Carbon neutrality by 2050: The world’s most urgent mission

COVID and climate have brought us to a threshold. We cannot go back to the old normal of inequality and fragility; instead we must step towards a safer, more sustainable path – Pic courtesy UNDP Sri Lanka

As the world marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, a promising movement for carbon neutrality is taking shape. By next month, countries representing more than 65% of harmful greenhouse gasses and more than 70% of the world economy will have committed to achieve net zero emissions by the middle of the century.

At the same time, the main climate indicators are worsening. While the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily reduced emissions, carbon dioxide levels are still at record highs – and rising. The past decade was the hottest on record; Arctic sea ice in October was the lowest ever, and apocalyptic fires, floods, droughts and storms are increasingly the new normal. Biodiversity is collapsing, deserts are spreading, oceans are warming and choking with plastic waste. Science tells us that unless we cut fossil fuel production by 6% every year between now and 2030, things will get worse. Instead, the word is on track for a 2% annual rise.

Pandemic recovery gives us an unexpected yet vital opportunity to attack climate change, fix our global environment, re-engineer economies and re-imagine our future. Here is what we must do:

First, we need build a truly global coalition for carbon neutrality by 2050.

The European Union has committed to do so. The United Kingdom, Japan, the Republic of Korea and more than 110 countries have done the same. So, too, has the incoming United States administration. China has pledged to get there before 2060.

Every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for net zero – and act now to get on the right path to that goal, which means cutting global emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. In advance of next November’s UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, Governments are obligated by the Paris Agreement to be ever more ambitious every five years and submit strengthened commitments known as Nationally Determined Contributions, and these NDCs must show true ambition for carbon neutrality.

Technology is on our side. It costs more to simply run most of today’s coal plants than it does to build new renewable plants from scratch. Economic analysis confirms the wisdom of this path. According to the International Labour Organization, despite inevitable job losses, the clean energy transition will create 18 million net new jobs by 2030. But we must recognise the human costs of decarbonisation, and support workers with social protection, re-skilling and up-skilling so that the transition is just.

Second, we need to align global finance with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s blueprint for a better future.

It is time to put a price on carbon; end fossil fuel subsidies and finance; stop building new coal power plants; shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters; make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory; and integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal decision-making. Banks must align their lending with the net zero objective, and asset owners and managers must decarbonise their portfolios.

Third, we must secure a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience to help those already facing dire impacts of climate change.

That’s not happening enough today: adaptation represents only 20% of climate finance. This hinders our efforts to reduce disaster risk. It also isn’t smart; every $1 invested in adaptation measures could yield almost $4 in benefits. Adaptation and resilience are especially urgent for small island developing states, for which climate change is an existential threat.

Next year gives us a wealth of opportunities to address our planetary emergencies, through major United Nations conferences and other efforts on biodiversity, oceans, transport, energy, cities and food systems. One of our best allies is nature itself: nature-based solutions could provide one-third of the net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Indigenous knowledge can help to point the way. And as humankind devises strategies for preserving the environment and building a green economy, we need more women decision-makers at the table.

COVID and climate have brought us to a threshold. We cannot go back to the old normal of inequality and fragility; instead we must step towards a safer, more sustainable path. This is a complex policy test and an urgent moral test. With decisions today setting our course for decades to come, we must make pandemic recovery and climate action two sides of the same coin.


(The writer is UN Secretary-General.)

Read more – http://www.ft.lk/columns/Carbon-neutrality-by-2050-The-world-s-most-urgent-mission/4-710201

Moonshot thinking for manufacturing

 Ranala sulphuric acid and alum plant – Sri Lanka had one acid plant at Ranala and amidst public protest we were very quick to rush to realise the demise of the facility instead of attending to any faults and ensuring continuity with the understanding of the value

Agree or disagree? Ratings appear to come in thick and fast. Our own ratings have placed an alcoholic beverage at triple A (lka). Cheers! The country and the banks however appear to go in a reverse direction. 

Believe in general that we are not at a crisis state, having passed a tipping point of no return. However, also believe that one should take serious note of the issues and address root causes rather than being happy with patchwork solutions. 

One area of significant deficiency is in our manufacturing i.e., the real industry. Take away manufacturing and the economies are unlikely to grow and grow with confidence. We have dabbled with ‘grow to eat’ mindset but never really seriously for a competitive manufacturing position. 

Conditions outside have changed dramatically while we languish with an economy in $ 80+ billion. We are well aware of the structural issues with the economy. The poor plight of our export basket is well known. State-Owned Enterprises engaged in manufacturing sectors exist in quite difficult conditions and when you see the resource platform that they have access to, you wonder why that should be in that situation at all. There is definitely a serious problem. 

From another vantage point that is also a serious challenge and an opportunity. Moonshot thinking comes to one’s mind as the option from a leadership perspective as energising across a wider community is important for a favourable result at this juncture.


Moonshot thinking

The concept of moonshot thinking goes back to John F. Kennedy though he did not articulate the concept. It was what he stated and subsequently the nation achieved that led to the coining of the term. 

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” was what JFK stated in his 1962 speech at the Rice University. 

The race to a moon landing was on and the State was mobilised. Impossible became possible. Such thinking is about pursing almost the impossible, but if done could completely redefine the situation. The need for moonshot thinking is that insinuates that a smaller goal and such an utterance is unlikely to inspire and arouse passion among masses. So audacious goals are a must and the statement has to be perfect!

We see an Operation Moonshot in UK. It is the UK Government’s newly-proposed COVID-19 mass testing scheme, which means 10 million tests per day. In parallel also you see the 1st approved vaccine being applied to a 90-year citizen. The vaccine development too proceeded with speed and the UK setting up a Vaccine Manufacturing Centre. Twin strategies to get back into the business as usual.

Read more : http://www.ft.lk/columns/Moonshot-thinking-for-manufacturing/4-709984

Shaping the future of IP intelligence

Sean Poulley -Senior Vice President, IP Group – Clarivate

A new report examines the critical role intellectual property (IP) plays in enabling organizations to stay a step ahead of disruption—and how Clarivate is realigning its data, technology and expertise to meet the needs of a rapidly changing business landscape. Read it now.

Disruption is not just a buzzword; it’s a daily reality for organizations in virtually every industry. Creative destruction is accelerating as S&P 500 lifespans continue to shrink, requiring new strategies for navigating disruption. Innosight estimates that 50% of the companies currently listed on the S&P 500 will disappear by 2027. What will the survivors have in common? The ability to focus on the right innovations and get them to market faster and more efficiently. That puts intelligent use of IP data at the center of successful business strategies.

In our report, Data unleashed: How Clarivate is shaping the future of IP intelligence, we examine the factors driving the need for a new IP data model—and how Clarivate is taking the lead in shaping the future of IP information and insights. Our goal: to accelerate innovation and bring new products to market faster, while reducing the cost of doing business and mitigating risk by investing in the innovations that matter.

New realities demand a new approach to IP

Business professionals are facing rising pressures from all sides. Digital disruptors are driving a growing demand for data-driven decisions and strategies. The increasing speed of business creates the need to simplify increasingly complex portfolios and processes. Proliferating competitive and security risks demand new, actionable insights. Professionals must meet these challenges with flat or even decreasing resources.

These growing trends are giving rise to new information business models—including cloud-based and “as-a-service” models that put flexible capabilities at users’ fingertips.

At Clarivate, we believe these forces and trends define the future of our business. Business and R&D professionals need easier access to IP data and intelligence in ways that meet their specific needs, in real time. Prepackaged “products” have their place but they can’t deliver on these emerging needs. That’s why Clarivate is moving toward a new model that allows professionals to put information resources from diverse IP domains together in flexible ways to meet the needs of the moment.

Creating productive, personalized experiences

Realizing this new model of IP data delivery requires a combination of advanced technologies, from automated data cleansing to big data analytics to advanced natural language processing and visualization. The result will combine virtual data sources across diverse IP domains—trademarks, patents, domain names, copyrights, legal decisions, competitive intelligence and more—to allow extremely flexible, individualized experiences.

https://clarivate.com/article/shaping-the-future-of-ip-intelligence/

Need to leapfrog but should not be like frogs in the well!

As a vaccine is about to hit the skin, the world may be yearning for normalcy. The virus has changed the way we live for many months. It should have opened up our minds too and that is what makes a winner at the end. We have to ensure that it will not extract a heavy toll from us and that we come out stronger – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

Leapfrogging is a favourite action word we usually use to indicate the desire to move ahead with little bit of speed and jump disregarding the normal to get ahead of the curve, etc. Most of the time in our minds hearing the word may conjure up something big being planned or expected. These days there is no normal situation but only plenty of issues in a highly dynamic setting. 

While the virus is displaying the power of the exponential, being a step ahead is complicated. The relationship between two subjects, epidemiology and economics, and perhaps more between the practitioners could be quite testing. Within the dynamics of this situation and its management so much understanding and awareness has to be present. 

The knowledge and experience required as we move on with the second wave is significantly different from the first wave and the virus too had mutated with time. Of course the situation perhaps was made complicated by what we did not do between the first and the second. This is where the attitude and outlook cannot be like frogs in the well if one is to succeed! There is a responsibility by many in ensuring that we move ahead instead of getting stuck in a state of complacency or bickering. Old answers are definitely not solutions to the current crop of problems.

COVID-19 is seriously challenging all of us

COVID-19 is seriously challenging all of us. We may not indicate all the data and one good reason for that situation is we do not know all the data and what you do not know you cannot tell! However overall we may have numbers and some may actually be coming from a wish list. A fact that we cannot ignore is the necessity of taking decisions with long term in mind yet managing the short term well. 

Across the world COVID-19 is playing havoc and many surely are seriously suffering. However the approach in resolving issues is definitely going to separate winners and losers on a global platform, of course aided and abetted by the virus. As we write we have two candidate vaccines having demonstrated over 90% efficacy. One is by a well-established company and the other a start-up from a University. For the moment the better data though marginally has come from the start up. Coming this far within this timeframe is actually a success considering the typical vaccine development time scales mooted at the initial stages of the pandemic. A third generating vaccine development mechanism has been used utilising advanced technology. There, however, a challenge still awaits of scaling up production and logistics of getting the vaccine to the billions. 

Another observation is the parallel development of factories with the manufacturing methods while the vaccine was under development, which are also a novelty and not the usual manner of development. These steps have dramatically cut down on the established times for vaccine development. Of course some say the head start for the COVID-19 vaccine was actually given by the work coming from the SARS era. 

Another development, the Russian vaccine, even went on to name their vaccine as Sputnik as a reminder to the world on their technological prowess. In innovation literature we have the term Sputnik moment – a reminder to one nation to act fast in the face of strides made by another. This was the situation that developed in the space race between Soviet Union and United States. 

Sri Lanka must understand the Sputnik moment

Sri Lanka too must understand the Sputnik moment. As I indicated in the last column while the country has suffered a precipitous drop in the global innovation ranking the neighbour India has climbed up to be in the top 50. China is well up on the ladder. The use of science and technology has been a characteristic of both these nations. 

China of course did a crash course in S&T engagement and the growth acceleration has been remarkable. While many were seeing a serious drop in economic performance of China due to COVID-19 it has demonstrated to be one country with decent growth numbers at present. Many others are tottering having to display embarrassingly negative economic numbers. We ourselves have not released immediate figures and postponed communications to the year-end. Hong Kong is showing how they are running the system with technology and discipline coupled together. 

Across many countries the second wave management is showing distinct differences from the first. Some countries are of course buoyed by the fact that they are leaders in the race for the vaccine. Of course some methods deployed in management definitely invades on privacy and releases so much data of oneself to the outside. The virus has accelerated some segments of technologies to dominance. Zoom, another startup, has accelerated to have a value almost twice the GDP of Sri Lanka. Zoom is almost becoming the synonym for a virtual meeting!

Read more : http://www.ft.lk/columns/Need-to-leapfrog-but-should-not-be-like-frogs-in-the-well/4-709400

Exodus of scientists from research institutes to join universities: A national malady!

The post of RRI Director is a venerated position both locally and internationally, and the inordinate delay (nine months) and studious silence in filling this post insinuates a well-planned ruse in the pipeline, probably with an ulterior motive to select a stooge, ignoring the time-tested scheme of recruitment 


By J.A.A.S. Ranasinghe


There is a heavy tendency for the qualified and experienced research officers to leave the three key research institutes, namely Tea Research Institute (TRI), Rubber Research (RRI) and Coconut Research Institute (CRI), after obtaining post graduate qualifications preferably at the PhD level in order to join our national universities, lock, stock and barrel, leaving a huge void in the respective research institutes. 

Obviously, one cannot expect the research institutes to deliver the research obligations in the absence of the qualified research personnel and this is a bane of the core weaknesses all the research institutes are confronted with right at the moment. 

Scientists are the bedrock of the research institutes and no crop research can survive in the absence of qualified and experience research personnel. For curiosity purposes, I give the number of vacancies available in the research cadres of all the three crop research institutes as at 1 October 2020 (Table 01).

 



It is abundantly clear from table 1 that TRI, RRI and CRI are heavily understaffed in all the research positions and their attempts to have the vacancies filled have proved futile despite the fact these vacancies have been advertised on numerous occasions. 

In the case of TRI and CRI, almost one-third (33%) remain vacant which includes Heads of Department, Principal Research Officers and Senior research Officers. The tea sector is the most vulnerable sector that generates billions of foreign exchange to the national coffers. The tea sector will face a debilitating impact in the years to come because of the heavy exodus of its research cadre. 

The sad episode is that the positions of heads of department in almost all three research institutes have five vacancies each at the moment and it is this category that has a distinctive demand from the universities to join their academic staff. The principal research officers of all the research institutes woefully inadequate and it is difficult to fathom as to how these institutes would respond to a calamitous situation, leave aside the normal day-to-day research required. 

The labour outturn of research officers with PhD qualifications is reported to be excessively high in that approximately eight to 10 research officers are leaving the research institutes to take up academic positions in the universities. Regrettably, all research institutes are reported to be on the verge of collapse due to the inability to retain their research officers to conduct research. 

In almost all the research institutes, the research positions are dwindling at a precipitously accelerated rate and it will be nigh well possible to retain them, as universities have resorted to headhunt them at the expense of the research institutes. 

The worst-affected research institute is the RRI where 61% of the vacancies remain vacant, as universities prefer to absorb RRI scientists due to the research background with industrial exposure. The situation is so aggravated that research officers even with two years’ experience in the RRI have been selected by the universities. At this rate of leaving, the research institutes would inevitably get operationally paralysed and research projects will come to a standstill in the years to come.

There has been hardly any attempt to arrest this exodus trend by the institutes, Ministry of Plantation Industries and the General Treasury.  Unfortunately, there has not been any noteworthy effort by the Ministry of Plantation, Salaries and Cadre Commission and the General Treasury to arrest the alarming exodus of scientists. The most unfortunate situation is even the Central Bank Report 2019 has not highlighted heavy exodus of scientists to join the universities and suggested remedial measures to avert this floodgate. 



Impact of monolithic trade unions

It is to be noted here that prior to year 2000, the salaries, allowances and other perks of the research institutes were the second highest next to Central Bank and therefore research institutes were at a distinctive advantage to recruit cream of the cream passed out from the universities to their research cadre. But this scenario changed with the emergence of the powerful trade union of the academic staff of the universities commonly called FUTA – Federation of Universities Teachers Association and this monolithic trade union exercised their trade union muscle in redressing their grievances in relation to salary, allowances and other perks. 

The bargaining capacity of FUTA has been very aggressive and its political affiliations with the governments in power enabled them to enhance the salaries, allowances and other perks surpassing the research staff as a result. The Salaries and Cadre Commission and the General Treasury when granting higher emoluments to university academics were absolutely unmindful of the deleterious impact the research institutes would have to undergo as a result of their short-sighted action and today research institutes have become a victim.

Could anyone just imagine the sense of frustration, deterioration of morale and commitment of the scientists when the academic staff of the universities with same qualifications draw a three-fold increase in their salaries and allowances? This huge salary and allowance anomaly could only be rectified by allowing the same benefits to miniscule staff of the scientists, if the Government has a modicum of decency and concern for the research community. Now that the annual Budget is around the corner it is sincerely hoped that the Government will seriously consider addressing this longstanding grievance.



Age of retirement

Another matter of serious concern is the compulsory age of retirement for the research staff and the academic staff of the universities. In case of academic staff, the age of retirement is 65 years of age whereas scientists will have to retire from service on attaining the age of 60. 

There are a number of scientists who have left the service of the research institutions on the verge of their retirement in order to take up academic appointments. At a time when there is a severe dearth of scientists in the research institutes, it is best that the retirement age of scientific staff also be brought on par with the academic staff of the universities.  

Read more – http://www.ft.lk/opinion/Exodus-of-scientists-from-research-institutes-to-join-universities-A-national-malady/14-709140

Moody’s mood swings to WIPO’s innovation blues: Numbers and letters shocking a system!


The country entered the month of October with the international credit rating agency Moody’s downgrading the Sri Lankan rating two notches from B2 to Caaa1 – combinations of letters and numbers, which I have not much understanding of anyway – giving quite a few reasons. However, though the rating was dipped, the outlook indicated for Sri Lanka was stable. I suppose if understanding markets was difficult enough, understanding capital markets must definitely be tough. 

We cried foul over this swing of the mood of Moody’s towards Sri Lanka. Of course what followed was lots of write-ups on financial instability, debt, debt servicing capabilities, foreign reserves, bonds from Panda to Samurai (definitely sounds quite creative!) to follow, etc. However to me lot of chatter to and fro but with no action on fronts that really matter is not going to help us at all. 

For sure you need to look at the reasons for the perception and address those forcefully. We may say if the weather is favourable there would be some respite – that too is an issue with Sri Lanka now getting ranked high on the Climate Risk Index – and looking for delaying repayments with the lofty title of debt restructuring and rescheduling are all structural and different giveaways would be involved. 

Interestingly now Moody’s has a climate risk data agency too under its belt and their ratings must be getting further modifications. Of course once in the fire perhaps some of these steps are necessary. 



What is sad and indicate the ignorance of our system is the precipitous fall of Sri Lanka that was revealed to the world when WIPO (World Intellectual Property Office) released 2020 Global Innovation Index on 3 September. What was seen and heard over Moody’s rating was completely missing over the GII release other than few simple references and definitely no discussions. How many agencies and corporates are aware of this rating is an open question. 

WIPO released their GII for 2020 from New Delhi with COVID-19 raging on the outside. However, India has done them proud by climbing up for the first time to be in the first 50 nations in the innovation league coming to the 48th position. No wonder despite COVID-19 India is still considered to be a favourite with investors.



Sri Lanka slips

For Sri Lanka the result shown was not one that one could be happy about at all. From a ranking of 89 in 2019 the country had slipped to take up the 101st position among 131 countries – a drop of 12 positions. We are sandwiched between The Republic of Cabo Verde and Senegal. The year before on the 89th place we were between Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan. 

The analysis had identified Sri Lanka to be among 11 countries performing below expectations for its level of development. However the analyst must have been looking at the country as an upper middle-income country but that status has changed now at the time of the 2020 report was released. 

In the current 2020 analysis Sri Lanka had scored well in ICT services exports and imports, productivity growth and microfinance gross loans. Not much to say about the whole sphere of science and technology outputs and may be that is not a big surprise.

I think if we take GII more seriously, Moody’s is something just to glance at and go. You do right in GII and Moody’s should automatically follow with good letters! Now something that one can really not serve much in a proactive manner has been raised to a level of eminence. Pity the decision maker who may only think of taking Caa1 to Aaa through debt management, cash flows and monetary means. GII is a concrete metric to look at, reflect on and work on. 



Innovation is key

Consider the journey of Sri Lanka over the years from its start in 2007. We should take up downhill skiing with real medal prospects! To areas where substantive attention should be given we have not done that nor have we perhaps realised the benefits of taking on board ‘innovation’ across all fronts. 

Yes innovation may again be a word that is excellent as jargon but what that embodies is doing something in solving problems and realising a situation significant positive change. Actually the practitioners in innovation just request to avoid jargon and stick to convey more practically what is necessary – work towards significant positive change. Then innovation happens!

The aim of GII is to provide insightful data on innovation and to assist policy makers in evaluating their innovation performance and making informed innovation policy decisions. Overtime GII had been quite impactful. Both China and India have their highest offices taken on the importance of climbing the ladder of GII as the most important! 

We have seen in Vietnam and Philippines their legislation has taken GII as a performance measurement metric. Vietnam’s journey in innovation was a subject of discussion in an earlier GII annual global review. This shows that policymakers are now referring regularly to innovation and their innovation rankings as part of their economic policy strategies.

Read more – http://www.ft.lk/columns/Moody-s-mood-swings-to-WIPO-s-innovation-blues-Numbers-and-letters-shocking-a-system/4-708462

Persistence pays: Saluting the ‘Father of Hydroelectricity’ – An individual making a nation

The Wimalasurendra Power Station


Eng. D.J. Wimalasurendra
 
At the 2020 146th Birth Anniversary D.J. Wimalasurendra Memorial Oration

Look around, dig some dirt and take a deep breath, and ask how nations are made, including even destroyed. You will find you can identify names of individuals who have had the ability to rally people around, move mountains of obstacles but persisted on their objective. Even in bringing down a country the recipe stays the same. Persistence delivers, rewards and pays. 

The ability of an individual to stick to his or her ideas is an amazing characteristic definitely of value. The fickle nature of minds and actions so common today definitely too have the ability to ruin nations as the constituents are a law unto themselves or are all confused Alices in their wonderlands. A student with a worthy selfless purpose is a treat to teach. 

John F. Kennedy said famously, “Do not ask what the country can do for you but ask what you can do to the country!” We have had JFK with a purpose but unfortunately we had Lee Harvey Oswald with a sinister purpose too. In making a nation the sacrifices could be many and the time taken significant. As per destruction some of those challenges are not there.



Lighting up Sri Lanka

Engineer D.J. Wimalasurendra was an individual who pioneered the way to light up Sri Lanka through his imagination and knowledge. The nation celebrated his birth anniversary on 17 September, which is an annual activity of the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka. 

The 2020 146th Birth Anniversary D.J. Wimalasurendra Memorial Oration was delivered by Eng. Rohan Senevirathne, the ADG of the Ceylon Electricity Board. Rohan tracked the journey from the initial Blackpool power station to 100% electrification and beyond in his ‘Reimagining Ceylon Electricity Board for Future’. The event is always an opportunity enabling our young to be reminded of an individual who served Sri Lanka with imagination and always it is hoped that some young one would look up to him as a role model. Eng. D.J. Wimalasurendra is an illustrious son of Sri Lanka and can rightly be called the ‘Father of Hydroelectricity’. He was the first to conceive the idea of harnessing the flowing waters of the country’s rivers for the generation of electricity and thereby having hydroelectricity. Electricity would be cheaper and foreign exchange would be saved.

It is interesting to think that he was concerned then about the cost of electricity generated as fossil fuels had been specifically imported for the purpose. The concern coupled with exploration sparked the idea. He understood well the importance of electricity in enabling uplifting the standards of living of the people. The quest thus was for an alternative mechanism and thanks to him renewable electricity appeared in the country, which was to play a lead role till recently. Rohan in his memorial lecture eluded to the goal of this young engineer – to generate electricity and support an industry base. 



Persistence is key

His life is an example of persistence over a goal. Many lessons are available to us from his life story, especially in these COVID times where Sri Lanka has to be innovative in ways of management as old rules and procedures are no longer valid. 

His initial proposal on hydropower was ignored by the Engineering Association of Ceylon. The rejection did not deter him at all as he went on to construct the first small hydropower station in Ceylon at Blackpool between Nanuoya and Nuwara Eliya. The result – cheap electricity came to Nuwara Eliya. 

With that demonstration and success behind him, he once again submitted a paper to the Engineering Association of Ceylon titled ‘Economics of Hydropower Utilisation in Ceylon’ in 1918. He envisioned lighting 100,000 lamps. He further introduced the concept of developing a national grid. 

Though the colonial government undertook the development of hydropower, he found himself ignored and left out. Though many an obstacle got in his way, he used his own funds for research and still pushed hard for hydropower. Incidentally he also built the first thermal power station in 1929 – the Stanley Power House. 

The British were interested in finding gold and the man chosen for the task was Wimalasurendra. Perhaps the logic was that in 1901 he had spent time on a survey on mineral deposits in the Kelani Valley. The British sent him to Aberdeen Laxapana fall area as the initial place for exploration. Instead of finding gold he saw the possibility of hydropower generation once again. 

More – http://www.ft.lk/columns/Persistence-pays-Saluting-the-Father-of-Hydroelectricity-An-individual-making-a-nation/4-707850

Built from ash: A building that houses Sri Lankan science speaks silently

  

 

 

 

Our Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement for Science (SLAAS) celebrated 75 years on 2019. It has had an interesting history starting as the Ceylon Association of Science in 1944. In 1951 it became the Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science and then finally SLAAS in 1975.

Usually there is a society in every country that pulls in all men and women of sciences together and it is one, which is held in high esteem. Scientific coverage in such a society is not only hard sciences but pulls together engineering, architecture and social sciences as well. During these 75 years four Nobel Laureates have graced its annual event.

In celebrating its 75-year history SLAAS published a coffee table book – ‘75 Years Ahoy!’ With pleasure one can walk through 75 years of history taking in glimpses of happenings of the yesteryears. You also deeply feel about opportunities lost as well.

A permanent home

It took many years to find a permanent abode for the Society. When you see the pictures of places of other similar organisations the only reason for the delay and difficulty had to be due to the lack of appreciation for science and technology in our way of life.

The General President Prof Preethi Udagama states something quite interesting – even a cliché perhaps, in her foreword: “Science and technology is the backbone of a national economy that drives economic and social development of a country. The advancement of science leads to technology. Therefore, in a knowledge-based economy, promoting and advancing science is indisputably vital.”

After 75 years, in retrospection, it is my take that we have not seen justice done to this line of thinking. However she goes on to state that SLAAS, therefore, must remain a key player of this process. That indeed is a necessity never giving up, on the hope that one day Sri Lanka would see the value in this approach.

Today the building that houses SLAAS is quite interesting. SLAAS finally found its permanent abode on 10 March 2020, down Vidya Mawatha, when the three-storey building was declared opened by the Prime Minister. It is an example of a building – built from ash! A first for Sri Lanka if you consider the built material produced in a local facility with new technology with local raw material. A technology that can serve in a circular economy transfer really was developed in a time when the whole concept was way away from being a necessity.

Yet when you take a closer look at the history you see the necessity has been similar – Sweden in 1920 had developed this technology in response to the increased demand as timber supplies. Sweden still went to make its mark with timber yet the technology developed thrived and spread across the world.

Autoclaved Aerated Concrete blocks

The brick in the building that gives shelter to all scientists in Sri Lanka is known as Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC). This is also known as Autoclaved Cellular Concrete. One ingredient that goes into make this is fly ash. Lime as a mineral, cement, calcined gypsum, water together with an expansion agent (aluminium powder) completes the formulation. The practicing formula indicates that AAC accounts for 60% of construction in Germany and 40% of the construction in United Kingdom.

Fly ash has been an unresolved issue from day one of the coal power station at Norochcholai. Fly ash is something that is generated each and every second of a power plant’s operation. Through trapping devices most of the emitted fly ash is collected but the question had been the disposal mechanism of the generated fly ash. Though perhaps the initial plan with the Environmental Assessment indicated 100% utilisation of fly ash the practical outcome had been quite different.

http://www.ft.lk/columns/Built-from-ash-A-building-that-houses-Sri-Lankan-science-speaks-silently/4-703849

Do not let COVID-19 get away without success!

What? Allowing COVID-19 to succeed? No, this is not about the virus – approx. 100nanometer diameter lifeless invisible organic material –succeeding, nor allowing it to show its power with RIPs planted on grounds across different landscapes. This is about not losing the opportunity to create success out of the situation. 

The economic situation we are in is bad. The situation cannot get any worse. The situation faced economically is a creation of years of inactivity, or all the wrong directions taken, such that when the crunch time comes, we are ill-prepared. However, while one cannot blame anyone really for the medical situation created, how one responds, and the subsequent developments from such responses, can be understood and commented on by anyone. Just turn on CNN; curve after curve decimating the performance of the Trump administration is quite interesting. Perhaps I am watching the wrong channel, instead of watching Fox News (which my cable service provider does not provide anyway), so I just cannot see the difference between news and fake news!

The response in trying times is the key to my heading. How we respond matters a lot in realising what the Chinese saw in creating the character to describe “crisis” – “danger” and “opportunity”. If you respond to the danger only, life for you and everyone else is a one of flight – into oblivion most likely. If fight was the response, the situation, however bad it may look, might turn out be the finest hour.

We can learn from Alibaba, and of course Jack Ma. Alibaba was a 1999 start-up based on the online B2B business model. Today, it is a giant e-commerce company worth $ 470+ billion. It was SARS that helped Alibaba to bloom: not because of the virus itself but due to the way Jack and his team took it on. When he sent his team home for a self-imposed isolation after one of his staff was stricken with SARS, they took their desktops – not laptops! – home, and with his core team holed up in his apartment, worked to change history. E-commerce was changed forever. He allowed people to post on his site free of charge for three years, and each transaction was not viewed with profits in mind. The capture of minds and growth was more important.

 

http://www.ft.lk/columns/Do-not-let-COVID-19-get-away-without-success/4-703183

In need of some national IQ: To lead, one must read!

Three must-read books: ‘The Singapore Story – Memoires of Lee Kuan Yew,’ ‘From Third Word to First: The Singapore Story 1965-2000’ and ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew’

 


I inadvertently happened to tune into a late night TV discussion which was touching on who deserves monuments. It was interesting so I stayed on as we are in a climate of toppling monuments and cowering for protection in some places. I thought that there was a demonstration of lack of deeper knowledge and one of political biases, which of course in Sri Lanka is quite usual – albeit unfortunately.

I heard again another statement indicating that Singapore developed from services and a country to be emulated on that front. If you flip channels there are many chat shows –otherwise it may be superstars of all ages dancing or singing – and most of the time you feel that we are wasting our precious fossil fuels in providing electricity to keep them powered. There perhaps is quite poor conversational IQ demonstrated.

Our Engineering Pioneer Wimalasurendra indicated generating electricity and making products such as caustic soda! He was not advocating frittering away resources for unproductive exercises though the TV set was not one from his time. I am sure that he would be appalled to see the night time peak demand in Sri Lanka, COVID-19 or not!

Nation building through leadership

The die had been cast for the election and you hear the clamouring for the youth, the disciplined and the educated – much more of the latter! Important definitely. My take on this is to recommend some mandatory reading to understand what nation building through leadership really means and entails.

As a teacher one can always recommend some reading material for the novice and the seniors. I am equally ready to recommend these to seniors as well as I see that after 71 years of post-independence our report card really is bad, meaning that discussion of monuments are not really relevant.

http://www.ft.lk/columns/In-need-of-some-national-IQ-To-lead-one-must-read/4-701772