The construction industry should be guided by the capacity to supply renewable energy
The need for feasible environmental friendly approaches for development projects and policy planning has been felt as vital elements, especially in the facet of addressing issues related to natural disasters including garbage management in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, preserving the biodiversity of ecosystems has today become quite a challenge as illegal constructions including development projects lacking a proper EIA report are currently on the rise. It is within this context that Chairman at Rainforest Rescue International and Systems Ecologist Dr. Ranil Senanayake elucidated Daily Mirror on how best to address the challenges of climate change and related phenomenons and on how to minimize the risks of natural disasters. Adding more essence to the subject, he spoke on the concept of Analog Forestry, the need to promote cleaner and greener energy while stressing on the need to adhere to proper environmental standards when focusing on development projects. Excerpts of the interview are given below.
- The impact of possible, toxic marine sediment into the lungs of the citizens of Colombo is not considered
- The laws are there, it is the unwillingness to execute the law that has created this apathy to defend
- the country
- There are also credible reports that the Chinese are dredging outside the nominated areas
- The port city is a glaring example of the government acting against the well being of its
- own citizens
- All of the packing material winds up as garbage. The packing industry must take a proactive stand.
- If Colombo is to be a Green City, it must recognize the Kelani Watershed as being its major source of ecosystem services
- We adhere to Buddhist principles, doing the total opposite at home
- A city can gain through a proper planting design
- In many parts of the world temperatures are rising well above the danger line. This is a central reason why we have to contribute to maintaining the global temperature below a 1.5-degree rise.
- Get ready for extreme episodic events from heat to drought to flood. Begin working with international climate modellers to develop predictive models for our area.
How do mega development projects in Sri Lanka have an impact on natural disasters?
Mega or Mini, the first thing is to understand what ‘development’ means. It is a word that should denote progress and social growth, but has been perverted to mean an increase of individual greed and economic growth. A few politicians such as Jose Mujica the Ex president of Paraguay, or religious leaders like His Holiness the Pope have tried to enlighten their people on this perversion, but most so-called ‘leaders’ choose the easy path to individual power and fortune by joining the ‘Economic Development’ bandwagon without a second thought of future cost. The mini-development that led to illegal logging, sand mining, rock blasting, and wetland filling that we have witnessed during the last decade or more, has brought the consequences that we are experiencing as ‘natural disasters’ today. If mega development merely means activities that stimulate individual greed aimed at obtaining economic growth in a bigger and larger manner, we should certainly expect greater natural disasters as a consequence.
If mega development merely means activities that stimulate individual greed aimed at obtaining economic growth in a bigger and larger manner, we should certainly expect greater natural disasters as a consequence
In your opinion, is it true that the recent flood situation was further intensified as a result of the poor drainage system in the country and due to the construction of illegal buildings blocking waterways?
That is a fact, it is not only unplanned construction that blocks the waterways, the increase in impervious surfaces (area where the rainfall cannot soak into the ground) creates increased outflows that are constricted by the small drainage channels, creating local flooding. The small plastic debris aggravates this situation by rapidly choking drainage systems.
It has been reported time and again, that illegal constructions are on the rise along riverbanks and most of these constructions are taking place without a proper Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) being conducted. What are your views on this?
There is an ordinance that sets out the river reservations, but because of official inaction or political aggression such reservations have mostly been cleared and even passed into individual ownership. If the government begins its development planning on a watershed basis and has clear and common sense plans on how we intend to develop each, then all river reservations can be marked and developed, so that the impact of extreme climate events can be mitigated.
The laws are there, it is the unwillingness to execute the law and the impunity with which the lawmakers treat the law that has created this apathy to defend the country.
The Port City Project has come under much criticism by environmentalist for the damage it could cause to the environment. Environmentalists have already pointed out that coastal erosion, damage to coral reefs and changes in sea wave patterns have happened as a result of soil excavation. In the long term, how would this affect the country’s urban geography including that of coastal areas?
The first consideration for the proposed port city is that all activities fly in the face of the Sri Lankan Law. The Initial EIA (phase 1) dealt only with the filling up of the sea in front of Colombo. The legality of this action should be considered, especially as there is no study of the affect of this action on the city of Colombo, beggars’ belief. By dragging the red herring of fisheries before the public, the impact of possible, toxic marine sediment into the lungs of the citizens of Colombo is not considered. If the sand transport models presented to demonstrate the innocuous nature of sand mining claimed by the EIA are proven wrong, who will be financially responsible? The massive fracturing of the overburden on rock cliffs as a consequence of the blasting required for the rock material, has not even been addressed. It will be good to examine how many rock quarries were in the vicinity of the areas that experienced earth slips.
There are also credible reports that the Chinese are dredging outside the nominated areas. There seems to be no Sri Lankan Government Institution interested in checking their work or following up on public complaints.
Further, any construction on the reclaimed land needs a Phase 2 EIA. If any construction or selling of future constructed space is made before the Phase 2 EIA is approved, it is a clear violation of Sri Lankan law. No one has seen such a report and if work is progressing without a phase 2 EIA, then the Attorney General should take note.
A real tragedy of the Port city mess is that it is the Sri Lankan Government that has agreed to get the clearances on behalf of the foreign investor. If the government is acting in the interest of the investors who is acting in the interests of the citizens of Sri Lanka?
The port city is a glaring example of the government acting against the well being of their own citizens. If this fiasco of ignoring the well being of the citizens of this nation continues for the financial benefit of some multinational, it can only be interpreted as traitorous and we should watch those individuals who are pushing the project secretly, with no transparency or accountability.
Garbage management in Sri Lanka is still very rudimentary. The public has not been sensitized as to their responsibilities and dumping has become a business.
In your view, how unregulated is garbage management in Sri Lanka? Also, in a scale of 0 - 10, where would you place Sri Lanka in it’s efforts to maintain effective garbage management?
Garbage management in Sri Lanka is still very rudimentary. The public has not been sensitized as to their responsibilities and dumping has become a business. While it is obvious that we have to invest in a better-organized garbage collection and disposal system, we should also consider the composition of garbage. There is a rapid increase in non-degradable packaging materials due to the tendency of packing consumer goods in smaller and smaller packs in order to increase sales volumes. All of the packing material winds up as garbage. The packing industry must take a proactive stand. At a scale of 1-10, I would suggest that we are around 5. We have the infrastructure, but not the political will to educate our public and begin a rational program of waste management.
Can you explain the concept of Analog Forestry?
The idea of Analog Forestry began when the massive destruction of our forests by mono cultures of Tea, Rubber and Coconut became evident. There was no talk of restoration, only replacement through the planting of even - aged mono cultures by the Forest Department. This was a bad idea, as in the plantations the need to address both the structure and the functions of the original forest was forgotten, even the biodiversity. Forestry was to follow the western model blindly. The western model is clearly stated by the pioneers of the US Forest Service:
‘The first and foremost purpose of a forest growth is to supply us with wood material; it is the substance of the trees itself, not their fruit, their beauty, their shade, their shelter, that constitutes the primary object,’ (Fenrow the Head of US Forest Service 1920).
Since international funding was tied to this description of a forest, the bureaucrats followed the money, looking at forests as things only to produce wood; forgetting what we knew as the forest from the Buddha who stated , “The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demand for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; asking nothing in return, it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axeman who would destroy it” - Gautama Buddha (460 BCE)
As a Systems Ecologist the words of the Buddha confirmed my personal experience of a forest in Sri Lanka. Even the aged mono cultures of Pinus and Eucalyptus were imbeded in timber plantations, as much a forest as a Rubber plantation is. But they sucked up all the funds that were earmarked for re-forestation. It was clear that we needed an approach different from timber production and extraction to restore forests. So I set about designing a system that was analogous (similar) to the original forest in architectural structure and ecological functions, but comprised of economically valuable species that would encourage the farmer to care for the planted stock. It also addressed our native biodiversity as a critical design feature; it is a system that strives to maintain a high Biodiversity to Biomass (B: B) ratio and provides for a very high level of Ecosystem Services. More information about analog forestry can be obtained from www.analogforestry.org .
Can the concept of Analog Forestry and Green City go hand in hand in the context of Sri Lanka and if so, how effective would it be in addressing the issues of climate change both locally and in a global scale?
Indeed it can. A Green City must be identified within the watershed it is in. The City should accept responsibility to provide clean water, clean air and clean food to its inhabitants. This can be done easily if the city recognizes the ecosystem services by the rural component of that watershed and move to protect and enhance those services. In terms of climate change and temperature rise, the fact that a large tree provides a cooling factor equivalent to eight room sized air conditioners working eight hours a day, gives us the benefits that a city can gain through a proper planting design.
Many cities the worlds over are beginning to feel the drop in oxygen concentration in the air. Cities like Mexico City, Delhi and Beijing often have days when the oxygen concentration drops below 16 percent. At 15-19 percent a person has impaired thinking and attention, reduced coordination, decreased ability for strenuous work; below this heart disease becomes manifest. If we allow the huge unplanned barriers built by the port city, can we expect the oxygen concentration in the city to be affected ? Has such critical environmental impacts, been studied and reported on ? If Colombo is to be a Green City, it must recognize the Kelani Watershed as being its major source of ecosystem services and move to sustain it and it must recognize that the clean, oxygen rich sea air it currently enjoys, must be sustained by its green element.
Despite being a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, Sri Lanka continues the use of coal, which has a direct impact on climate change. Do you think that Sri Lanka can contribute in maintaining the global temperature below a 1.5 degree rise under such conditions? Also, can you elaborate on the importance of maintaining global temperature below 1.5 degrees?
Temperature is a very critical thing for all living things, as we are kept alive by enzymatic reactions and as enzymes have critical thresholds beyond which they cannot function, high temperatures lead to ‘Heat death’. In addition to the direct impact that we are seeing, with heat related deaths in Pakistan and India; there is also the fact that food production will diminish with rising temperatures, as the temperature threshold for chlorophyll (the green in the leaves) is 39 degrees; beyond this, productivity will be impacted as the chlorophyll ceases to be effective. In many parts of the world temperatures are rising well above the danger line. This is a central reason why we have to contribute to maintaining the global temperature below a 1.5-degree rise. The tragedy of Sri Lanka is that while the President makes a policy statement on international stages, the fossil fuel lobby is busy working with some complaint bureaucrats insisting on a share of fossil fuel (coal, oil or gas) in the national energy futures scenario. Such greedy thoughtless action by the nexus of corrupt bureaucrat - businessmen-politicians (BBP) will endanger generations. When the whole world is moving to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels, we seem to be the exception, by wanting to increase our dependency on fossil fuel to sustain this ‘development’.
We have become a nation of international hypocrites. We preach about our concern for the environment, our concern for public health and our adherence to Buddhist principles, on all possible international stages, while doing the total opposite at home. Our ecosystems are in tatters and we crow about sustainability; our biodiversity restricted to tiny patches in a sea of mono cultures and we shout about the wonderful biodiversity Sri Lanka possesses, our seas are so polluted that a simple cut can get infected in many locations and we talk about having clean, unspoilt beaches.
How can renewable energy cater to maintain a cleaner and greener environment in Sri Lanka?
By ensuring the development of technologies that do not need fossil generated energy and by creating a production capacity to market the technology. Look at the value added to products that promote a cleaner and greener environment. Ensure that growth predictions consider the need to have a renewable energy input consideration in all development projects. Building massive edifices without considering the drain on the national energy production system, forces (or encourages) the bureaucrats to project a huge energy demand scenario and frighten us into accepting fossil energy. The construction industry should be guided by the capacity to supply renewable energy; in that way we could have a more sustainable form of development. If we work to realize the value of Ecosystem Services (ES) in our GNP accounting, not only can we rise out of debt, but it will also move us rapidly into a greener environment in Sri Lanka.
Overall, what message would you like to convey to the local authorities and the public on how they should help mitigate the risks of natural disasters, both locally and in a global scale?
Appreciate and understand the nature of the lands around you. Understand your situation on the landscape. If in a flood prone area, plan for floods. In earth slip areas plan good drainage. Protect your local watershed. At a global scale we should be serious about the pledge that the President made at CoP 21. Fossil fuel as an energy source should be discouraged. Place a lower priority on mindless consumerism. Get ready for extreme episodic events from heat to drought to flood. Begin working with international climate modellers to develop predictive models for our area. Develop Protocols so that one can respond to oncoming extreme episodic events. Know your neighbours and know some basic responses to disaster situations in your area. In events of disaster it is always the individual citizen who is first to respond. The Government must be prepared, but the first response is always the private citizen, the Government should strive to build up this capacity.