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Upali Wijewardene brilliant man and generous friend

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Cambridge days

by A. C. Visvalingam

Some time in late 1955 or early 1956, I was planning to abandon a course in Agricultural Engineering that I was following at the University of Tokyo in order to return to Sri Lanka with a view to starting a scientifically-run farm when I was called upon to act as an interpreter for the well-known personality Mr. Ray Wijewardene, whom I had then just met for the first time. He was appalled at my decision to give up my studies and, on his return to the island, had made a special trip to Kandy to see my father in order to persuade him that there was only one place in the world that I should be going to – and that was Peterhouse, the oldest college in the University of Cambridge, his alma mater.

My father, who was unaware at the time that an earlier operation he had had for stomach cancer had failed to halt its growth, was persuaded – and, in turn, convinced me -to apply to Peterhouse. It was about this time that Mr Wijewardene told me that two of his younger first cousins – Ranjit Wijewardene and Upali Wijewardene – would also be entering Cambridge at the same time.

For his part, Upali had obtained admission to Queen’s College and it was one or two days more before I met him. That is, Ranjit had arranged to meet Upali and a few others at an Indian restaurant and I, too, was invited to joint the crowd. Even before I saw Upali, I happened to hear his voice from a little distance and was rather put off because he spoke with a strong public school accent – which many Sri Lankans still frown upon as an affectation. It was not long before I learnt that Upali had, in fact been studying for two years at Bedales, an exclusive private school in England, and that his accent was nothing unusual in the circumstances. Later on, after he returned to Sri Lanka, he lost almost all trace of this accent.

Even at that stage of his academic career, Upali gave one the impression that he had great ambitions and had no doubt about his ability to fulfill them.

Within a month of my entering the university my father wrote what was to be his last letter to me to say that the doctors had diagnosed extensive cancer and that he had been given only a few months more to live. He counselled me not to give up my studies and not to return to Sri Lanka for his funeral rites.

As my father had been a very powerful personality and had had a profound influence on the formation of my character, the prospect of his death completely put me off my studies and I became greatly dejected. It was in this context that Upali, though a few years younger than myself, showed his maturity by persistently exhorting me to look at things less emotionally and more objectively. He, almost literally dragged me out of the depths of my depression.

Cambridge University was, at all times, a hive of intense activity with students immersing themselves in their studies, in sports, in the work of the numerous associations, societies, clubs and unions, in heated intellectual discussions, in innumerable extra-curricular activities, patties, dances and so on.

Most of the Sri Lankans did not involve themselves much in these activities – other than their studies, in the discussions and in sports to some extent. In any event, when it came to parties, dances and river picnics, there was no chance for a Sri Lankan to get a local girl as a partner because the British men in and around Cambridge far outnumbered the available British girls. This shortfall was met by the substantial number of other European girls who were in Cambridge to study English. For some obscure reason, these girls felt a greater rapport with Asians than they did with Britishers.

Now the interesting thing is that, whereas these continentals did spare the rest of us an occasional glance, there were two Sri Lankans whom they just swooned over at the mere sight. One of them was Upali, who was quite slim then. His height and sharp angular features, which Europeans hold in such high regard, made him a real winner. Upali’s close friends felt that Providence had been most unfair in distributing its largesse of unevenly! In fact, there was more than one attractive girl who would have gladly given up her fiance back at home if Upali had only dust given the requisite signal!

One of these girls, I remember, had been the object of the attention of a large number of foreign undergraduates. However, she was, for all practical purposes only, interested in horses and the beauties of nature. While the others who were very keen to get to know her gave-up their efforts after a time, it was not long before Upali was seen going horse-riding! He, like Sir Oliver Goonetilleke before him, had found quite early in life that the way to make a person take an interest in you is first to take an ardent interest in the things which are of importance to that person. Although he looked upon getting her attention as a challenge which he could not ignore, he did not allow the friendship to develop so far as to cause her any pain of mind when they eventually went their separate ways.

It was in December 1958 that Upali, Ranjit and three other contemporaries, including myself went on a motor car trip to Spain via France. It was a hair raising trip as we had to drive through unbelievably thick fog on the way from Cambridge, to Dover, and on the most slippery ice; through the precipitous Pyrenees, without benefit of tyre chains. Some details of this trip, have already appeared in these pages before; so I shall only mention a few things which got left out the last time.

Upali’s generosity continued unabated even though I had refused to work for him.

I had agreed to go on this trip reluctantly because my allowance was strictly limited Ranjit and Upali were determined that I should not return to Sn Lanka without having seen something of the Continent. So they kept on at me until I agreed and, hence, had to bear part of the expenses which I myself should have properly borne. Luckily, they had access to rich relatives in the UK!

It was in Spain that i came to realise, to my great annoyance that Upali’s idea of a holiday was to go to sleep as late as possible every night and to get up only in time for lunch the next day! My hopes of looking at some of the cultural treasures of Spain were totally blasted. As he was the most pleasantly persuasive guy, when it came to getting his own way the rest of us just accepted the routine set by him.

In Torremolinos, too, the great attractiveness of Upali to European girls became manifest. The four others were green with envy to see a red rose appearing every afternoon by his bedside when we used to return after our breakfast-lunch. The rose was, as we realised all too soon, an expression of the admiration which the two pretty maids felt for him!

Back at Cambridge, Upali had come to make the acquaintance of a mixed couple an English wrestler and his black West Indian club singer cum entertainer wife.

One day, the wife turned up alone to see him in his rooms during the period he had set aside for his studies, clearly indicating that she had a more than a passing interest in him. With some difficulty, he managed to get her to leave and had just got back to his work when there was a heavy banging on the door.

It was the wrestler! Upali’s knees nearly gave way when the Englishmen told him that, when he found his wife missing, he had thought that she must have come to see Upali. He succeeded in convincing the powerfully-built man that there must be some other explanation for her absence from his side and the matter happily ended there.

Upali obtained an Upper Second Class in his first examinations. He was encouraged by this but was determined to do better in his Finals. All of us were hopeful that he would achieve a good result because he was very disciplined in the matter of the time which he spent on his studies.

For example, he would agree to meet us only during certain specified hours which were outside the hours he had reserved for his academic labours. Nevertheless, something did not go quite work out and he was greatly disappointed when he got only a Lower Second Class Honours degree in Economics – a subject in which he later shone in the practical world of business.

Our ways parted in mid-1959 after our degree examinations. I stayed on in England and then went on to Ghana but kept in touch with Ranjit and Upali who had both returned to Sri Lanka.

By 1970,1 felt that I had studied long enough and acquired sufficient experience overseas in the fields of civil engineering which were of relevance to river basin development to be able to make a positive contribution here and, therefore, decided to return home.

When I wrote to Upali in this connection and asked for his advice on whom I should write to, he, instead, offered me a job in his then young organisation as his Managing Director I remember that he sent me his projections for the expected growth of his business – which, if I recall correctly, was to reach a turnover of Rs. 100,000,000 by 1976 or a little thereafter.

However, I did not find any difficulty in convincing him that I should stick to my chosen path and that, in any event, I would be a rather difficult-to-control employee. I may mention that lie did, by various innovative strategies, achieve the targets he had set for himself despite the highly adverse economic policies being enforced at the time.

He found that my efforts to obtain a post – any post at all – in the engineering field here was being met with blunt resistance by the local engineering establishment. When he found that I was not making any progress, he took it upon himself to speak to the Minister concerned but even the latter could not help me against the might of the technical bureaucracy. Eventually, thanks to some information which was passed on to me by Dr. Lal Jayawardena, I found myself working at Embilipitiya at the River Valleys Development Board.

Upali’s generosity continued unabated even though I had refused to work for him. The ground floor visitor’s room in his castle-like home was put at my disposal whenever I had to be in Colombo on duty, irrespective of whether he was in Sri Lanka or not. When he was in the Island, long hours were spent discussing the Mahaweli Development Project, the Walawe Project, water management, road construction, business, economics, politics, the share market and important personalities in Sri Lanka.

His comprehension of engineering principles was astonishing. Months after I had explained some engineering matter to him, he would refer to it accurately in some other related engineering context with an understanding which I would normally expect only of engineer.

It may surprise the reader to learn that Upali did not have much experience of the workings of the stock market until I told him one day that I had managed to complete my PhD at the University of London largely with the help of money that I had made on the UK stock market by investing my savings from my Ghana days. He questioned the exhaustively on whatever I knew but it was not very long before he had gone into the intricacies of the subject to a professional depth to which I had no aspirations.

He once explained to me the secret of business growth. It was, he said, the legal avoidance of the payment of tax to the maximum extent possible. He was solidly in agreement with the view expressed by certain economists that any tax in excess of 15% provides a strong incentive to finding all possible means to avoid payment – and is, therefore, largely self-defeating. It causes businessmen and the senior people in their organisations to divert an excessive proportion of their time from productive efforts to tax minimisation.

I recollect asking him who were the Sri Lankan men whose business acumen he respected. At the risk of embarrassing those of them who are still alive, I can recall, inter alia, that he mentioned the names of Senator Sarath Wijesinghe (his uncle), N. S. O. Mendis, Mark Bostock and D. P. D. M. de Silva.

He had a phenomenal memory for names and connections. He could tell the relationships between almost any of the important people whose names cropped up in our discussions.

His comprehension of engineering principles was astonishing.

On one occasion, I happened to be in Colombo on the day Dr. N. M. Perera was presenting his Budget for the following year. His speech, or excerpts of it, were being broadcast and both of us were listening carefully While I had no idea what Dr. Perera was going on about half the time, Upali kept up a constant stream of instantaneous comments on how a smart businessman would exploit the very proposals which Dr. Perera was putting forward to tie them down hand and foot. This ability to think on his feet. as it were, and to react extremely rapidly to adverse developments was the principal hallmark of his business personality.

His office desk was always clear of papers. That is, any papers which were brought to him were dealt with immediately and the appropriate directions given to the person bringing the papers, up to him. To my knowledge, he never studied any office document by himself.

Because of the pace at which he made decisions, he had a great deal of spare time which lie spent talking to his friends and business contacts either at home, in his office or on the telephone. His telephone calls often exceeded one hour in length -sometimes even overseas calls.

In retrospect, one of the more remarkable qualities of Upali Wijewardene was his ability to get the most out of relatively unpromising managerial material. He was not impressed by degrees, wide experience or other considerations. With his ability to analyse problems and arrive at answers with lightning rapidity the qualities he looked for most in his employees were the ability to carry out orders, loyalty and a willingness to work at all hours of the day or night as the situation demanded. Given these qualities in those who worked for him, he was able slowly but surely, to get them to take on more and more responsibilities to the point where several of them became capable of managing large enterprises on their own. This, he was able to do with many employees who would not have passed through even the preliminary tests of a management consultancy organisation.

His office and factory layouts were planned by him personally and were, in my view, extremely efficiently and neatly laid out. The late Mr. Lawrence Tudawe was just given a free hand sketch or two, with a few overall dimensions, and told to get on with the job.

His tastes in furniture and fittings reflected the greatest simplicity of line and good proportion.

As for his cars, he had then maintained beautifully.

At a certain point in time, he got tired of merely making money and decided to use his business strength to introduce a little excitement into his life – needless to say, with no adverse impact on the growth of his business. He chose horse-racing because it was the sport of kings. In particular, it was the sport of his late maternal uncle, for whom he had an enormous admiration. Apart from the sheer thrill of winning, I have no doubt that one of the considerations which would have been uppermost in his mind would have been the high profile image it would provide in dealing with top businessmen in other countries.

Upali did not talk about the few business failures I believe lie had because he probably felt that that would reduce his authority in dealing with people, not excluding his friends.

When the UNP came into power in 1977 and Upali became the Director-General of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission, he twice asked me to join the organisation to look after the engineering side. I declined on the grounds that I had had enough of working for the government, i.e. considering my experiences at Walawe.

There was, however, a problem for the young GCEC to find counterparts to deal with the foreign experts who were being sent to help it to set up the Investment Promotion Zone at Katunayake and to plan improvements to the associated infrastructure. Upali, therefore, got certain members of the Commission to persuade me to work, at least as a consultant, with the foreign experts, who happened to be from the Shannon Free Trade Zone in Ireland.

I hardly met him at all, either privately or officially, during the period I did work for the GCEC because of the pressure on all of us to get things organized quickly. It was towards the close of my association with the GCEC that the engineer from Shannon and I met Upali to discuss a technical -report of ours. It took Upali only a few seconds of explanation by us to grasp the essence of the problem and give his decision. The speed of his comprehension greatly surprised the Irishman.

After Upali started taking an interest in entering politics, I found that I did not feel like making the same effort to meet him as I had done hitherto. This was because his new goals led him to tolerate around him a great number of sycophants whom he would normally not have allowed within a mile’s radius.

Only once did I advise him in this connection -and that was to warn him, after ‘The Island’ started attacking certain political figures – that it was a very unwise thing to do and that he should try to “mend fences” with his targets as quickly as possible. After all, I argued, people who have been in the hurly-burly of politics could not be expected to take kindly to a relative newcomer upstaging them. Unfortunately, those giving the opposite advice were more numerous and spent more time around him. Thus, my advice came to naught. The rest is history.

No man is without fault but Upali had many more pluses going for him than minuses. May his journey through Sansara be brief!

The one thing that I never could have foreseen was the immense hold lie had developed on ordinary Sri Lankans by the tremendous strides he was making in the business world, particularly outside Sri Lanka. The man in the street felt proud that one of their countrymen could go out into the wide world and make a success of himself with such panache. It was his disappearance – and the suddenness of it – that created the situation where all of us became aware of his charisma.



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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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