Will rising energy costs throttle socio-economic development?

Such a dark cloud is the steady and menacing increase in the cost of energy. Need we add that we are in the hopeless position of being an impoverished buyer in a market ruled by others? Indeed, the whole world is now threatened as the fossil fuels that keep the civilized societies going will peter out in the lifetime of many who are now living.This issue of energy-management in the context of a global decline in the availability of affordable energy must rank as the greatest challenge to the future prosperity of Sri Lanka – indeed, to our very survival as a civilized community.

l by R. Chandrasoma

(February 22, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is not unfair to say that the political vision of most wielders of power at both the national and regional level is designedly myopic. The rationale is that to secure electoral support short-term payback is greatly preferred as against distant benefits. Actions that result in benefactions in the distant future have little political worth even when they are of life-saving value to future generations. 
Thus the clearing of urban slums or the battle against the dengue mosquito are weighty issues for politicians. A faulty marking-scheme is a huge conundrum even if it is insignificant in the larger context of educational advancement in our country. In contrast, a distant dark cloud –however ominous – is viewed with much complacency as it is a feature of the human spirit to hope for the best.
Dark Cloud

Such a dark cloud is the steady and menacing increase in the cost of energy. Need we add that we are in the hopeless position of being an impoverished buyer in a market ruled by others? Indeed, the whole world is now threatened as the fossil fuels that keep the civilized societies going will peter out in the lifetime of many who are now living.
This issue of energy-management in the context of a global decline in the availability of affordable energy must rank as the greatest challenge to the future prosperity of Sri Lanka – indeed, to our very survival as a civilized community.
What can we do to prevent a likely collapse of our economy if conditions turn out to be as dire as predicted? Alas, solutions are easy to envisage if we can travel backward in time but are near impossible given the state of affairs as they currently are. Our road-system can be taken as an illustrative example. – it is a system designed for vehicular traffic – not for pedestrians or bicycles. Indeed, no pedestrian is safe on our principal highways and bicycles are now practically extinct except as toys for children. This disaster – the profligate and artificial use of imported energy for tasks best done using human power – should have been foreseen decades ago. An adult can easily walk two miles a day and a cyclist can cover five miles with ease – provided the roads are made for them – not fot the belching behemoths that now dominate our roads at an enormous energy-cost. It is a shame that roads are now made that treat pedestrians as stray dogs.
Modernity
Let us look at the motor-car that is now the emblem of modernity. The notion of private motorized transport as an inalienable right is proving to be a global ecological disaster. Our planet simply cannot sustain the millions of motorcars that throng the world’s roads.
It is a most lamentable folly of our country that motor-car buying is actually encouraged by the state and its citizens delight in acquiring vehicles that enhance social prestige while caring nought for the total cost in environmental terms. A motor-car with a 1000-cc (one litre) internal combustion engine is more than sufficient to transport five adults in ease and comfort if manufacturers set their will on it. Today, only the cheapest cars have such engines – fuel efficiency is seen as the effort to make very large engines for private transport less thirsty on fuel. Thus SUVs and and sleek high-powered limousines are in greatest demand while a ‘Nano’ is seen as a kind of donkey for the lower classes aspiring to be true motorists. This folly must end – the state must rule that no private car with an engine capacity over 1000 cc can run on Sri Lankan roads.
Boors and ruffians
This revolution is just the beginning – civilized public transport must be the chief means of long distance travel with special roads for their exclusive use. The boors and ruffians who now run buses must be replaced by a ‘hospitality service’ with the kind of manners and courteous ways seen in our best hotels. The need for the planet-destroying private motor vehicle will be greatly reduced if public transport reaches this level of comfort and civility.
Let us look at that other great area of energy wastage – dangerously excessive use of electric power in our households. Must TV sets have larger and larger screens?
Must refrigerators be cupboard-sized? Is Air-Conditioning a must for survival in tropical board-rooms and offices? Must sound be belted out at very high volume to be enjoyed? Is our kitchen forlorn without microvave ovens and food-processors? These are all part of a plot by the capitalist market to make the rich richer while the planet suffers a slow death.
On the lighting of homes, much the same can be said. It is a great shame that we are compelled to use energy resources purchased in distant and alien lands at killing prices to supply household current for so basic a thing as illumination. Surely, every household in Sri Lanka can generate 100 watts of solar power – sufficient to work six CFL bulbs at no cost to the householder.
This move will revolutionize the use of electric power in the home. It will also be a symbolic blow in the great battle ahead to free ourselves from the thralldom imposed by the international energy mafia. More can be said on these lines – for example, boiling water to make it germ-free is hugely expensive in energy terms. Efficient filtration must replace boiling given the dollars we have to pay to foreigners for the luxury of killing off germs by boiling. Surely, our science is sufficiently advanced to achieve this necessary end by other means.
There is no need to add to this list. Mankind lived mostly in darkness after the sun set until about 200 years ago. Lamps first appeared when ‘mineral oil’ seeped out of the ground in North America. We are not making the ridiculous suggestion that we must go back to the age of dark nights and wood-fires but merely pointing out that a major shift in life-styles and behavioral adaptations are needed given that the world will run out of fossil fuels – the mainstay of the global energy budget– decades before the close of the century that we have just entered. We live in an age of highly sophisticated science and it seems bizarre that we are defeated by the new twist in the ancient problem of resourc e exhaustion by our notoriously destructive species.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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