Recently, the NGage Goodvocacy and the Environmental Foundation Limited hosted their very first ‘Festival for Our Planet’ at the Good Market as an environmental awareness event to coincide with the worldwide youth climate strike that took place on March 15. The aim of the festival was to educate and mobilise enthused citizens about climate and environmental justice.
The first worldwide youth climate strike saw children and teenagers from 125 countries taking to the streets to demand that world leaders declare a climate emergency and take immediate action to halt the effects of climate change today, to give them a future for tomorrow.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate we have only 10-12 years before the earth’s temperature rises to more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Anything above that is essentially plotting the course for human extinction due to serious weather events, food and water scarcity, illness and loss of habitat.
In Global Climate Risk Index 2019 - a report that considers countries most affected by climate change either through death, sickness, loss of home and/or income, Sri Lanka came in second. Every year, millions of people are affected by floods and unless changes are made, it’s only going to get worse.
On the day, twelve speakers ranging from high profile consultants, environmental activists, UN Sustainable Development Goal advocates, and motivational speakers covered topics ranging from global warming and climate change to action to halt environmental degradation through pollution of oceans, water and air, protecting our forests, advocating sustainable consumption and switching from fossil fuels to renewables, and driving other climate-smart initiatives.
Dr. Ravi Fernando, Founder and CEO of Strategic Corporate Sustainability spoke on the topic of ‘Water, Forests and Sustainability’. Fernando was straight to the point. “If we keep warming up the planet, we are all going to end up drowning from rising sea levels. If the planet crosses the 2 degrees from its current temperatures, we are talking of a 20-foot sea level rise. That’s what happened when we had the tsunami; the difference now is that the 20-foot sea level rise isn’t going to go back”.
One of the biggest causes of global warming? The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and diesel. Fernando mentioned that Sri Lanka has plans for another 12 coal power plants, going against the worldwide action with countries such as Germany planning to close all their coal power plants by 2024.
He believes that Sri Lanka needs to completely exit fossil fuels and encourage green energy such as solar power, and electric or hybrid vehicles. This echoes what the youth around the world also demanded from their Governments during the climate strike, a complete stop on the burning of any fossil fuels and for energy to come from only renewable sources.
Forest cover and development
Another main point Fernando underscored couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time with the current debate on the clearing of both Wilpattu National Park and Sinharaja Rainforest. “There is one natural resource which you and I cannot live without and that’s water”.
“You can be sure if we keep deforesting, we will not have the water needed to exist. Currently, the average forest cover in countries around the world is 60%, Sri Lanka has only 16%.”
“Sri Lanka has 25 districts and 22 districts are experiencing drought. If we don’t protect our forest cover, we will run out of water. Politicians tell us that we need to cut down the forest to create a new free trade zones to create jobs, but we don’t need to do that. We need to seriously understand that development can be achieved without deforestation. Look at Singapore for example, they grew as a population and increased their forest cover at the same time - they developed in a sustainable way”.
“Water is the most precious resource on the planet and we need to understand that global water security will become the flashpoint for global conflict in the coming years. Already Pakistan, China and India are fighting over water resources coming from the Himalayas. In the Nile, Ethiopia and Uganda are fighting for water” he concluded.
Kithsiri Wijesundera, former Strategic Planning Director and General Manager of (NGage) Strategic Alliance spoke on the topic of ‘Sustainable Production and Consumption’ which looks at how people produce and consume goods such as food, water and energy.
Sri Lanka currently runs along the linear economy model which essentially highlights the concept of take, use, throw. What we need to move towards is a circular economy, where materials can be constantly reused and recycled, therefore reducing the need to deplete natural resources to make new products. Wijesundera doesn’t believe that waste management can be solved with dumping in landfills.
The answer, Wijesundera says, is for designers to look at designing products that after being used by consumers, they can be reused or recycled (at the very least, the raw materials should be extracted and used as secondary materials).
Wijesundera advised “Sri Lanka has been slow to change its mindset with regards to waste, most waste is not just garbage, it’s a valuable resource that can be used to make secondary products”. 70% of plastics can be recycled.
He suggested it should be compulsory for companies to show consumers what sustainable products are, where they have been sourced from and the best way to dispose of that product. One of the largest barriers to waste disposal in Sri Lanka is consumers not knowing how to dispose of it properly.
Apart from household goods, one area that people don’t usually consider in terms of sustainable consumption and waste is food. Wijesundera advised that in Sri Lanka there is an estimated 1.5 billion tonnes of food waste throw out annually, which is devastating when you realise that two Million people in Sri Lanka are hungry or undernourished. Most would agree that no-one should be throwing out food while there are hungry people in the country. At the other end of the spectrum, an additional two billion people are overweight, which leads to a huge strain on the medical system. On top of the health effects caused by too little or too much food is that agriculture, as well as the deforestation to grow it and the waste it produces, contributes to a huge amount of greenhouses gases. “Agriculture is also the biggest use of water worldwide and humans are using fresh water faster than nature is replenishing it” he warned.
It’s easy to get disillusioned when the problem is so great, with many speakers reiterating that people don’t have to wait for their political leaders to take action, the individual has the power to make changes. Founder of Global Unites, Prashan de Visser in his talk on activism, explained that they have started educating kids all around the country, many of whom have already experienced negative effects of climate change. De Visser hopes that with these talks, they would become voices of change in their schools and communities.
“Working on the environment is an amazingly rallying call to bring everyone together. If the planet fails, it doesn’t care about your religion, your ethnicity and your social statues. We are all going to struggle; we are all going to have to face the consequences. There are extremists trying to cause problems between Sinhala and Muslim communities, but what they don’t realise is that we need to stop fighting about what’s different about us, and instead, start working together to build this country to protect our environment. We may be ordinary individuals, but we can do extraordinary things”.
He finished his talk with the inspiring words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. If you are interested in hearing what the rest of the experts had to say, head over to NGage Goodvocacy’s Facebook page.
"School students in Europe participate in the Youth Climate Strike on March 15".
In addition to the varied talks on the educative speaker platform, Al Gore’s famous documentary, An Inconvenient Truth was shown on the giant screen. The kids ‘plays hop’ encouraged children to get creative with art and express their ideas about the environment.
The art installation by Dillai Joseph and Charith De Silva that featured Sanni masks were creatively refashioned to highlight environmental destruction. “Our over-indulgence in plastics, mindless deforestation, overcrowding by endless construction in cities, overuse of pesticides, improper waste management and an increasingly large carbon footprint per person are the demons possessing us today” said the creators.
In addition, an exhibit of twenty creative posters conceptualised by NGage’s content curators and design team, was on show and is also available as a travelling exhibit for schools and any organisation that wants to educate its audiences and stakeholders with narrations in English, Sinhala and Tamil.
The evening concluded with a concert featuring rock artiste Chitral Somapala, majored on ‘songs for the planet’ including ‘Wilpattuwe’ co-written with NGage’s Creative Director Chinthana Dharmadasa and included other performers like Nirmali & Harsha Markalanda and Thilan Wijesinghe.