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VISION FOR THE FUTURE: CONSUMERISM OR FRUGALITY?

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The future of Sri Lanka, at least for the next six years, will be determined by 'Mahinda Chintana- Vision for the future.' In the next few years, it says 'we will face two major economic challenges. One will be to ensure that the growing economic prosperity and the benefits of recent developments will filter down to all our people; secondly, we wish to lay the foundation for long-term sustainable development.' This gives an indication that growing economic prosperity has not yet filtered down to our people, and the foundation for long-term sustainable development is not yet laid in Sri Lanka; both of which are absolutely correct. The key elements for development highlighted in the 'Vision for the future' are 'Pancha Bala Kendras' (Five Power Centres). It is stated that Sri Lanka will be developed as Naval, Aviation, Commercial, Energy and Knowledge hubs serving as a key link between the East and West. It says this will be done using Sri Lanka's strategic geographical location effectively. At a glance this seems to be true. The fossil fuel based human civilization that exists at present is primarily based on mobility and consumerism. Accordingly, four of the five Bala kendras (except the knowledge hub) mentioned above have an advantage. However, the strategy would have produced positive results only if it were implemented 4-5 decades ago.

In the present context however the concept of development has changed drastically. As an example, another wake-up call for the UK economy was given last week by the Second report of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security (ITPOES). It stated that during the next five years the world will face another crunch - the oil crunch.  As the world reaches maximum oil extraction rates, the era of cheap oil is gone. We must plan for a world in which oil prices are likely to be both higher and more volatile and where oil price shocks have the potential to destabilize economic, political and social activity. Virtually every sector of the economy is still dependent on oil.

The energy sector is facing major challenges over the next decade with the need to “green” the energy mix and maintain security of supply while simultaneously minimizing cost to customers. The key facts mentioned in the ITPOES report were: the industry is not discovering more giant fossil fuel fields at a sufficient rate; there are concerns about the levels of reserves quoted by the OPEC countries (which are critical to the confidence levels associated with future production capacity); there are indications that underinvestment in the oil industry over the past decade has led to infrastructure and under-skilling problems that will make it particularly difficult to increase production capacity rapidly in the short-term; the net flow rate data shows that increases in extraction will be slowing down in 2011-13 and dropping thereafter. Given the long lead-times involved in developing the necessary infrastructure, this trend is unlikely to be reversed within the next five years.

The report concludes with a clear message to the incoming UK government that, although the immediate slow-down in the global economy has removed short-term pressures on oil consumption, future government policies must explicitly recognize the potential for oil prices on the world markets that are significantly higher than historic averages as soon as global economic activity revives. The possibility of significant price volatility, with high peaks and possible supply disruptions are high. In Sri Lanka it is advisable for us to revisit our Pancha Bala Kendra concept against this emerging context.

The gravity of the challenges faced by the modern world can be explained by another new development that occurred last week in America when President Obama's administration called for a new generation of nuclear power plants.

During his presidential campaign, Barak Obama said he would support nuclear power with caveats. He was concerned about how to deal with radioactive waste and how much federal money was needed to support construction costs. He pledged to close Yucca Mountain, the planned multibillion-dollar burial ground in the Nevada desert for high-level radioactive waste. President Obama had a reason to arrive at such a conclusion.

After the growth of nuclear power in the 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission anticipated that more than 1,000 reactors would be operating in the United States by 2000. But by the end of the 1970s, it became clear that nuclear power would not grow so dramatically. Several US nuclear power plants closed well before their design lifetimes. Of the 253 nuclear power reactors originally ordered in the United States from 1953 to 2008, 48 percent were cancelled, 11 percent were prematurely shut down, 14 percent experienced at least a one-year-or-more outage, and 27 percent are operating without having a year-plus outage. Thus, only about one fourth of those ordered, or about half of those completed, are still operating and have proved relatively reliable. The 104 nuclear reactors in operation in 31 states provide only 20 percent of the nation's electricity. There have been no new licenses issued to nuclear plants in the America since 1979 when a major accident at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania shifted public and politician support for the industry.

President Obama however had to revise his programme last week. He's now calling for a new generation of nuclear power plants. Why he is changing his stance on nuclear power suddenly? Barack Obama is endorsing nuclear energy like never before, for the purpose of winning over Republicans and moderate Democrats on 'climate and energy legislation'. The House passed a climate and energy bill in June that would limit emissions of heat-trapping gases for the first time. However, the legislation led to a Republican revolt in the Senate, where the recent election of Republican Scott Brown from Massachusetts has made the measure even more of a long shot. On the other hand he had to work hard in Copenhagen, last December, to postpone the legally binding international treaty to limit green house gas emissions until he gets the approval of the Senate. President Obama is well aware of the climate catastrophe threat. However, he is not in a position to lead USA on this matter as the Americans are addicted to consumerism fuelled by fossil fuel. The Change he promised – yes, he can-not do it.

To back the climate and energy bill, he is expected to seek $54 billion in additional loan guarantees for nuclear power in his 2011 budget.  The move will pave the way for the construction of the first nuclear power plants in America in more than three decades. Several analyses of the climate bills passed by the House and under consideration in the Senate suggest that the U.S. will have to build many more nuclear plants in order to meet the 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 called for in the legislation. One of those studies, by the Environmental Protection Agency, assumed 180 new reactors would come on line by 2050. The plan is tantamount to jumping out of the frying pan and into fire. Nuclear energy is not an option for the sustainable development but President Obama is short on options. America is not in a position to lead the world into the post fossil fuel era.

The most important and probably the only 'Bala Kendra' out of the five mentioned in the 'vision for the future' statement that is valid for the new era is the knowledge hub. In ancient times, as the 'vision for the future' states, 'our Buddhist monasteries were seats of learning that spread the teaching of the Buddha to the rest of Asia. Many aesthetic subjects that originated in these monastic centres of learning greatly contributed to the knowledge foundation of the world.' This time, Sri Lanka needs to revive this knowledge hub to teach the world the concept of frugality- the Buddha’s teaching, as the only way out of the global ecological crisis: A spiritual revolution is needed for the survival of life on this planet. ‘

'Vision for the future' statement quite rightly says that the 'comforts, convenience and satisfactory life styles' is the priority and it is a plan to create 'a country with Housing, Electricity, Water and Telecommunication Services for every citizen'.  Most of us can agree on this approach which concentrates on the basics. Having a plan to ensure basic services is a must; beyond that point it is satisfaction that matters most. Sri Lanka acting as the knowledge hub can function as the key spiritual link between the East and West for promoting the concept of frugality. In addition it is necessary to recognize strategic geographical location related new strengths for the sustainable development of Sri Lanka.

~ dailymirror.lk ~ by Asoka Abeygunawardana

 

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