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Write on Friday, 14 October 2016

The Orientation event was held on September 24, 2016 at the CEPA premises. The event was attended by the twenty fellows, five members of the Expert Panel, Ms. Himali Jinadasa, Country Focal Point (UNESCO), Executive Director (CEPA), Resource persons, Coordinator of the project and members of the Communications Team.  The one-day orientation programme provided an opportunity for participants to understand the many dimensions of poverty and how they should use their reporting skills to investigate and document stories to the interest of the public. The programme was conducted in Sinhala language, including simultaneous translations from Sinhala to Tamil language.

Write on Friday, 14 October 2016

Original source - http://reliefweb.int/

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

Write on Thursday, 13 August 2015

 

Photo credits: independent.co.uk

 

By Nayana Godamunne

Over 60 million refugees exist in the world today, the highest number since the Second World War. As a pandemic of anti immigration raises its head at near xenophobic levels,  governments in many European states are taking measures to  stop the entry of  such people within the physical borders of their  territory,  raising the question; what do we do with these large numbers  of people fleeing violence, war, hunger and poverty?

Jason Buzi, the Isreali-born millionaire has proposed that a ‘Refugee Nation’ be created which would host the refugee population and thus solve the world’s refugee problem.  Buzi’s unorthodox solution has generated a mixed response.  However, in the background of the scale of the crisis and the declining willing of states to provide territory to refugees, Buzi’s proposition is provocative and his diagnosis of the scale of the problem and the need to galvanise a response is creative and innovative.

Buzi’s proposition

Buzi’s ‘radical solution’ he says, will provide a home for the world’s refugees by creating a new state – ‘Refugee Nation’. He believes that a new state can be created in which ‘any refugee, from anywhere in the world, can call home’. The new state can be created on: an uninhabited island (e.g. Indonesia, Philippines); within a large country with natural resources agreeing to carve off a sparsely inhabited area (e.g. Finland); or a sovereign, sparsely populated country allowing itself to be ‘taken over,’ with the approval of its population. Buzi, claims his idea ‘isn’t unattainable or crazy’, and that the new nation can be funded from billionaires and governments to house up to 60 million people.

Merits and de merits of the proposition

Buzi suggests that the new nation be established in a sparsely populated existing state, or on an unpopulated island.

In the event of former; what happens to the long standing population when a new nation is created? Historical precedents, such as the creation of Isreal and Liberia, evoke negative perceptions where the new nation was created on already occupied land - the fate of the Palestinian people when the Jews effectively colonised the lands with scant disregard for the settlers on the land. Similarly, the Liberian experience was oppressive for existing communities when the Americo-Liberians were sent by the American Colonisation Society. However, more  viable, though mixed experiences, of historical precedents can be used such as the Mandates established by the League of Nations following the First World War where territories  were mandated such as; Lebanon, Palestine, Ruanda-Urundi and Tanganyika in a situation comparable to the present crisis.

This leads us to the other option – creating a state in a hitherto uninhabited island. Whilst the idea is appealing and comes without much of the issues related with the previous option, it has its own challenges:  are we at risk of ghetorrising an already marignalised population? Are we absolving states from the international obligations they have signed up on? Which country is willing and able to provide such a territory?  Who will fund the investment required? There are also legitimate questions about leadership, democracy and freedom, given the diversity of the citizens many of whom originated from situations where overzealous beliefs have triggered unimaginable conflict and violence.

Diversity, diversity

What will the new state look like? It will be very colourful indeed given the diverse origins of the constituent population in terms of ethnicity, religion and culture. One argument is that this diversity will create conditions of conflict leading to further displacement and waves of refugees.  Whilst this is a possibility, it is less likely than conflict, xenophobia and violence which refugees would face within existing countries. Furthermore, historically there are examples of plural societies, made up of diverse populations such as those of the new world; the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  If we are to go by Buzi’s proposition that self selection is the basis for being a part of ‘Refugee Nation’, it can be assumed that refugees that choose to be citizens will want to start a new and peaceful living in the new land.

Moving forward

Whilst arguments against Buzi’s proposition are raised by those unconvinced by the proposed solution, growing anti immigration sentiments across much of the world, calls for creative and innovative ideas for dealing with the issue. It is in this context that Buzi’s proposition is bold and inspiring. It supports migrant agency by lending to the idea that refugees have the ability to reshape their future. In Syria for example refugee populations have  transformed their camps from sterile lines of military type tents set up by international agencies  into ones more conducive to community style living. These peoples have skills, talents and aspirations which can and ought to be realized. Besides, there are a significant number of skilled and professionally trained individuals; doctors, lawyers, scientists and thinkers penned up in the camps whose abilities and skills can be gainfully employed. As Buzi comments ‘why not, let them use their talents to build a new nation?”

One of the more attractive aspects of Buzi’s proposition is that he starts from the principle of full, active citizenship being granted from Day One. A country, as he states,  ‘where each citizen has the same legal rights to reside, work, pursue an education, raise a family, buy and sell property, or start a business – rights that most people have but may not cherish, a country where everyone is an equal citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or any other personal status.’

Given the scale of the refugee crisis, the growing resistance of host populations who have borne the brunt of insecurity, war and austerity, and the outcry by right wing populist parties in Western Europe against, the albeit, relatively small numbers that are hovering within or near their borders, there is a pressing need to move away from old ideas and modes of coping.  Whilst creating a ‘Refugee Nation’ might not be THE solution, we need to recognize the limits that NGOs and international agencies have been placed in and the limits to stretching the goodwill and the political limits of the generosity of neighbouring states (e.g. Lebanon. Jordan, Pakistan) who play host to the vast number of refugees who arrive at their borders on a daily basis. 

Buzi’s proposition is a response to the appeal for a new approach to deal with a dynamic human issue. ‘Refugee Nation’, is a new model, that can offer, citizenship, security, employment and a future for displaced populations who may not want to or can’t go back to their homes. Whilst the modalities of how the nation will be created and function will have to be worked out,   it begs the question; is it a viable alternative response to act to ameliorate a major moral obligation of our time?

The above article draws on content from interviews, articles and blogs posted by Jason Buzi,  Prof Alexander Betts and Prof Robin Cohen

Write on Thursday, 04 June 2015

Photo credit: indi.ca

ධනුක බණ්ඩාර

පසුගිය වසරේ වේදිකා ගතවූ නාට්‍ය අතරින් චමිල ප්‍රියංකගේ “මෙය තුවක්කුවක් නොවේ” නාට්‍යය සංකල්පීයමය වශයෙන් ඉහළ තැනක ඇත. වේදිකාව මැද මෙය තුවක්කුවක් නොවේ යැයි සඳහන් වූ විශාල තුවක්කුවකි. ප්‍රියංක මෙම තුවක්කුවක් නොවන තුවක්කුව, පසුගිය රෙජීමයේ අධ්‍කාරිවාදී ස්වභාවය, මර්දනය සහ මිලිටරිකරණය නිරූපණය කරනු පිණිස බලවත් රුපකයක් ලෙස භාවිත කරයි. මෙම නාට්‍යයේ රෙනේ මාගරිට් නමැති ප්‍රංශ අධි-තාත්විකවාදී චිත්‍ර ශිල්පියාගේ Treachery of Images යන චිත්‍රයේ අභාෂය දැකිය හැක.

මෙම නාට්‍යය මට තකහනියක් සිහියට නැගුණේ මීට මාස කීපයකට පෙර නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රයට ගිය විටදීය. මා පරණ පෙම්වතියක් සමග කොළඹ රස්තියාදු වෙමින් සිටියදී නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රයට පැමිනුණේ අහම්බයෙන්. සීගිරියේ ශෛලමය පොකුණු සිහි කරවන වතුර මල් වලින්ද, ලංකාවේ ප්‍රෞඩ අභිමානය ගම්‍ය වන ගෘහ නිර්මාණාත්මක ලක්ෂණ වලින්ද සැරසුණු නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය, Nike, Addidas යනාදී විව්ධාකර ආම්පන්නයෙන් සැරසී දුව පනිමින් සිටින මහත් ජන පිරිසකගෙන් පිරී තිබුණි. නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය සහ ඒ අවට පෙදෙසට පසුගිය රෙජීමයේ නගරාලන්කරණ වැඩපිලිවල  යටතේ වඩා ‘පොෂ්’ පෙනුමක් ලබා දෙනු ලැබීය.ඉන් අනතුරුව කොළඹ නගර වාසි ශ්‍රී ලංකිකයන්ට ශාරීරික යොග්‍යතාවය පිළිබඳව වෙනදාට  නොමැති උනන්දුවක් ඇති විය. මා සිතන හැටියට මෙය ඉතා යහපත් ප්‍රවණතාවයකි. KFC, Burgher King, Pizza Hut යනාදී තැන් වලින් හිතේ හැටියට කා බී, උදේ හවස කාර් එකෙන් වැඩට යන පොදු ශ්‍රී ලාංකික ජනතාවට, තම සිරුරේ වැඩිවූ තෙල් බස්සා ගැනීමට දැන් නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය කදිම තෝතැන්නකි.

මාත් මගේ පරණ පෙම්වතියත් නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍ර මඩුවට නැග්ගේ බිම හිඳගෙන අතීත අනුස්මරණය කරනු පිණිස සහ ඔහේ ගැවසීමටය. යන තැන බිම ඉඳ ගැනීම, පේරාදෙණිය සෙනට් මණ්ඩපයේ වාඩිවීමෙන් අප ලත් පුරුද්දකි.අපි බිම වාඩිවූ විගසම, නිල ඇඳුමෙන් සිටි රැකවලෙක් පැමිණ “මෙතන couples වලට ඉඳ ගන්න බැහැ” යැයි පවසා සිටියා. මම සාමාන්‍යයෙන් නිර්භය පුද්ගලයෙක් නොවන අතර බොහෝ විට ඇඟ බේරාගැනීම ප්‍රමුඛතාවයක් ලෙස සලකා කටයුතු කරමි.නමුත් රැකවලාගේ කෙසඟ සිරුර දුටු මාහට අසමාන්‍ය ධෛර්යයක් පහල විය. “අපි couple එකක් නෙවේ”, මම ඇත්තම කිවුව. තුෂ්නිම්භූත වූ රැකවලා අප දෙස බලා “මෙතන couples වලට වාඩිවෙන්න දෙන්නේ නැහැ, එලියට ගිහින් වාඩිවෙන්න” යැයි පැවසුවා. අනවශ්‍ය ප්‍රශ්න ඇතිකරගැනීමේ තේරුමක් නැති නිසා මම හුන් තැනින් නැගිට “මෙතන හිටගෙන ඉන්න පුලුවන්ද?” කියා ඇසුවා. “හිට ගෙන ඉන්ඩත් බැහැ” රැකවලා මෙසේ කිවුයේ කණගාටුවෙන් යැයි මට සිතුණි. ජීවිකාව පිණිස තම දේශපාලනික ස්වාමි වරුන්ගේ අණ පිළිගන්නා, රැකවලා සමඟ වාද කිරීමෙන් ඵලක් නැත.ඒ නිසා අපි දෙදෙනා, Independence මඩුවෙන් නික්මී, ඒ අසල ඇති, මා දන්නා හැටියට හමුදාව විසින් කළමනාකරණය කළ Walkers’ Café එකට ගොස් කා බී සතුටු වී ගෙවල් බලා ගියෙමු.

මෙය සිදුවුයේ, ජනවාරි මාසයේ ආණ්ඩු පෙරළියට ප්‍රථමවය.මම  ගිය සතියේද නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය බලා ගියෙමි. වාසනාවකට හෝ අවාසනාවකට මෙවරද මා සිටියේ, පෙම්වතියක් සමඟ නොව ඉතා කුළුපග මිතුරියක් සමඟය. යහපාලන ආණ්ඩුව යටතේ මහා විස්කම් සිදුවෙතියි බලාපොරොත්තුවූ අප දෙදෙනාම, Independence මඩුවට නැග්ගේ නිදහසේ ආගිය තොරතුරු කතා කිරීමටය. බිම වාඩිවූ සැනින්, ඈත සිටි රැකවලෙක්අපිව එළවා දැමීමට පැමිණුනා. පෙරදා රැකවලා මෙන් නොව, මොහු තර්ජනාත්මකය. එම නිසා අතීතයේ පෑ සිංහ ලීලා නොපා, මා මගේ මිතුරියත් සමඟ වහා එතනින් මාරු විය.මේ රචනාව මට කිරීමට සිතුනේ ඉන් අනතුරුවය.

Couples වලට නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය තහනම් ප්‍රදේශයක් වීම කණගාටුවට සහ හාස්‍යයට ද කරුණකි. විෂම ලිංගික යුවළකට නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය තහනම් නම් ‘දිනාගත් නිදහසෙන්’ ඇති ඵලය කුමක්ද? අනෙක් අතට මෙය සැබවින්ම විකාර සහගත තත්වයකි. මෙම තහනම යටතේ කිසිම ගැහැනියකට හෝ පිරිමියෙකුට නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රයට පැමිණීමට නොහැකිය. සහෝදරයෙකුට තම සොහොයුරිය සමගවත් නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍ර මණ්ඩපයේ ගැවසිය නොහැක. විවාපත් යුවළකටද එය එසේමය. මෙහි ඇති උත්ප්‍රාසයනම්, නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රයේ නිදහසේ සිටිය හැකි එකම පිරිස වන්නේ සමාජයේ අනෙකුත් තාඩන පීඩන මැද ජීවත් වන සමලිංගික ප්‍රජාවය! අපි 1948 අවුරුද්දේ නිදහස ලැබුවත් සුද්දන්ගෙන් දායාදවූ  ගතානුගතික වික්ටෝරියානු මනෝභාවයෙන් මිදී නොමැත.ආදරය, ලිංගිකත්වය සහ ස්ත්‍රී, පුරුෂ සම්බන්ධතා පිළිබඳව මෙතරම් පටු අදහස් අපට ඇත්තේ ඒ නිසාය. උදහරණයක් ලෙසට සමාජය සිතන්නේ ගැහැනුන්ට සහ පිරිමින්ට මිතුරන් විය නොහැක කියාය (Oscar Wilde නම් මේ සමඟ එකඟ වනු ඇත). මා මගේ මිතුරිය සමග නිදහස් මණ්ඩපයෙන් පන්නා දැමුවේ මේ නිසාය. තරමක් දුරකට ප්‍රචිනවාදී වුවත්, රෝබට් නොක්ස් ගේ “An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon” (සිංහල පරිවර්තනය, “එදා හෙළ දිව”) මහනුවර යුගයේ ලිංගිකත්වය  පිලිබඳ ආකල්ප ඉතා ලිහිල් බව පෙන්වා දේ. අප සමාජයේ අද ඇති ලිංගික පරිශුද්ධවාදය, අපගේ යටත්විජිත දායාදයේම කොටසකි.

මා ඉහත සඳහන් කළ පරිදි නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍ර මණ්ඩපයේ ගැවසිය හැකි එකම couples සමලිංගික couples වන්නේය.නමුත් මින් ශ්‍රී ලාංකික සමාජයේ සමලිංගිකත්වය පිලිබඳ ඉතා ප්‍රගතිශීලි අදහස් ඇති බවක් සැල නොවේ.එදිනෙදා ව්‍යවහාරයේ couples යන්නෙන් අදහස් වන්නේ විෂමලිංගික පෙම්වතුන් පමණි. ලිංගිකත්වය පිලිබඳ ශ්‍රී ලාංකික කතිකාවේ සමලිංගිකත්වයට තැනක් නැත. එයට සමලිංගිකත්වය සංකල්පගත කර ගැනීමටවත් නොහැකිය. එම නිසා නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රයට යන සමලිංගික couples වලට  පාඩුවේ සිටිය හැක. අධිපති කතිකාවට අනුව ඔවුන් couples නොවේ.

නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය ඉදිරිපිට දැවැන්ත කොඩි ගහකි. එහි මුදුනේ බෞද්ධ ධජයක් වේළුණු කොළඹ සුළගේ ලෙළදේ.නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රයේ කොඩි ගසේ බෞද්ධ කොඩියක් නංවා තැබීම විශ්මයට කරුණකි. ඒ නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය පන්සලක් නොව, ජාතික නිදහස සංකේතවත් වන ස්මාරකයක් වන බැවිනි.ලත් නිදහස හුදෙක්ම  බෞද්ධයන්ගේ උරුමයක් ලෙස සැලකීම, දහනමවන සහ විසිවන සියවසේ මුල් භාගයේ, නිදහස් අරගලය වෙනුවෙන් කැපවී වැඩ කළ බෞද්ධ නොවන,  ද්‍රවිඩ, බර්ගර් සහ මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයන්ට කරන ගුණමකු කමක්  පමණක් නොව, රටේ බෞද්ධ නොවන සියලු දෙනා ජාතික විඥානයෙන් නෙරපා හැරීමක් ද වේ. Couples වලට නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍ර මඩුව තහනම් වීම සහ බෞද්ධ කොඩිය අතර සහ සම්බන්ධයක් ඇත.අප සමාජයේ විපරිත වූ සුචරිත වාදයට ගුරු කරගෙන ඇත්තේ, ප්‍රෝතෙස්තන්ත්‍රකරණය වූ බුදු දහමය. ඒ කෙසේවෙතත් මා  දන්නා හැටියට නම් ලංකාවේ කිසිම පන්සලකට couples වලට පැමිණීමට බාධා නැත. එහෙත් නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය ඔවුන්ට තහනම් ය.

මගේද ඡන්දය හිමිවූ මෛත්‍රීපාල සිරිසේන ජනාධිපති ලෙස දිවුරුම් දුන්නේ නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රයේදීය.ඔහුගෙන් අප බලාපොරොත්තුවූ වෙනස යම්තාක් දුරකට හෝ සිදුවී ඇත. එය අප අගය කළ යුතුය.අද අපි ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍ර වාදය ගැන පෙර කවරදාකවත් නැතිතරම් කතාකරනේනෙමු. Couples වලට (පෙම්වතුන් සහ පෙම්වතුන් නොවන, සමලිංගික සහ සමලිංගික නොවන) නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රයේ ගැවසීමට ප්‍රජාතාන්ත්‍රික අයිතියක් ඇත. එම අයිතිය තහවුරු කිරිම යහපාලනයේම කොටසක් විය යුතුය. Couples නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍ර මඩුවේ සිටියා කියා සිදුවෙන අවැඩක් නැත.ඔවුන් එහි කෝලං කරණු ඇතැයි සිතිය නොහැක. ඒ සඳහා ඒ අසලම වගේ ඇති  විහාර මහාදේවී පෙම් උයන හැන්දෑවේ හය දක්වා අවසර දෙයි.

ඔබ නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍රය couples වලට තහනම් කලාපයක් වීමට විරුද්ධ නම් කළ හැකි එක් දෙයක් ඇත. ඔබට කළ හැක්කේ නිදහස් චතුරශ්‍ර මණ්ඩපයට couple එකක් ලෙස ගොස්, “අපි couple එකක් නොවේ” යැයි දැන්විම් පුවරුවක් ඔසවාගෙන සිටීමය.මෙය අපව පාගා ගෙන සිටින හෙජමොනික ව්‍යූහයන් විගඩමක් කිරීමට භාවිත කළ හැකි හොඳ උපක්‍රමයකි.  

Write on Monday, 01 June 2015

Originally Published in the Huffington Post

As Sri Lanka marks six years since the end of a bloody war, looking at the country's post-war political realities through art

By Prashanthi Jayasekara

The post-war Sri Lanka witnessed "an unraveling of a political carnival, I was inspired by this, and the extravagance that it attempted to project. This collection captures this 'extravagance'" says Sri Lankan artist Gayan Prageeth, whom I met at Colombo's Saskia Fernando Gallery on a rainy Wednesday afternoon to talk about his latest collection of paintings, 'Extravagance'. The very use of the term 'carnival' instantly drew me into this conversation and I wanted to know more. And so we began to talk about some sensitive political realities Sri Lanka has been grappling within the post-war era. This article is based on this conversation, and expands into my personal analysis of the artist's collection.

The term carnival reminded me of the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin's famous "Carnival and Carnivalesque", a critique of the medieval carnival. Unlike medieval carnivals, which were literally celebratory gatherings that took place in public squares, Sri Lanka's very own political carnival was not exactly a carnival in its literal sense, but invites a satirical interpretation. This political carnival exposits the celebration, glamour, extravagance perpetrated through political maneuvering - through practices, norms, development agendas, and more severely through the careful conditioning of the public mind.

Bakhtin wrote that medieval carnivals created alternative social spaces, characterized by freedom, equality and abundance. The inception of Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, with the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, was similarly a ritualised pageantry that made people believe in such deliverance. It was a brief escape from furrows [the war] and an enactment of utopian freedom and emancipation, with a defining feature of festivity and extravagance. Numerous victory songs played on the radio, flags raised in every street corner, and brilliant speeches made about democracy, accompanied by the taste of warm kiribath, and the celebratory burst of firecrackers were an indication of this festivity. These ideologically motivated festivities were followed by ambitious development projects. This political farce is not new to Sri Lanka, but a continuation or an evolution of an age old tradition.

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Floating Rock, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 244 x 122cm

Gayan Prageeth's Floating Rock--a painting of an enormous boulder floating in the water like a dried gourd--demystifies the magnitude of the political carnival, great expectations which were raised, promises delivered, and the monolithic political vision of the former regime. The very fact that this boulder is floating indicates that even though it shows strength from the outside, it is hollow inside. It pretends to be something that it is not; its appearance is misleading.

To me, this painting captures the political grotesqueness, the incompleteness and the disruption of expectations. The grotesqueness epitomizes the accumulation of state power, militarization, ad-saturated democratic process, rights abuses, and colossal development projects such as harbors, airports, highways, luxury shopping arcades which displaced thousands of people. These projects have left us--as a country--mired in debt amounting to billions of dollars.

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Diya-wanna?, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 122 x 145cm

The painting Diya-wanna? depicts the parliamentary building of Sri Lanka -- an architectural marvel which is Colombo's little showroom for democracy. Inside this architectural wonder are the representatives of the people - or so they are called - reducing this nationally significant building to a bear-pit as they sense blood, get to their feet or rock their chairs, shout, bray, laugh, stamp, point fingers at each other, and lose each other's voice in a bedlam. The flock of crows painted over the parliamentary building is symbolic of this.

To me, it also signifies the excessive powers wielded by hierarchical institutions such as the parliament and the high court [painting Court/Caught?] --a kind of power that seems proportionate against the greater 'evil of collapse' and things going out of control, in other terms people's revolt and critical consciousness. We have seen the erosion of justice and human rights owing to the atrocities of the State, military, and police. The mayhem that took place in Rathupaswala, where lives were claimed to silence the people who were demanding their basic right for clean drinking water is one such example; the autocratic impeachment of the chief justice is another.

In the two paintings, the colourful walls of boxes are an indication of how carefully this reality is being hidden from the public, through glossy media campaigns and charismatic speeches among other methods of maneuvering.

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Court/Caught?, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 94 x 145cm

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Climax, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 96.5 x 147.2cm

Gayan's paintings Climax, and What are you trying to hide? cleverly captures the surge of Sinhala Buddhist ethno-nationalism in post-war Sri Lanka and anti-Muslim hate campaigns gaining ground among the Sinhala population. In the recent past, we have witnessed campaigns against halal, attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses, spread of hate speech, intimidation and threats. The bloodshed that took place inAluthgama is one such example.

Sri Lanka, as a country, has a history of periodic nationalist mobilisations, essentially due to the country's ethnocratic democracy which is ruled by the Sinhala majority.

The painting Climax is a portrayal of a young male attempting to hide his nakedness behind a heavy bouquet of blue water lilies - the national flower of Sri Lanka - which could be interpreted as metaphoric of overbearing nationalism, and shameless attempts to hide everything that is ugly behind patriotism and nationalism.

Also, blue water lily is symbolic to the previous regime; we have seen its overuse in political campaigns, on the television, on billboards - larger than life - in every street corner.

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What are You Trying to Hide?, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 101.5 x 152.5cm

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What are You Trying to Hide? I, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 101.5 x 152.5cm

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The Primrose Path II, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 125.5 x 145.5cm

The outpouring of Sinhala Buddhist nationalist tropes central to gender identity and roles such as 'good Sri Lankan woman', 'ideal Sinhalese woman' and 'good Buddhist woman' has been gaining momentum within post-war Sri Lanka. This stems from a familial ideology that has extended its tentacles through the State, political and administrative institutions, and powerful extremist organizations.

"The woman provides a solid foundation to the family as well as to society. She devotes her life to raise children, manage the family budget and ensure peace in the family..." - as stated in the election manifesto of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which was also the formal policy framework of the previous government.

With the previous regime coming into power, there was a momentous repudiation of the reproductive rights within the country. The ethno-nationalist ideology on the role of the Sinhala Buddhist woman prefigures her as the biological reproducer of the nation. Extremist Buddhist groups have been vocal about the supposedly diminishing Sinhala race and the need of--for want of a better term--greater propagation of the Sinhala race.

As a response to this, we have witnessed the [previous] government shutting down abortion clinics across the country, including the institutions providing emergency menstrual regulation by certified medical professionals. In 2013, Ministry of Health sent a circular to all government hospitals and private institutions, and non-governmental organizations banning all irreversible birth control procedures. Also, some extremist groups were offering financial schemes to support Sinhala Buddhist families with five or more children.

Such attacks launched on gender identity and roles by the ethno-nationalist project have been accepted and internalized by some sections of the general public, in some cases by women themselves. The continuing rise of violence of all forms against women and the demeaning treatment of female identity are the results of such mainstreamed and institutionalized prejudice.

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Passion, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 122 x 145cm

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The Pond of Dreams?, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 145cm

Gayan's "Pond of Dreams" is my personal favorite out of the collection. It captures much of the reality of Colombo's colossal beautification blueprint. The pond or the fish tank in this painting belongs to a glossy new shopping arcade, built by the previous regime, with every nook, cranny and corner breathing luxury in the middle of the Colombo city, with manicured lawns, water fountains, and floors paved with cobblestones. A citizen who contributed to a previous essay that I wrote about Colombo's beautification described this as "a development placebo, an attempt to cover up many other serious issues in the country".

This is an attempt to hide the beaten, banged and mutilated under layers of a sprawling city, to conceal the quiet menace of poverty that stains the city's glistening skyline. This space epitomizes the linear, monolithic, and militarized vision for development, creating prisons of consumerism, obliterating all connections with broader and much more important development issues, while instigating control and social polarization.

As cleverly captured by Gayan, the man in the painting resembles a citizen of the country, mesmerized by such beautification, comes from far away to watch, to observe. But little does he know about the burden of such luxury, such extravagance and such festivity. Everything about such spaces has a price tag on it.

To me, this man also signifies the hundreds of thousands of people who had their homes demolished and were driven out of their lands, so that city malls, luxury hotels, apartment complexes, and highways could take over their share of the land. These are the shadow people, who live in the cracks of neoliberal institutions and trickledown gentrification, whose basic rights to a land are snatched away from them. These are the people who are not even remotely included in any of these colossal and glossy development projects, and probably do not even realize the burden on their tax money. If you look closely at the painting, you will notice that the man has his eyes closed and hands tied, indicating that neither can he see nor touch, nor sense this political grotesqueness, nor can he change the system that has crushed his agency.

***

Mikhail Bakhtin writes that the central ritualistic act of the carnival is the false coronation and deposition of the carnival king. In January 2015, we the Sri Lankans, deposed one king and crowned ourselves as the citizens of the country, with all the colourful festivity - seemingly a demolition of hierarchal barriers, and losing of privileges of the authoritarians and the dominant discourse. As Bakhtin puts, it is "the world standing on its head", the world upside down. During the medieval times it was the clown, fool or the slave who were coronated, only to be shamefully deposed later. Similarly, one can be skeptical, that it is only a matter of time, within this 'political carnival', we the citizens realize that this is only a make belief, a temporary coronation, with no realistic basis to it - yet again a disruption of expectations. One can only hope that it wouldn't be the case...

The author wishes to thank artist Gayan Prageeth for an insightful interview, and Shanika Perera at Saskia Fernando Gallery for her support.

The pictures were obtained with the permission of the artist.

Write on Friday, 08 May 2015

To celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of the Mews Street Evictions

By Mansi Kumarasiri, Prashanthi Jayasekara, Vijay Nagaraj

On the 8th May 2010, twenty houses on Mews Street, Slave Island that had been home to 33 families were demolished and rightfully so. If you still have a house it is likely that you missed all the action. But do not despair, you can catch the highlights right here—it’s just like the IPL, smash and grab:

Watch video: Mews Street demolitions

Following is an easy to grasp 10-Step multimedia guide that summarizes the best practices and valuable lessons that we learnt in the last five years while demolishing other people’s houses before they could say “yahapalanaya”.      

Step O:  Always use Singapore and Shanghai as models: It is the best way of saying that democracy never delivers world-class cities.

Step 1: Declare urban blight: Deny poor working class communities adequate services and label them ‘underserved settlements'.

Step 2: Now re-label them slums: You are also one step away from winning over the concerned middle classes and the elites including most of the judges, newspaper editors, civil servants and all those who are rightfully apprehensive of the threat slums pose to their otherwise untroubled existence and the beauty of the cityscape.  

Now it is time to start looking for well-meaning donors who can help. Those World Bank folk are really sweet and besides their money comes dolled up in ‘social and environmental safeguards’—but have no fear, it is just make-up.

Step 3: Also term them ‘illegal’: Keep telling them they have no rights until they believe it themselves. This also really helps move communities from being underserved to undeserving. Note: Courts love this one too, makes their job easier.

Step 4: Hide them in high-rises: Show them a world-class dream, give them hope; the promise of life in a condo—a refreshing change from squatting oriental style to shitting seated, western style.

Step 5: Use Might, but Cunningly: Have the police or better still the military at hand. A healthy dose of fear persuades people to sign applications claiming that they want new houses as they are living in terrible conditions and are willing to meet all terms and conditions, which are unspecified, naturally.

Resistance?

Step 6: Watch video on how to negotiate potential resistance.

Watch video: military officer negotiating with the community

If resistance continues, go to Step 9.

Step 7: Debt creates docility: The road to middleclass serenity in the Middle-Income Wonder of Asia is paved with equated monthly mortgage payments—so give them a new house but also make them pay but do offer the poor a choice, just so that you come out looking great: 20 years @ 3,960 or 30 years @ 2,650 works well.

Step 8: Disintegration breeds social cohesion: Mix’em up! Enhance coping capacities by a) not resettling communities together and b) ensuring neighbours or related families are not given houses next to each other.

Step 9: Forget about those you have forcibly moved. As for those who continue to clamour, like the Mews Street community, just ignore them: that should teach them and the rest.

Step 10: Set-up a Review Committee:  This one is optional but really helps deal with any bad press, pesky NGOs or more importantly a change in government. Never commit to anything more than a Committee.

 

Write on Monday, 20 April 2015

Allan Lavell [i], 2015 Laureate of the UN Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction, calls for a reimagining of the relationship between the disaster risk reduction community and those working on ‘development.’  

It is a well-known and often-stated fact, even if spurious and lacking in precision in its specification, that disasters impact development, particularly women, men and children least favoured by economic growth  policies. Academics, practitioners and civil society accept that disaster risk (and thus, disaster) may be explained by the workings of underlying root causes, expressed as risk drivers of the now dominant development paradigm. Disaster risk is now seen   in terms of its extensive and intensive manifestations and relations to chronic, quotidian risk, mostly captured in the workings of poverty.  Even though, conceptually and causally, the endogenous as opposed to exogenous interpretations of risk prevail, this has not translated into how society attempts to reduce or control future risk.

Dissonance exists between theory and practice. Endogeny is talked about, but because of path dependencies, status quo, political expediency and needs, and economic imperatives (capital, gain and wealth among others), it is exogeny, with its lower political and economic impact and significance, that is adhered to.  Thus, even while disasters are being increasingly explained by failed development practices, disaster response carries on using methods that see disasters as external impacts on current development and on those who should benefit from it.  We expect disaster risk management and climate change adaptation to render sustainable the very development model that is causing risk and disaster.    A complete contradiction in terms and logic, the result of which is that disaster risk has grown  far more quickly over the last 40  years of neoliberalism and globalisation than the achievements of the well-intentioned but ephemeral attempts to reduce it.  

So what is the technocratic way in which it has been suggested that DRM and CCA are used to increase sustainability and lower development losses?  The answer is through “mainstreaming” DRM and CCA into development practice and decisions, making risk analysis and decisions a part of development decision making at a sector, regional, city or local level. Specialists in DRM and CCA are called upon to introduce into the model of development elements that improve its performance or sustainability, even though unsustainability, risk and lack of adaptation are products of that very same model or its historical manifestations. The contradiction is obvious. In dealing with DRM and CCA as “sectors,” separate from, but supposedly complementary to, development planning and practice, we are exogenising risk and disaster as opposed to endogenising them. Instead of placing such concerns in the list of priority considerations for development, we are introducing them as complementary development reinforcing actions in models where risk is seen as gain for some and loss for others. Decades of environmental destruction through deforestation, mangrove cutting, city construction without concern for drainage etc, growing numbers of poor people (now 2 billion on US$2 dollars a day), selective processes of exclusion from development benefits and social networks, etc., have meant increasing numbers of people at risk. And even the advanced private sector seems to prefer short-term gain to long-term stability and locates itself more and more in hazard prone areas that have a large alternative resource base.

So can mainstreaming resolve this dilemma? Of course not, or not as it has been conceived to date in many places.  What we need is not mainstreaming of DRM or CCA or gender or environment into development practice, but for development practice and planning and policy to firmly include disaster and quotidian risk, gender inequality, environmental and service depletion etc in its DNA, as the ISDR Global  Assessment Report insists in its 2015 version. Such facets have to be the defining principles of development practice not add-ons from outside. How can we accept that development be defined in a way that increases the possibilities of dying or losing your livelihoods, being excluded from the benefits due to gender or environmental considerations etc?  The time has come to end the existence of a sector called DRM or CCA that attempts to sell their speciality to those in a development sector. The DRM and CCA sector needs to unemploy itself. Instead, development sectors and interests need to take up the DRM and CCA themes autonomously and according to their own collective and redefined dynamics and definitions of what development is and should be.


[i] Born in Britain but based in Latin America for much his life, Allan Lavell is a respected researcher and practitioner in disaster risk reduction. He was a founding member of the Network of Social Studies in the Prevention of Disasters in Latin America (LA RED) in 1992 and, through a long-term relationship with the Latin American Social Science Faculty (FLACSO), has achieved a position of influence within the region and beyond. His work in the field spans nearly three decades and is marked by multidisciplinary, multi-actor, holistic, participatory and comparative approaches.  He believes that his contribution to shaping the future has been achieved primarily through the development and dissemination of notions, ideas, concepts and empirical evidence gained from and through academic research and published in dozens of books, journals and websites.

Write on Monday, 09 March 2015

Is big business poised to capture the renewables revolution? Danny Chivers draws up the battle lines. 


The London Array, off Britain’s east coast, currently the world’s biggest offshore wind farm. Jointly owned by E-ON, DONG Energy, UAE-based Masdar and Canadian investment fund La Caisse. © London Array Limited 

In January this year, the energy researcher Jeremy Leggett made a bold claim. He told the Guardian newspaper that we should expect a major oil firm to turn its back on fossil fuels soon and shift to renewable energy. ‘One of the oil companies will break ranks,’ he said, ‘and this time it is going to stick.’1

Leggett points to the collapsed oil price, the falling costs of renewable-energy generation and potential government action on climate change as key factors that could persuade an oil corporation to jump ship. His comments were excitedly shared online by anti-fossil fuel campaigners.

But hang on a minute. Would this really be good news? To avoid catastrophic global climate change, we need to leave at least 80 per cent of known fossil fuels in the ground, and renewable energy will have a major part to play in that. But do we want our new, clean energy system to be owned and operated by the same corporations that have got us into our current mess? Do we trust the likes of BP, Exxon and Total to develop renewables in a fair and sustainable way?

To answer this question, we don’t need to look far. All over the world, companies and governments that have grown rich on our current fossil-fuelled system are doing their best to slow down, interfere with, co-opt and control the growth of renewable energy. We need to fight back with a different vision: of a democratically controlled, people-focused clean energy system built from the grassroots up.

A renewables revolution?

2014 felt like a big step forward for renewables. The amount of wind and solar power installed around the world grew by 15 and 32 per cent respectively. Solar electricity is now cheaper than the grid average in Spain, Italy, Australia, Chile, Germany, Brazil and at least 10 US states. UBS, the world’s biggest private bank, told its investors that large, centralized power stations are on the way out in Europe, to be rendered redundant by rooftop solar panels and home energy storage in the next 20 years. Meanwhile, the governments of India and China have announced solar- and wind-power schemes large enough to send panic through the Australian coal industry, whose expansion plans were reliant on exports to those countries.

These could be early steps towards a better energy future. Last year, I helped develop an online infographic2 showing how it is technically possible for everyone on the planet to have enough energy for a good quality of life, using only renewable technology that already exists.3 However, this will only be possible if the wealthy minority – mostly in Northern countries – stops overconsuming energy, so that everyone else can come up to a fair and sustainable level. This isn’t currently happening; instead, barring a blip for the 2008 financial crisis, total energy use in OECD countries has been steadily rising.4

In order to avoid runaway climate change, our new cleaner energy sources would need actively to replace fossil fuel generation, not just add to it. There’s little point installing a solar-powered radio in a diesel-fuelled SUV. The current blossoming of renewable energy has dented coal use in a few countries – notably the US and China – but has so far failed to make much impact on a global scale. Between 2010 and 2013, the annual production of renewable energy grew by around 0.5 PWh (equivalent to a million million kilowatt hours) to 20 PWh per year; in the same period, annual fossil fuel use grew by 8 PWh – 16 times greater – to reach 128 PWh/year.4

The trouble is, these necessary steps to a safer future – ramping down fossil fuel use, cutting Northern overconsumption and sharing clean energy fairly across the globe – fly directly in the face of our current growth-based economic system. As writer and activist Naomi Klein puts it: ‘What the climate needs now is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands is unfettered expansion.’5

Renewable energy does offer us a (solar) ray of hope amidst the climate doom and gloom. These technologies give us the potential to build a new, decentralized, democratic energy system that meets the needs of the many rather than providing profits to the few. But there are powerful economic forces and vested interests lined up against us, ready to steer renewable energy in a very different direction.

What are we up against?

Let’s not kid ourselves. The fossil fuel industry’s main response to clean energy is to try to squash it. Selling the highly concentrated energy in oil, coal and gas is far more profitable in the short term than the slow-release, distributed energy from wind or solar power – especially when you factor in generous government fossil fuel subsidies, an international energy infrastructure already set up to use these fuels, and free rein to pump carbon pollution into the air at little or no cost. Whether it’s funding pro-fossil politicians, forging cosy links with officials or pouring money into anti-renewable front groups, the big oil, gas and coal companies are working hard to keep society hooked on their highly profitable products, and prevent alternatives from getting off the ground.6

There are exceptions to this rule. If those alternatives can provide decent short-term returns or access to new subsidies without disrupting the existing energy markets, then the big players might be tempted to step in. This is why the likes of BP, Shell and Exxon have moved into liquid biofuels, and why major power plants like Drax in Britain are starting to mix large quantities of woodfuel in with their coal supply.

Industrial biofuels and wood-fired power stations – along with the continued destruction caused by large hydropower dams – provide perfect examples of what can happen if supposedly ‘renewable’ energy sources are exploited for maximum profit, without proper consideration for people and the environment. Energy crops and hydroelectricity may both be sustainable on a small, local, carefully managed scale – but the current profit-driven rush to turn food crops and forests into fuel is leading to hunger, land grabs and deforestation; while megadams threaten huge areas of natural habitat along with the homes, lands and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.

These projects should act as a stark warning. Wind and solar power are still relatively small industries on a global scale, but are growing fast. These technologies are far less destructive than fossil fuels, but that doesn’t mean they’re impact-free – especially if they develop to the scale we need for a fossil-free future. Will they be carefully manufactured in renewably powered workshops with strict respect for workers’ rights and environmental standards; using largely recycled materials, and built as part of community-run, co-operatively owned and democratic energy schemes which benefit the communities where they are sited? Or will they be churned out in nightmarish sweatshop conditions, using minerals from exploitative mining projects and sited in giant energy parks on cleared rainforest land from which the residents have been forcibly evicted?

It could go either way. Renewables could transform our energy system, with solar panels particularly well-suited for decentralized use: 85 per cent of today’s solar panels are spread over millions of rooftops, with only 15 per cent in solar parks. Increased access to and control over energy could empower millions of people, improving lives and livelihoods and boosting the political and social influence of marginalized communities.

Unfortunately, the risks are also clear. Wind and solar generators require a significant amount of building material and land space. Though requiring less than 1 per cent of the extraction needed to keep pulling coal, oil and gas out of the ground, ramping up renewables will mean a significant spike in demand for steel, cement, aluminium and copper that could have serious local impacts around the world if not carefully managed. Wind power, unlike solar, is far more efficient when built on a large scale; big wind farms typically require levels of capital investment that are out of the reach of community groups. They’re more likely to be installed by governments or large utility companies such as E.ON. Seventy-five per cent of all wind turbines are manufactured by just 10 companies.

The Desertec initiative gives us an example of what a profit-driven, centralized solar energy future might look like. We shouldn’t be surprised to see it develop along the same neo-colonial and racist lines as our current fossil fuel industry, where the rights of Indigenous peoples and communities of colour around the world are trampled in the pursuit of ‘cheap’ energy for the industrialized nations.

Who has power over power?

As wind and solar technology gets cheaper – and if low oil prices and increasing climate regulation and extraction costs make fossil fuels less profitable – we can expect more and bigger corporate players to move into the sector, including existing oil and gas corporations.

Energy supply in many countries is already in the hands of privatized utility companies, thanks to decades of privatization driven by neoliberal Northern governments and institutions like the World Bank. This has led to rising energy bills and the continuing failure to supply grid electricity to harder-to-reach (and thus less profitable) rural communities. Around 1.3 billion people worldwide still have no access to electricity, while many others struggle to afford it.

There are vital battles still to be fought over the ownership, control of and access to renewable energy. Who will pay for and own the building materials, the factories, the technical knowledge, the site of installation, the equipment and the energy it produces? The more democratic control that can be exerted over each stage of this process, the greater our chances of creating low-impact, climate-friendly energy systems that supply affordable energy to all. We also need the transition to be a fair one that retrains and transfers workers from the fossil energy sector; this will only happen if the voices of workers carry more weight in the process than the desires of the energy companies.

It’s hard to imagine the big privatized companies voluntarily working to reduce energy consumption in the North; it’s equally hard to envision them supporting a phase-out of fossil fuels as renewables expand, or supporting policies to provide affordable energy to those most in need. These companies have been driving our civilization towards a cliff edge, and now they are eyeing up the keys to our shiny, new, renewably powered electric bus.

At what price?

In an energy system built from numerous small producers rather than just a few big power stations, ownership of the distribution network also becomes more important. Smart grids could make it easier for producers and consumers to share and use energy more efficiently, reducing the need for centralized power production; however, whoever owns and controls these networks will ultimately determine who can use them and at what price, and will also have access to large amounts of data about households’ energy usage. The energy giant E.ONhas recently split its business in two, with one half taking the fossil power stations and the other focusing on renewables and ‘smarter’ distribution networks. Google has also invested billions in smart home metering.

Will companies like these be content with government or household contracts to build these systems; or will they seek ways to extract ongoing profits from charging for network use or selling customer data? Like the internet, an energy-sharing network could be a space for collaboration and co-operation, or for corporate rent-seeking and control; the way it is set up, and who owns the infrastructure, will be key. The governments of Spain and Arizona, under pressure from energy company lobbying, have announced taxes on solar panel owners as ‘payment’ for their connection to the grid; this may be a taste of things to come.

We mustn’t forget the technologies that use energy, either. A transition to electric vehicles will be vital for ending our dependence on oil, but this needs to be accompanied by a serious shift from private car use towards public transport and cycling, otherwise electricity demand will rocket beyond a level that can be met by renewables. Most of the expansion of the electric vehicle market has so far been driven by car manufacturers (particularly Renault, Nissan, Tesla and Mitsubishi), supported by government incentives; this could explain why the number of fully electric cars on the road is expected to hit a million in 2015, while electric bus numbers lag behind in the tens of thousands.

The rollout of electric vehicle charging stations in the US (and increasingly Britain) is being spearheaded by Tesla, the company run by ‘playboy billionaire’ Elon Musk (the inspiration for Tony Stark in the Iron Man films). Many are quick to praise him for taking these kinds of financial risks to develop valuable transport infrastructure; but of course the rewards for his company could be huge – and we’ll end up with an electric charging network under private, not public, control. There’s a wider point here, too: should the introduction of sustainable technology be reliant on the whims of billionaires? What’s to stop Musk getting bored with electric vehicles and pouring all his resources into his space exploration company SpaceX instead?

This increasing reliance on companies, not governments, as providers of energy services and infrastructure is driven by a global economic system based on market ‘liberalization’, profit maximization and endless growth. It’s a trend that we need to reverse if we want renewable energy truly to be a force for good.

Luckily, alternative models are appearing all over the world. Renewable energy co-operatives have hundreds of thousands of members and are building and installing their own solar, wind and small-scale hydro projects from Indonesia to Costa Rica. They own three-quarters of Denmark’s wind turbines, and are growing rapidly in Spain, Britain and elsewhere; in Germany, more than half of renewable electricity generation is owned by citizens, co-operatives and community groups.

The energy industry has been taken back into public hands by democratically elected governments in Venezuela and Bolivia. The popular state-owned energy system in Uruguay has had real success in expanding energy access, and is now working on efficiency and wind power projects. Interest in locally controlled energy has been reignited in Europe by referendums in two major German cities (Hamburg and Berlin), where citizens voted in favour of their local councils buying back the energy grid from transnational companies.

However, it won’t be possible to achieve true energy democracy without changes to our wider political and economic system. What’s the use of campaigning for publicly owned energy if the national or local government is corrupt, undemocratic, or heavily influenced by vested interests?

We need to pursue the democratization both of our energy and our politics in parallel. In fact, we should see this as an opportunity, because these projects can support and mutually reinforce each other. Unaccountable corporate energy systems give powerful vested interests excessive influence over everything from household spending to government policy. Breaking the power of the fossil fuel corporations and big utility firms, and creating new income streams for communities, co-operatives and the public sector, will open up all kinds of new spaces for democratic change.

To make this happen, we need to pick some ambitious but achievable short-term goals that catalyse further change. There are lessons to be learned from Germany, Denmark and Bolivia, where government support for renewable energy co-operatives has led to a genuine transfer of power towards the grassroots. Bringing energy industries back under national or local control could be a valuable step, if combined with other democratic reforms; Norway, Denmark and Uruguay all have strong representation from workers on their national energy bodies.

To achieve these goals, we will need to reduce the power and influence of the fossil fuel companies, kicking their representatives out of government and moving subsidies away from polluting fuels and towards clean energy. Divestment campaigns shouldn’t just call for an end to fossil fuel funding but galvanize a shift in public investments into cleaner alternatives: not corporate renewable schemes but community energy, sustainable local transport and energy efficiency projects.

We can’t just sit back and expect the falling price of solar and wind to sweep away the old energy order. Renewable energy could be a powerful tool for dismantling the current failed system – but we need to use it wisely, and not let it fall into the wrong hands!

 

  1. 1 Guardian nin.tl/riskyenergy

  2. twoenergyfutures.org

  3. 3 We could get to 80-90 per cent renewable energy with confidence. The last few per cent are theoretically possible, but we’ll need to tackle some tricky issues around variability, energy storage and air travel. See twoenergyfutures.org

  4. 4 Figures from the International Energy Agency. ↩

  5. 5 Guardian nin.tl/guardianklein

  6. 6 See for example the Guardian nin.tl/takeoverpush

Original article: http://newint.org/features/2015/03/01/renewable-energy-keynote/

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