Our partner speaks: Sri Lanka beyond 2035

Written by Eranda Ginige, founder of Social Enterprise Lanka.

Where are we heading? What’s going to happen to us in the next five years, ten years, twenty years…? It feels like we all just keep jumping from one news story to another, barely surviving each day. Can we please stop the political madness happening in this country and start seriously planning for the future? Because right now we are dangerously unprepared for the forces that are radically reshaping everything, I mean everything. We need to start making decisions for ourselves. We must do breakthrough changes to our own systems so that we might just survive the real problems of the 21st century. Here are three scenarios based on global and national trends.

1. Becoming energy self-sufficient

The top priority for most countries today is to become ‘energy self-sufficient’. While we, a country that has zero fossil fuels are building more coal power plants, the smaller and smarter nations are already powering their cities with 100% renewable energy. As the rich and powerful nations like India and China suck on the shrinking global supply of fossil fuel, weaker buyers like us will have to pay a higher price. Sometime between now and 2040 a petrol (and diesel) litre will be too expensive for the majority of Sri Lankans, they will have to give up their automobiles, three-wheels, tractors and Dimo battas (naturally reducing road traffic). By the time Sri Lanka starts to profit from the highways after paying back the Chinese, they will have become obsolete cost-centres. As the transportation system breaks down, the industries including the critical agriculture sector will suffer. Food prices will rise. Millions of people will move closer to the cities creating ghost villages and new suburban slums. Months-long power cuts will be normal.

Our top priority for the next five years MUST be to become energy self-sufficient. There needs to be a holistic national strategy to achieve this target both on-grid and off-grid, and it has to be done locally. Every village will have to have either wind or solar farms whichever is more suitable for the location. The next big factories in Sri Lanka will be manufacturing not Volkswagens or GSP+ clothes, but renewable energy products. New norms and standards of domestic and industrial energy usage will have to be taught at schools and universities. Instead of building roads, we have to start building more railway tracks that will run trains on renewable energy. Roads will have to be replaced by railway tracks and will have wider lanes for bicycles than cars. By 2035, human-powered rickshaws will be a common mode of transportation in Colombo. What good is a megapolis with electric cars if they are all powered by unsustainable coal power plants?

2. Securing our water borders

As the big nations become less and less dependent on fossil fuel, they will start to fight for a far more precious resource. By 2035 water will be the most valuable global commodity. At the current rate, the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035 drying up Asia’s biggest rivers including the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Yellow. India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh will be the new Middle Eastern ‘warzones’. India will become our biggest threat as they become the world’s largest population by around 2022 and start demanding for our water. It is no surprise that India is keen on building a physical bridge between India and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka now needs to prepare for the global water wars. We don’t have oil, but we do have underground water. It can either be our salvation or doom. If we are not ready with the laws and regulations, and management systems to protect and manage our water resources, we will become the next African blood-fields where multinationals with military force loot our water. If we are still importing oil and coal by then, we will have to payback with our one life-line – water. The next priority for the government MUST be to draft and strictly enforce a comprehensive, future-proof National Water Act before 2020. All underground water tables will have to be surveyed and owned by the government. Water extraction and bottling industries will have to be highly regulated. New norms and standards of water usage will have to be taught in schools and universities. The big industries for investment will be desalinization, waste water treatment, rain water harvesting and water-neutral buildings. New farming practices combining ancient-traditional techniques and modern technology will have to be implemented to conserve the water usage in agriculture.

3. Managing the food crisis

As the world’s biggest air polluters fail to achieve the atmospheric greenhouse gas targets, we will cross the point-of-no-return sometime before 2030 (the northern hemisphere came dangerously close to that target last month already).

The USA, the UK and Germany who all will have become energy self-sufficient by then will force and call for economic sanctions against weaker countries like us to stop burning fossil fuels. Even if Russia and China want to give us some of their oil, we will not be able to use any of that due to global pressure. As the land starts to sink and the remaining forests burn out, with worsening extreme weather conditions and without water the world will face a severe food shortage, and in many parts acute famine.

The third priority for Sri Lanka MUST be to rebuild our agriculture sector. I know it’s hard to imagine that with ministers who tell our farmers to find better paying vocations. But I hope even they will realise that we have much bigger problems in our hands to solve at least for the sake of our children. We need to start a national programme to become self-sufficient on food. As our farmers are in the verge of extinction owing to the Chronic Kidney Disease and attrition due to lack of support, we will have to find smarter ways to cultivate large fields with energy and water efficient techniques. Idling school yards, backyards, balconies, rooftops will have to be fined for not contributing to the food production. Organic food will have to be the new norm. As the sea level rise, the fish industry will sink; as the temperatures rise, the animals will die killing the farm-based industries. We now need to start taxing these unsustainable industries heavily before they disappear.

 

It is perfectly clear that most (not all) of our political and business leaders are either ignorant or unable to reconcile with these global and national trends. That’s why ministers get more upset by isolated acts of security guards over national disasters like deforestation. You can’t blame them because they belong to the Generation X (Donald Trump’s Generation) who were taught to believe that there are endless amounts of natural resources and endless amounts of labour; and that their action and inaction has no impact on the environment and the society. I would be very happy to be proven wrong on these. But even if you think that climate change, energy crisis, water crisis are all just silly conspiracy theories, the above proposals are still relevant for the betterment of Sri Lanka. There is no harm in us becoming energy self-sufficient, protecting and managing our water resources and becoming self-sufficient in food.

But to do these systemic changes we need bold and empathetic leaders who are willing to listen and change their dogmas. We need energetic, fast-acting, long-term planners. We need intelligent-doers in the front given the power to take action. We need business people who can seriously put the planet and its people, before profit. There are plenty of such people. And I invite them all to take action now. Because if not us, then who? If not now, then when?

If you have breakthrough ideas for systemic change, or want to contribute and take action in the above areas and more, you can contact the author at eranda.ginige@socialenterprise.lk

Do you agree with these scenarios and priorities? What other problems should we focus on? Share your views on the comments.

Originally posted on Linked In.

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