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Salvation in a Vat

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By Gwynne Dyer

“We are putting a final end to the fossil era,” said Denmark’s’s climate minister, Dan Jorgensen, last week. What he meant was that the European Union’s biggest oil and gas producer is officially getting out of the petrochemical business after 80 years.

There’s still more oil under the North Sea off Denmark’s west coast, but the government has just cancelled its next scheduled auction of oil and gas licences. There will be no further exploration, and no new production platforms built.

It’s not quite as big a deal as it sounds, because Europe’s three biggest oil and gas producers, Russia, Norway and the United Kingdom, are not members of the EU, and they are still in the business. But the latter two are now also discussing whether they should leave some of their oil and gas in the ground forever, which is a step in the right direction.

This is how progress is generally made in the struggle to stop global heating: one slow step at a time, and maybe therefore too little, too late. But last week saw something much more dramatic on what you might call the Food & Climate front: the first restaurant to serve artificial meat.

Next to burning fossil fuels, the biggest source of anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions is agriculture – and more than half of all food-related G-G emissions come from producing meat. That’s the hardest part of the puzzle to solve, because people are very attached to eating meat and there’s no good substitute. Until recently.

Now there’s plenty. Near Tel Aviv last Thursday a burger joint called The Chicken opened its doors for the first time. It looks pretty normal, except for a glass back wall through which you can see people in lab coats moving between big stainless-steel vats called bio-reactors. That’s where they make the chicken.

It’s ‘cultured’ chicken: real live chicken cells grown in a solution containing all the necessary nutrients and doubling in volume every day. But no bacterial contamination from animal waste, no hormones and antibiotics to speed growth and slow the spread of disease, no land used to grow the chicken feed, no 130 million chickens slaughtered every day.

SuperMeat, the parent company, is sticking with ground meat for burgers for now, but there’s no technical reason why it couldn’t be chicken breast with the familiar texture and taste of real chickens. And they’re currently giving it away (to invited guests only) rather than selling it, because Israel’s regulatory authority has not approved it for sale yet.

That will come soon, but they’ll probably have to go on giving it away for a while because each burger patty costs around $35 to produce. But that’s down from $300,000 for the first beef hamburger patty in 2013, and Ido Savir, CEO of SuperMeat, reckons that the cost of cultured or ‘cultivated’ meat (the terminology is still evolving) will fall to parity with slaughtered meat in six or seven years.

It’s moving fast. Just the day before The Chicken opened in Israel, an American company called Eat Just got regulatory approval to sell its cultured ‘chicken bites’, produced in a 1,200-litre bioreactor, in a restaurant in Singapore. And back in Israel Aleph Farms unveiled its first lab-grown beef steaks last month. (They prefer the term ‘biofarmed’)

Aleph’s innovation is cultured beef that actually comes with the shape and texture of traditional steak. (All the players pass the taste test, because they are all working with real beef cells.) The process is designed for large-scale production, they’ve patented it six ways from Sunday, and they’ll do a pilot launch at the end of 2022.

This is going to happen. All the promising start-ups are attracting major investment from food giants like Cargill (Aleph’s godfather). We are at the start of a high-speed global transition, at least for the mass market, from born-fed-and-slaughtered beef, pork and chicken to ‘cultivated’ versions of the same meat.

How fast? Think 10-15 years, It needs to happen fast because meat and dairy production alone account for almost 15% of greenhouse gas emissions. Vegetarianism and veganism alone will not solve the problem because they still depend on growing crops on the land, and also because people are very conservative about diet.

This is how to save the Amazon, where the forest is being cut down to grow the soy that will feed the world’s cattle. In fact, this is how to take half the world’s cropland out of production.

Rewild that land and we solve about six problems at once. We even give ourselves a chance of cutting emissions fast enough to avoid driving global average temperature above +2°C and unleashing hell on Earth.

All we have to do then is to figure out what a billion or so farm families will do for income instead. That’s tomorrow’s problem.

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Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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