by Kumar David
Well no, that’s not true, the energy price and supply crunch is not global; North America and Russia are for the time being riding fine. It’s Europe, especially the UK and Germany, East Asia, China and India that are suffering bellyache. It is a conjunction of worldwide trends plus decisions in particular countries or regions that have triggered the crunch, but there are global trends at work as well. Supply side or supply chain hiccups will be reflected in shortages and high prices but this time there is a coincidence of more factors than the Covid pandemic to be blamed. It is not easy to depict the whole picture in a single essay but let me push some ideas in this column as world leaders gather for the COPE26 summit in Glasgow at the end of the month. Let’s get started by repeating a few facts that readers are familiar with.
Oil at this moment is over $80 a barrel and pointing upwards; the Dutch gas spot-market, the standard in Europe, is ten-times higher now than it was in the middle of 2020. Germany and Northern Europe are faced with severe gas and electricity bottlenecks; petrol shortages in the UK have led to mile long queues and inversely short tempers. There are short, medium and underlying longer term complications. The immediate problem in Northern Europe is that not enough Russian gas is reaching it through the existing pipeline and the EU has still to certify the recently completed Nord Stream-2 pipeline from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. A further complication is that European buyers contracted for natural gas on long-term contracts which obligation Russia is dutifully fulfilling, but Europe’s additional needs will have to be bought at spot-prices on spot-markets. There is no obligation for Russia to supply additional amounts at any but prevailing market prices; selling gas is not a charity. This bottle neck will span the winter and how much further no one knows because the winds are metaphorically becalmed and post-covid recovery has no use-by date attached to it.
In the graph I have reproduced from the Institute of Energy Economics, JKM is the Japan-Korea Marker, Dutch TTV is a European spot-market and Henry Hub is a giant gas selling point in the USA. The huge difference between the first two (over $20 per MMBtu) and the last (less than $5 per MMBtu) is liquefaction and transport costs. It is not possible to foresee where future prices will go but it is certain that price volatility will dominate markets. What blithering bad luck just when we are toying with LNG fired electricity! Unfortunately for Sri Lanka at this time when the country is setting off down the unavoidable LNG road, prices are all over the place. Nevertheless gas is the least dirty of the fossil fuel options. It is imperative that the CEB and the CPC train staff for their future buying departments because market complexities are challenging and the LNG road is unescapable. (MM on the graph’s y-axis means million).
The medium-term outlook for energy supply and prices is clouded by the worldwide decarbonisation drive. Germany and the UK for example, decommissioned or mothballed coal-fired plant. They were in no rush to build gas-fired generation as there was a headlong rush for renewables, mainly wind-power. But the wind bloweth as it listeth, or to be more prosaic, wind generated electricity can change by large amounts at short intervals. Large unexpected changes in electricity output in Germany caused power-swings throughout the Northern European grid and destabilised the whole system. The European love affair with wind-power has fizzled but investment in conventional (carbon emitting) power-plant has been long neglected. Germany and the UK are now caught by the short and curlies. France, annoyed with the UK about a fishing dispute, has threatened to punch the UK well below the belt at a place where it hurts and that is slicing off virile electricity supplies.
India allowed its coal stocks to run down and is now a victim of power shortages. The electricity supply sector is influenced by green-lobbies (bless them) and so India dutifully switched on large scale to solar and renewables and went slow on gas-fired plant construction and mothballed coal-fired projects. This is a general remark as I am not in a position to name the actual power stations concerned. China is different; electricity supply is Central or Provincial state owned and subject to direction. Instructions were issued to cut-back coal power and now many provinces are suffering power shortages. Some industries are cutting back activity and the icy cold hand of winter beckons the northern parts of the country.
The long-term challenge is that the world must learn how to interface decarbonisation, the turn to renewables and futuristic alternatives within the big energy picture. Soon after you read these lines world leaders will be scratching their heads about how to achieve zero-carbon targets and hold global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees C of pre-industrialisation levels. Will they manage or will we all be cooked in this earthly pressure cooker? I say they will fail and I am supported by the International Energy Agency which said on October 13 that the world will fall short of its 2050 energy reduction target by 60%! Let me explain why I am a pessimist. If it was only about fuel for electricity generation then technology can do it with some hiccups as we are well on the way; by about 2050 the world will get fossil-fuel fired electricity generation down to acceptable levels.
But the point is fossil fired electricity generation is not the biggest problem; it is industry, transport and all the rest that modern life involves. Eighty percent of global gross energy use at this time is from fossil-fuel. The big carbon polluting industries are steel, cement, plastics and fertiliser. Supply chains today are long, stretch overseas and are opaque; inputs manufactured in country X enter final products of country Z, so it is difficult to pinpoint the sources and distribution of carbon. About 70% of carbon releases are concealed in the supply chain and in most countries electricity generation is not guilty of more than a fifth to a tenth of atmospheric carbon releases.
The more intractable problem in the capitalist world is that big business, all round, will howl in protest if hard emission control targets are enforced by governments. “What will be the effect on productivity, on profit margins and on business models if strict carbon accountability is forced on our activities?” big business will holler. Capitalism and strict enforcement of emission goals is incompatible. China, one of the worst polluters, is able to make headway because party edicts run; but America has no Federal Laws enforcing decarbonisation nor a carbon tax. Europe is stricter thanks to its social democratic traditions. But this makes competition between capitalists of different continents “unfair”. A global carbon tax is going to be hard to get agreement on.
The interruptibility – within-minutes and medium-time probabilistic (stochastic) characteristics of wind and solar power are affecting power system operations to an extent not originally foreseen. This is a complication over and above the unavailability of land and renewable resources for electricity on an adequate scale. Now when the shortage problem has become acute globally the neglect of even moderate investment in coal, oil and gas – fossil fuel fired plant in general – in recent decades is taking its toll. Investors have been reluctant to plough money into what appeared to be a dying industry. The pre-green-era abundance of fossil-powered electricity paradoxically sounded the death knell of coal. Even the current predicament of shortage is not attracting private investment in fossil-fired plant because it takes decades to recoup big investments and who knows which deadly Covid variant is mutating in someone’s genes awaiting a chance to send the global economy tumbling again. The tocsin beckoning the death of king-coal has sounded loud and clear so why invest, they say. Such are the conflicts that beset electricity supply in most parts of the world. There is no solution, only survival strategies.
Coal and oil energy as sources for electricity production are past tense nouns and wind in its present avatar is an unreliable bastard. The cost of solar-panels however is falling like the centre of gravity of a drunken sailor. But solar power’s favours are as fickle as a lady’s affection unless supplemented big time by storage technologies; pumped storage where you pump water uphill to a reservoir for future use, battery storage and hydrogen production. As solar-panel prices nosedive locations with large dessert landmasses are in luck. Next on the horizon is hydrogen which right now is a wearisome teenager – hard to compress or liquefy, it is combustible and flatulent. But like a teenager who grows up it will have its uses, first for heavy trucks and storage of stochastic green energy as hydrogen production, storage and transport will become cheaper than pumped-storage and batteries. Conventional (fission) nuclear is still a no-go option because of waste disposal. The Eldorado of an energy addicted world of course is fusion which has been, coming, coming, coming for so long. But when this frigid companion reaches commercial scale, perhaps later this century, it will be energy-for-free, or nearly so except capital outlays. The even better option is to halve the world’s population within two generations but the scope of that discourse lies beyond the remit of this essay.
In summary the global energy availability and pricing picture is grim in the short-term but less daunting in a ten to fifteen year perspective. The longer term looks good, but don’t forget the aphorisms of John Maynard Keynes who was rather obsessed with death.
Rising farce of Family Power
Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.
He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.
He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.
“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,
“If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again. If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.
“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”
Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength. In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.
It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.
While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.
Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law? Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?
What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,
The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.
The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance. There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser – from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?
The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to
use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.
A tribute to vajira
By Uditha Devapriya
The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.
A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.
In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.
One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.
Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.
In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.
In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.
Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.
Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.
Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.
At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”
If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.
Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.
These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.
Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.
As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.
As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.
Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.
That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s all about France in Kandy !
This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.
A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.
All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.
Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.
Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.
To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.
Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar
comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives
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