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake who engineered an Impeachment motion. Premadasa bought time through a prorogation of Parliament and finally a settlement had been reached . He ruled till his unfortunate demise on 1st May 1993. His exit saw the rise of Chandrka Bandaranaike Kumaratunge mentioned earlier.

LTTE Enters the Fray

Prabhakaran entering the fray made successive governments to devote their time, energy , manpower/financial resources , at tremendous cost of development. Successive governments while confronting the LTTE and its cohorts, both foreign and local, had to keep the homefires burning while countering strong adverse political and international onslaughts aimed at discrediting the government and even acts of sabotage by word and deed. (“Alimankade / Pamankada, Kilinochchi/ Madawachchi, Baron’ s Cap, etc.). The ups and downs suffered need not be reiterated except to emphasise the genesis of borrowing and the easy way of further borrowing to settle the earlier borrowings. On the side of stupidity comes , inter alia, the surrender of a military platoon on a governmental fiat, only to be massacred in cold blood by the LTTE, the supply of arms to the LTTE to fight the IPKF, the so-called peace treaty with the LTTE which saw a fake surrender of arms and the “free–for –all” much later in Bond scams which had the blessings of the highest in the land. The Tamil diaspora was influential enough for the International community to ensure that there would be no assistance, financial or otherwise,. to Sri Lanka in the war with the LTTE. Consequently, the Rajapakse government had to resort to various other expensive methods, including borrowing at commercial interest rates to which the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe responded by publicly declaring that they would not honour such obligations if and when they assume power. Measures such as the hedging deal and investments in Greek Bonds, Lotus Tower, Suryawewa Cricket stadium, Road Races, Magam Ruhuna International Conference Hall to name a few, did swell the already burdened debt trap. They added to the misery complemented with wastage and rampant corruption multiplying the woes haunting the government no less. The opportunity that came after the defeat of terrorism, was foolishly frittered away in a situation of mix-up of priorities necessitated by considerations other than national. Mahinda Rajapakse’s decision to seek re-election two years before ex,

Earlier, President Chadrika Bandaranaike’s tenure continued with the decorum hitherto displayed by her predecessors in office in all her dealings, maintaining her stature with the exception that she carried it a little too far in throwing manners to the wind being habitually unpunctual for appointments. Quite unruffled, she was reported to have kept Prince Charles kicking his heels at Temple Trees for quite a while. Indeed, she got away with it and also proved she could be quite out-spoken and frank on occasions. In fact, she appears to be quite popular with the media. She carried herself well despite certain shortcomings. By far, apart from the LTTE issue, the greatest challenge she had was the Tsunami debacle through which she sailed successfully.

Her successor Mahinda Rajapakse although not of the same mould of aristocratic origin, showed his mettle the way he handled the LTTE together with his brother Gotabaya R and the European messiahs that arrived to coax him to stop the onslaught against the LTTE. The usaual regalia was absent in receiving the latter, the location being in the rough and tumble of Embilipitya. They departed disappointed.

Yahapalan/Nawapalana

– The purpose of this Article is to reveal how the rating of the country has receded slowly but surely not only in terms of its financial obligations but also in its international standing, in regard to which the integrity, conduct, performance, management skills , results and general decorum do play their individual and collective roles. The recent history relating to the Yahapalana regime and the present outfit is fresh in the minds of the people and repetition would unnecessarily tax the time of the reader. As for Yahapalana, it is a story of manipulation, deceit, highway robbery (Bond scams, etc.,), intrigue, anti-nationalist and financial mis-management, the worst being security lapses culminating in the Easter Sunday debacle. Like Pontius Pilate,the bulk of its remains have projected itself by another name (SJB) in a bid to wash its hands off its sins and responsibility of everything they silently condoned.

The new regime (Nawapalanaya) of the SLPP combine led by President Gotabaya from which much was expected, has so far not lived up to expectations , burdened no less by the global epidemic and consequent world-wide financial and other consequences coupled with local financial constraints, demonstrations, demands and a host of insurmountable problems, some of which are of their own making. The country is virtually on the edge of a precipice notwithstanding outward show and rhetoric while opulence in some quarters in power are not invisible. Shamelessly now, they are running helter-skelter except to the IMF failing to realise that internationally even their personal and official standing, despite the protocol, are at a low ebb and not anywhere near what was in the past, particularly as a one-timeleader in the Non-Aligned Movement. Indeed, what a fall ? . It is no surprise that even a friend like China had reacted the way it did on the organic feriliser issue, now diplomatically seeking to recompense with 100,000 metric tons of rice commemorating 75-year of the Rubber/Rice Trade Agreement. The Chinese indeed are professionals – Sri Lankans pompous amateursp itifully transformed from Kingpin to beggar on Horseback !



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Features

Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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