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The Right to Life – Right to Breathe Clean Air: Burning Coal and Photosynthesis – a reply



I wish GADS would have stuck with his hesitation, without displaying his ignorance of basic chemistry and the global gas cycles in defence of his precious fossil fuels. Let me elucidate:

Carbon (C), the fourth most abundant element in the Universe, after hydrogen (H), helium (He), and oxygen (O), is the building block of life. It’s the basic element that anchors all organic substances, from fossil fuels to DNA. On Earth, carbon cycles through the land, ocean, atmosphere, and the Earth’s interior in a major biogeochemical cycle (the circulation of chemical components through the biosphere from or to the lithosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere).

The global carbon cycle can be divided into two categories: the geological/ancient, which operates over large time scales (millions of years), and the biological/modern, which operates at shorter time scales (days to thousands of years).

The Global Carbon Stock

The Global Carbon Stock began billions of years ago, as planetesimals (small bodies that formed from the solar nebula) and carbon-containing meteorites bombarded our planet’s surface, steadily increasing the planet’s Carbon content. Today such increments to the planet’s Carbon stock have ceased, but the stock has become more compartmentalised.

Since those times, carbonic acid (a weak acid derived from the reaction between atmospheric carbon dioxide [CO2] and water) has slowly but continuously combined with calcium and magnesium in the Earth’s crust, to form insoluble carbonates (carbon-containing chemical compounds) through a process called weathering. Then, through the process of erosion, the carbonates are washed into the ocean and eventually settle to the bottom. The cycle continues as these materials are drawn into Earth’s mantle by subduction (a process in which one lithospheric plate descends beneath another, often as a result of folding or faulting of the mantle) at the edges of continental plates. The carbon is then returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide during volcanic eruptions.

The balance between weathering, subduction, and volcanism controls atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over time periods of hundreds of millions of years. The oldest geologic sediments suggest that, before life evolved, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide may have been one-hundred times that of the present, providing a very different atmosphere and substantial greenhouse effect.

Fossil Carbon

The operation of life has been clearly demonstrated to change the chemistry of that atmosphere to what it is today. One of the most active agents of this change were oceanic plankton, photosynthetic microscopic phytoplankton that produce prodigious quantities of oxygen and biomass over time. Oxygen is released to the atmosphere and the biomass is consumed by respiring zooplankton (microscopic marine animals) within a matter of days or weeks. Only small amounts of residual carbon from these plankton settle out to the ocean bottom at any given time, but over long periods of time this process represents a significant removal of Carbon from the atmosphere. This slow removal of Carbon from the primary atmosphere into the fossil reservoir, while at the same time creating an atmospheric reservoir of oxygen, had a major effect on the maintenance of biotic homeostasis.

A similar process was repeated on the land, especially at Devonian times with the huge vegetation mass that covered the earth absorbing Carbon Dioxide, and then being mineralised in the lithosphere into coal, effectively removing that volume of carbon from earth’s atmosphere. The Oxygen released by these early prodigious forests contributed greatly to the current chemistry of the atmosphere.

Through this process, still active today, Carbon that enters the Lithosphere is removed completely from the biological cycle and becomes mineralised into cycles with ages of 100’s of millions of years.

The modern carbon cycle

On land, the major exchange of carbon with the atmosphere results from photosynthesis and respiration. During the daytime in the growing season, leaves absorb sunlight and take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the oceans, the planktonic cycle operates a similar photosynthetic cycle. Both create biomass. In parallel, plants, animals and substrate microbes consume this carbon as organic matter and return carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. When conditions are too cold or too dry, photosynthesis and respiration cease along with the movement of carbon between the atmosphere and the land surface. The amounts of carbon that move from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, respiration, and back to the atmosphere are large, and produce oscillations in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Over the course of a year, these biological fluxes of carbon are over ten times greater than the amount of carbon introduced to the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning. However, the fluxing carbon was a part of the biosphere and the Carbon that flowed in the biosphere had a very significant chemical signature of carbon isotopes, the ratio of 13C to 12C. This fluxing of biotic carbon happens in cycles of a few days to thousands of years, but maintains the same isotope ratio. It also maintains a quantity of the rare unstable isotope 14C. All carbon that lacks 14C or has a lower 13C/12C ratio does not belong in the modern or biotic cycle.

Today, sequestration seems to have taken the meaning of the ‘act of sequestration’ more than the ‘product of sequestration’. Most models on carbon sequestration examine growing plantations as opposed to maintaining established forest stocks. The equation is simple and straightforward; the carbon that is tied up in the biological cycles of the planet has value as sequestered carbon. The time horizon that the carbon can be sequestered for, contributes to the value of this stock. So that while the carbon fixed by a Wheatfield has a value because it sequesters carbon, this value is low because it can only sequester it for a time horizon under one year. By contrast a forest or peat bog represents a carbon stock that has time horizons of hundreds or thousands of years and has much higher sequestering values. However, there is no biological process that can sequester carbon for periods exceeding 100 million years, except through fossilisation.

So. the bottom line is this: “Whatever is said, there is no scientifically valid technology by which fossil carbon can be locked up for millions of years using biological processes. The use of carbon dioxide in photosynthesis to justify burning coal is a cheat, as pointed out above.

Please stop defending fossil fuels,they are biospheric toxins and will poison the planet ruin our children’s future!


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Simple rituals replaced at Buddhist temple



The other day I had gone to our temple to do a Bodhipooja for my granddaughter who was ill. This is is an age-old Buddhist practice to invoke the blessings of the triple gem and pray to the gods for the speedy recovery of the sick.

As I was walking from the Vihare to the Buduge, I saw this fantastic sight of a handful of beautifully dressed women in silk, satin and lace walking into the temple. They were not carrying the usual malwatti of homepicked flowers but ornate arrangements straight from a florist.

I was taken aback. I had not seen such a sight before, certainly not in a temple. I paused to see what was happening and found they too were doing a Bodhipooja, whether for a sick relative or not I did not find out. But it was done in grand style.

In retrospect, I wonder, what has happened to the simplicity of Buddhist religious practices of going to temple in simple white clothes, carrying a malwatti to worship at the main shrines, lighting oil lamps and saying our prayers softly or in silence. It seems that at most Buddhist events, this simplicity has been replaced by unseemly ostentation.

Padmini Nanayakkara

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Apparently there has been a proposal that our country’s plans for future energy requirements, has, among its options, included nuclear generation also as an alternative to fossil fuels (coal and petroleum).In an open letter to the President0 as published in the The Island of Mar. 30 Emeritus Prof. Dharmadasa (Sheffield), has extensively cautioned against any precipitate action in pursuing the nuclear option for Sri Lanka. His is a voice to be heeded. He has, comprehensively supported his viewpoint. The basic points are:

It is a fallacy to regard nuclear as “green or renewable energy.”

The installation costs are beyond our means.Technically qualified and expert operators are required and we do not have them. Competence and discipline are imperative.

Nuclear accidents are difficult to handle. Corrective measure are urgent and costly. Large areas have to be abandoned after such accidents and remain so for decades (or even centuries or millennia) before they can be safe again. Major accidents have already occurred, Three Mile Island (USA), Sellafield (formerly Windscale) (UK), Chernobyl (USSR/Ukraine) and Fukushima (Japan). Damage to plants can be triggered by cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes and tsunamis.

In a telling remark, Professor Dharmadasa makes reference to the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a Ph.D in Physics,) decided to close down all 17 operational nuclear power plants in her country following the Fukushima accident.

Nuclear fuels are expensive and demand special safety protocols.Nuclear waste is difficult to dispose. If buried, they require heavy, concrete “Sarcophagi”. Even then, the land cannot be farmed or inhabited for a very long time.

Symptoms or illnesses (like cancer), show features suggestive of exposure to nuclear radiation.These are very valid reasons for older installations in rich countries to be abandoned as reliance on nuclear energy is no longer seen as an option; nor even long established facilities retained. No new installations would be considered by them.

India meanwhile, have operating nuclear power plants in the South (Kalpakkam and Kundalkulam). Hopefully, this would not cause problems for us. On the other hand, would they have surplus power which we could buy?.

In regard to the difficulty in handling a nuclear accident, we have an experience which may be indicative. In Seeduwa on the Negombo/Colombo Road was the Milco powdered milk factory. This caught fire sometime in the late seventies. The destruction was horrendous and he fire lasted for days.

Needing to pass this site, virtually daily, I could see it smoldering for weeks. There were many fire trucks standing by, apparently inactive. I was prompted to ask why they remained inactive and was given the shocking answer: “There is no water available for the fire hoses”.Tells us something about the suitability of nuclear plants for us, does it not?

Dr. U.Pethiyagoda.


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Winning hearts and minds of community



‘Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Community’
Author: Dr. Kingsley Wickremasuriya
Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police – (Retired)

Book Review
by Major-General (Retd) Lalin Fernando

This is an interesting memoir of a police officer who having served in the Volunteer force may have done equally well, in either the army or the police. He chose the police and was an exemplary if reserved senior. This is not an action-packed adventure book of daredevils or roller coaster recollections of the sharp end of police life but more about human relations with the public. Sadly and regrettably, he states that he was deprived of the highest command by the frailties of politicians. The choice of the politicians was a travesty, abnormal but not unusual. In this case, the chosen person, mentioned in the book had deserted the police years before and left the country when posted to Jaffna but had the audacity to claim political victimisation years later when the government changed. A silly claim, stupidly upheld. A chapter on political interference would not be out of place.

The book would have been much more interesting and relevant if it had recorded the terrible events of that time from the JVP terror and atrocities (1971 and 1988-9) to the murderous Eelam conflict.Here was a police officer whose mission appears to have been to build up public relations as practiced elsewhere in a terrorist setting as in Jaffna and later Batticaloa by setting up “Community Oriented Policing Programmes” to bring about law and order and harmony when relationships were under heavy strain.

This is pleasant, well-written, and easy to read. It shows in equal measure both the vicissitudes and skullduggery of the worst and best of humanity during his service in the police. It is an honest, moving, and personal insight into an eventful career with defining moments that affected the lives of many. It was a life of tackling not only lawbreakers but careerists among his own ilk while having to bear, not exceptionally, the burden of interference by power-mad, smooth-talking, corrupt politicians, their slights, and machinations. It finally ended his career prematurely.

It has fascinating tales that are humane, enlightening, and informative. It is a studious book by a prolific writer. It is a compelling story with a lively and not-too-subtle style of writing, with considerable research material included. It is close to real life, relaxing, entertaining and not too heavy. It should be made available in Sinhala and Tamil, not only in the Police Training School and Academy, police stations, zones, districts and divisions but in the reading lists of schools.

His was also an attempt as by many others to change the mentality of the police from a colonial to a national one. Colonial police would use firearms freely. National police should not. A Colony would use the army to buttress the police. A national army should only be used as a very last resort. The police are a country’s first line of defence. For this to be workable, SL’s police force should first be made independent of politicians by law as reasonably possible. A greater strength (presently nearly 75,000), higher pay, better equipment and facilities, imposing office buildings, good accommodation, improved communications, reliable transport including access to helicopters and high standards in recruitment are essential under knowledgeable leaders whose integrity is impregnable.

The book is also heartwarming, sad and at the end, maddening. It is opportune too as the author’s life work to keep the peace is falling to pieces thanks to the incorrigible, venal, mainly poorly educated and therefore easily misled and misleading, utterly corrupt and cowardly politicians the people have bred for their own selfish, cruel, greedy and bullying interests. They portray the police as aliens. The people must realise that the police reflect society and never the other way around. They will then accept their own faults, just as the police would wish to do whatever correct thinking people want them to do. If spectators rush onto the field of play to question the referee bringing the match to a halt, the police if in attendance do not arrest the referee. They disperse the mob.

It is only the police that prevented total anarchy in the country last year (2022) as those who promoted it well know. This book should be a clarion call to the police to lift themselves up by their jock straps. They, possibly one of the first (1866) if not finest police forces in the region have so far kept the country far safer than many others as even their worst critics must admit. This is despite carping criticism by those who are no better or worse than the police. There is no dearth of respected, tough-minded, well-disciplined, and fearless police officers as good leaders at all levels. They have proved themselves as fearless guardians of the law, especially when all others have failed. Thanks are due to the standards set by senior police officers, like the author and others he identifies in his book, who was affectionately known to older generations.

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