Colombo, Environment, Religion and faith

Vesak Reflections


Image courtesy The Nation

This Vesak Day I was reflecting on the centuries of Buddhist tradition and the cultural response, recorded in the magnificent constructions and spiritual art that withstood centuries of exposure to the elements. The tragedy is that this generation will go down in history as the vandals who destroyed our patrimony in economic self-interest. While volumes have been written on the folly of investing in coal as the energy source of a nation. We have borrowed huge sums of money to create the problem prone Norochcholai  coal fired power plant in an area that will ensure that the South West winds will carry the resulting polluting gasses over the NCP and blanket Dambulla, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura and Pollanaruwa.

As a recent report on coal states :  “Air pollution from Coal fired power plants is varied and contributes to a significant number of negative environmental and health effects. When coal is burned to generate electricity, the combustion releases a combination of toxic chemicals into the environment, and thus the human body. A November 2009 report on the effects of coal by the Physicians for Social Responsibility found that coal combustion affects not only the human respiratory system, but also the cardiovascular and nervous system”

Although the environmental watchdogs of Sri Lanka seem to have been asleep to these issues. What coal powered power plants  bring to one county they will certainly bring to another ! This is the gift that the dirty coal fired power plant will bring to the people of the NCP already suffering from an epidemic of poisoning through agrotoxins.

There are two another sinister demons lurking in the gasses that emit from coal-fired powerplants.  After an intensive study, the U.S. Geologic Survey analysis indentifies that an important component of acid rain comes primarily from coal-fired power plants and industry, often hundreds of miles upwind.

These gasses are:

Sulphuric acid which is formed the by conversion of sulphur dioxide emitted from power stations, melting processes, home fires, car exhausts and other sources. It contributes about 70% to the overall acidity of deposition.

Nitric acid, which is formed from nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from fossil fuel combustion. It contributes about 30% to the overall acidity of deposition.

Their effects on the environment range from : Deteriorating human breathing disorder (asthma, bronchitis, lung oedema) to Chocking plant leave pores (forest loss) to affecting soil and water chemistry to  Corroding stone and brick walls of buildings and monuments

When people die of acid deposition it is usually caused by access mucous production in the bronchi, leading to chocking from a lack of oxygen, or a heart attack.

A 2011 report by the American Lung Association found that coal-fired power plants produce more hazardous air pollution in the United States than any other industrial pollution sources. A 2004 report by the Clean Air Task Force estimated that soot pollution from power plants contributes to 24,000 premature deaths, 38,200 non-fatal heart attacks, and tens of thousands of hospital visits and asthma attacks each year.

As if this was not enough of a problem demanding national attention. The potential action of these acids on our national patrimony  raises nightmares. The action of acid rain on the Parthenon in Athens and the architectural treasures of Venice, as well as numerous stone buildings in the U.S. suggest our future.  These treasures are being destroyed steadily by acid rain from upwind power plants and factories.

So this Vesak I sit and think of the Aukana Buddha, Thanthirimale and Vatadage. History we had brought down for so long. Will it be scarified on the alters of the barbarians? If the Sampur Coal fired power plant ever sees the light of day. The pollution will double and cover the area all year round. The Norochcholai plant polluting the region along the South West winds and the Sampur plant,  polluting the region during the North East winds.

Perhaps as the Buddha says, it is all anicca, but there is a sense of loss, as the uneducated and greedy carry out the process of mindless destruction.