සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #92: ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාවට අත නොතබනු!

In this week’s Sunday column in Ravaya newspaper (in Sinhala), I’ve written about polar explorer Sir Robert Swan’s 2041 campaign to preserve the Antarctica as the world’s last great wilderness.

I covered similar ground in an English column on 11 Nov 2012: When Worlds Collide #41: Hands Off Antarctica! Protecting the Last Great Wilderness

Follow-up column on 2 Dec 2012: සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #94: ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාවට ගිය ශ‍්‍රී ලාංකිකයෝ

Robert Swan and his 2041 campaign for Antarctica

අප බොහෝ දෙනෙකුගේ දැක්ම හා ආකල්ප අපේ වටපිටාව මඟින් පෝෂණය වනවා. මානවයින්ගෙන් බහුතරයකට තමන්ගේ ගම, පළාත හෝ වැඩි ම වුව හොත් උපන් රටෙන් ඔබ්බට පුළුල් වූ චින්තනයක් නැහැ. එහි වරදක් නොමැති වුවත් ඉඳහිට හෝ අප ටික දෙනෙකුවත් ග‍්‍රහලෝකයේ මටිටමින් සිතීම අවශ්‍යයි.

පටු මානව බෙදීම්වලින් සීමා නොවූ මෙබඳු ග‍්‍රහලෝකමය දැක්මක් අත්දැකීමක් මනා සේ ලබන දෙපිරිසක් සිටිනවා. එනම් අජටාකාශගාමීන් හා ධ‍්‍රැව ගවේෂකයන්. අපේ ලෝකයේ පුළුල් චිත‍්‍රය ග‍්‍රහණය කර ගන්නා ඔවුන් වැඩි දෙනෙකු ඉන්පසු ලෝක සාමය, න්‍යෂ්ටික අවිහරණය, පරිසර සංරක්ෂණය වැනි උදාර අරමුණු වලට සිය ජීවිතය කැප කරනවා.

මා විවිධ අවස්ථාවල අමෙරිකානු හා රුසියානු අජටාකාශගාමීන් කිහිප දෙනෙකු හමු වී තිබෙනවා. ධ‍්‍රැව ගවේෂකයකු මා මුල් වරට හමු වුයේ මීට දින කිහිපයකට පෙරයි. ඔහු 56 හැවිරිදි බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය ජාතික ශ‍්‍රීමත් රොබට් ස්වෝන් (Sir Robert Swan).

ධ‍්‍රැව ගවේෂණය ලෙහෙසි පහසු කාර්යයක් නොවේ. අධික ශීතල, දේශගුණ විසමතා ඇතුළු ආන්තික පාරිසරික තත්ත්වයන් නිසා. උත්තර ධ‍්‍රැවය (ආක්ටික් හිම කඳු) හා දක්ෂිණ ධ‍්‍රැවය පිහිටි ඇන්ටාක්ටිකා අයිස් මහද්වීපය ගවේෂණය කිරීමේ සියවසකට වඩා දිගු ඉතිහාසයක් තිබෙනවා.

මේ වකවානුව තුළ රොබට් ස්වෝන්ගේ පුරෝගාමී වික‍්‍රමය වූයේ කිසිදු යාන්ත‍්‍රික උපකාරයකින් තොරව ධ‍්‍රැව දෙකට ම පා ගමනින් ඇවිද ගෙන යාමයි. 1986 ජනවාරියේ කුඩා කණ්ඩායමක් සමග ඔහු කිලෝමිටර් 1,400ක් ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව හරහා ගමන් කොට දක්ෂීණ ධ‍්‍රැවයට ළගා වුණා. 1989 මැයි මාසයේ ආක්ටික් අයිස් අතරින් උත්තර ධ‍්‍රැවයටත් පයින් ම ගියා.

Sir Robert Swan, polar explorer

මේ චාරිකාවලින් පසුව ධ‍්‍රැව ප‍්‍රදේශ සංරක්ෂණය කිරීමේ වැදගත්කම හොඳාකාර තේරුම් ගත් ඔහු පාරිසරික ක‍්‍රියාකාරිකයකු වුණා. දැනට දශක දෙකකට වැඩි කාලයක් ඔහු කරන්නේ ලොව පුරා සංචාරය කරමින් පිවිතුරු බලශක්තිය, දේශගුණික විපර්යාස ඇතුළු පාරිසරික තේමා ගැන දේශන කිරීමයි.

ඔහු වඩාත් උනන්දු වන්නේ ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව පිළිබදවයි. උත්තර ධ‍්‍රැවයට සමීප පෙදෙස්වල එස්කිමෝවරුන් සිටියත් ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාවේ නිත්‍ය මානව ජනාවාස නැහැ. එහි ඇත්තේ විද්‍යා පර්යේෂණාගාර පමණයි. 1957දී ඇරඹුණු මේ පර්යේෂණ කටයුතු දැන් වඩාත් පුළුල වී තිබෙනවා. ඇන්ටාක්ටික් ගිම්හානයේදී විවිධ රටවලින් පැමිණෙන 4,000කට අධික විද්‍යාඥ හා සහායක පිරිසක් සති හෝ මාස කිහිපයක් එහි ගත කරනවා.

ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව අප සිතනවාට වඩා විශාලයි. බිම් ප‍්‍රමාණයෙන් වර්ග කිමී මිලියන් 14ක්. එනම් ඕස්ටේ‍්‍රලියාව මෙන් දෙගුණයක්! මෙයින් 98% වැසී තිබෙන්නේ කිමී 1.6ක් පමණ ගැඹුරට විහිදෙන අයිස් තට්ටුවකින්. ලෝකයේ මිරිදිය සම්පත්වලින් 70%ක් ම ඇත්තේ මේ අයිස් මහාද්වීපයේයි.

ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව අසාමාන්‍ය හා විශ්මයජනක තැනක්. එය ලෝකයේ සීතල අධිකතම හා සුළං කුණාටු බහුලතම භූමියයි. එපමණක් නොව වියලි බව අධිකතම ස්ථානයයි. සාමාන්‍යයෙන් අප කාන්තාරයක් දැඩි සේ උණුසුම් යයි සිතනවා. එහෙත් කතරක නිර්වචනය අහසින් ලැබෙන ජල ප‍්‍රමාණය ඉතා අඩු වීමයි. මෙනයින් බලන විට වසරකට මිලි මීටර් 200කට අඩු වර්ෂාපතනයක් හා හිමපතනයක් ලබන ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව ඇත්තට ම සීතල කාන්තාරයක් (cold desert).

ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාවේ ඓතිහාසිකව ජනාවාස බිහි වූයේ නැහැ. නූතන යුගයේ මුල් වරට මිනිස් ගවේෂකයන් එහි පා තැබුවේ 1895දී. එතැන් පටන් ටිකෙන් ටික මේ මහා අයිස් මහාද්වීපය ගවේෂණයට විවිධ රටවල දේශාටකයන් යොමු වුණා.

ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාවේ මැද පිහිටි දක්ෂිණ ධ‍්‍රැවයට මුලින් ම ළඟා වීමේ බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය හා නෝර්වීජියානු තරඟයකින් ජය ගත්තේ රෝල්ඞ් අමන්ඞ්සන් (Roald Amundsen) නම් නෝවීජියානු ගවේෂකයා 1912 ජනවාරියේ.

එහෙත් ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව ඉනික්බ්ති දශක කිහිපයක් අත් හැර දමා තිබුණා. 1957-58 කාලයේ ලෝක භූ භෞතික වර්ෂය නම් ජාත්‍යන්තර විද්‍යාත්මක සහයෝගිතාවය යටතේ ඇරැඹුණු විද්‍යාත්මක පර්යේෂණාගාර අද වඩාත් පුළුල් මට්ටමින් පවත්වාගෙන යනවා. ඇමෙරිකාව හා යුරෝපීය රටවලට අමතරව ජපානය, ඉන්දියාව වැනි රටවලටත් ඇන්ටාක්ටික් පර්යේෂණාගාර තිබෙනවා.

ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව අයිති කාට ද? 1959දී රටවල් 12ක් මූලික වී සම්මත කර ගත් ඇන්ටාක්ටික් ගිවිසුම (Antarctic Treaty, www.ats.aq) නම් ජාත්‍යන්තර නීතිය යටතේ එය කිසිදු තනි රටකට අයිති නොවන, ලෝකයටම පොදු බිම් ප‍්‍රදේශයක්. විද්‍යාවට හා සාමයට කැපවුණු මහාද්වීපයක්. ඇමෙරිකාව හා සෝවියට් දේශය නිරත වී සිටි සීතල යුද්ධයේ උච්ච අවධියකදී ඒ දෙරටත් එකඟ වෙමින් ඇන්ටාක්ටික් ගිවිසුම ඇති කර ගැනීම රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත‍්‍රික කේෂත‍්‍රයේ සුවිශේෂී සිද්ධියක්. 1962දී බල පැවැත්වීම ඇරඹි මේ ගිවිසුමට අද රටවල් 50ක් අත්සන් තබා සිටිනවා.

ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාවට යන විවිධ රටවල පර්යේෂකයන් සාමූහිකව ගවේෂණවල යෙදෙන්නේ මේ ගිවිසුමේ රාමුව තුළයි. ඒ අනුව ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව හමුදා කටයුතුවලට යොදා ගැනීම හා ඛනිජ සම්පත් වාණිජ මට්ටමින් උකහා ගැනීම සපුරා තහනම්.

1991දී මේ ගිවිසුමේ පාරිසරික සන්ධානයක් ස්පාඤ්ඤයේ මැඞ්රිඞ් නුවරදී සම්මත වුණා (Madrid Protocol). ඒ අනුව මුළු ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව ම පාරිසරික රක්ෂිත කලාපයක්. එහි පර්යේෂණ කිරීමට පවා පාරිසරික බලපෑම් ඇගැයීම් වාර්තා අවශ්‍යයි. එහි සියළු ජීවීන්ට (සතුන් හා පැළෑටි) රැකවරණය සැළසෙනවා.

මේ මැඞ්රිඞ් සන්ධානය වසර 50ක් බල පවත්වනවා. එය නැවත විමර්ශනයට නියමිත 2041දී. අද ලෝකයේ ඛනිජ සම්පත් පිළිබඳ ගිජු බවක් දක්වන ඇතැම් රටවල් සන්ධානය විමර්ශනය කරන විට එහි සැර බාල කොට ඇන්ටාක්ටික් ඛනිජ සම්පත් ඩැහැ ගැනීමට උත්සාහ කරනු ඇතැයි රොබට් ස්වෝන් ඇතුළු සමහර පරිසරවේදීන්ට බියක් තිබෙනවා.

මේ නිසා ඇන්ටාක්ටික් පාරිසරික රැකවරණය සදහට ම පවත්වා ගන්නට ඔහු 2041 නම් ස්වේච්ඡ පදනමක් අරඹා තිබෙනවා. ග‍්‍රීන්පීස් වැනි ලෝක පාරිසරික ක‍්‍රියාකාරී සංවිධාන ද කලෙක සිට ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාවේ සාමූහික අයිතිය හා පරිසර සුරැකුම ගැන උද්ඝෝෂණ කළත්, එම තේමාවට කැප වූ සංවිධානය ලෙස 2041 කැපී පෙනෙනවා. www.2041.com

”ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාව අද ලෝකයේ ඉතිරි වී තිබෙන විශාල ප‍්‍රමාණයේ අවසාන ස්වාභාවික ප‍්‍රදේශයයි. එය රැක ගැනීම හා මානව සංහතියට පොදු බිමක් ලෙස පවත්වා ගැනීම අපට තිබෙන අභියෝගයයි,” ස්වෝන් කියනවා.

1985 දෙසැම්බර් – 1986 ජනවාරි මාස වල ස්වෝන් ඇතුළු කණ්ඩායම හිම කතර හරහා දිගු ගමනක යෙදුනේ කිසිදු වාහනයක හෝ සත්වයන්ගේ හො උපකාරයක් නැතිවයි. ටික දිනෙකින් තමන්ගේ ඇස් වලට වර්ණය වෙනස් වූ බවත්, පිටතට නිරාවරණය වූ මුහුණු සම පුපුරා ලේ ගලන්නට වූ බවත් ඔහු කියනවා. 20 වන සියවස මුල දී මේ දුෂ්කර චාරිකාවේ යෙදුණු පුරෝගාමී ධ‍්‍රැව ගවේෂකයන්ට එබන්දක් සිදු වී නැහැ. මේ වෙනසට හේතුව කුමක් ද?

ආපසු මිනිස් වාසයට පැමිණි විගස එයට හේතුව ඔවුන් තේරුම් ගත්තා. එනම් දක්ෂිණ ධ‍්‍රැවයට ඉහල වායුගෝලයේ ඇති වූ ඕසෝන් සිදුරයි. 20 වන සියවසේ දශක ගණනක් පුරා විවිධ කාර්මික රසායන ද්‍රව්‍ය වායු ගෝලයට මුදා හැරීම නිසා ටිකෙන් ටික ක්ෂීන වූ ඕසෝන් වියන හරහා හිරුගේ සිට එන හානිකර පාරජම්බුල කිරණ මිහි මතට වැටීමට පටන් ගත්තා. මේ තත්වය වඩාත් උග‍්‍ර වූයේ දක්ෂිණ ධ‍්‍රැවය ආසන්න ප‍්‍රදේශවලයි.

රොබට් ස්වෝන් ඇතුළු ගවේෂක කණ්ඩායම මේ අළුතින් ක්ෂීන වූ ඕසෝන් වියන හරහා එන හානිකර කිරණ වල බලපෑම සෘජුව අත් වින්දා. ඇන්ටාක්ටික් ඕසෝන් සිදුර සොයා ගනු ලැබුවේ ඊට මාස කිහිපයකට පෙර 1985 මුලදී බි‍්‍රතාන්‍ය ඇන්ටාක්ටික් පර්යේෂක පිරිසක් විසින්.

ඊට තෙවසරකට පසු ස්වෝන් ආක්ටික් හිම කඳු අතරින් උත්තර ධ‍්‍රැවයට පයින් යන විට ඊට වෙනස් ආකාරයේ අභියෝගයකට මුහුණ දුන්නා. සාමාන්‍යයෙන් උත්තරාර්ධ ගෝලයේ උණුසුම උච්ච වන්නේ වසරේ මැද කාලයේ. එවිට යම් තරමකට ආක්ටික් අයිස් වාර්ෂිකව දිය වනවා. (යලිත් සීත සෘතුවට ඒවා තැන්පත් වනවා.) එහෙත් පොතේ හැටියට අයිස් දියවීමට නියමිත ජූනි මාසයට වඩා දෙමසක් පමණ කලින් ආක්ටික් අයිස් දියවන බව ඔහුට පෙනී ගියා. මේ නිසා සැළසුම් කර තිබූ ගමන් මාර්ගය විටින් විට වෙනස් කිරීමට ඔහුගේ කණ්ඩායමට සිදු වුණා.

මේ අත්දැකීම් නිසා අද අප ග‍්‍රහලෝක මට්ටමින් මුහුණ පා සිටින පාරිසරික ප‍්‍රශ්න ගැන හොඳ ප‍්‍රායෝගික අවබෝධයක් ඔහු ලබා ගත්තා. එහෙත් ඔහු අන්තවාදී හරිතවේදියකු නොවෙයි.

“අප බිහි වන්නට කලින් අපේ පෘථිවිය වසර බිලියන ගණනක් පැවතුණා. අප වඳ වී ගිය දිනෙකත් මේ ග‍්‍රහලෝකය පවතිනු ඇති. අපට තිබෙන අභියෝගය මිහිතලය මත අපේ වර්ගයාගේ හා අපෙන් අනතුරට පත්ව සිටින අනෙක් ජීවීන්ගේ පැවැත්ම තහවුරු කර ගැනීමයි,” ඔහු කියනවා.

ස්වෝන් පිවිතුරු බල ශක්තිය ගැන ලොව පුරා දේශපාලන හා ව්‍යාපාරික නායකයන් දැනුවත් කිරීමේ අරමුණින් දේශන හා සංචාර කරනවා. “පරිසරයට සහජයෙන් නැඹුරු වූ ටික දෙනෙකු අතර මෑතක් වන තුරු කෙරුණු සංරක්ෂණ ව්‍යායාමය, අප සමාජ හා ආර්ථික ප‍්‍රධාන ප‍්‍රවාහයේ කොටසක් කළ යුතුයි. තිරසාර සංවර්ධනය ප‍්‍රායෝගිකව සාක්ෂාත් කර ගන්නට හැකි වන්නේ හැම දෙනා ම එහි කොටස් කරුවන් වූවොත් පමණයි,” ඔහු කියනවා.

මෙබඳු පුළුල් දැක්මක් වැඩි දෙනෙකුට ලබා දීමේ අරමුණින් 2003 සිට වාර්ෂිකව ඔහු කෙටි කාලයන් සඳහා ඇන්ටාක්ටිකාවට තරුණ පිරිස් හා ව්‍යාපාර කළමණාකරුවන් කැඳවා ගෙන යනවා.

ලොකු කුඩා හැම ව්‍යාපාරිකයා ම එක කෝදුවෙන් මැන සැකයට පාත‍්‍ර කරන, ආර්ථික වර්ධනයට ගන්නා රාජ්‍ය ප‍්‍රතිපත්ති හා කි‍්‍රයා මාර්ග මුළුමනින් ප‍්‍රතික්ෂේප කරන මනෝ ලෝකයක ජීවත් වන අපේ ඇතැම් හරිතවේදීන්ට මෙබඳු තතු දන්නා, මහ පොළොව හරිහැටි හඳුනන පාරිසරික ක‍්‍රියාකාරිකයන් හොඳ ආදර්ශයක්.

Composite satellite image of Antarctica

Surviving Chemicals and Making Sense of Them: Tips for Journalists

Despite the recent International Year of Chemistry (2011), chemicals don’t get good press in Sri Lanka. If at all they make it to the news, or become a current affairs topic, that is usually as a bad story: a chemical spill, water contamination or suspected pesticide residues in our food.

All these happen, and we should be concerned. But chemicals are everywhere in our modern lives — reducing drudgery, protecting us from disease and overall improving the quality of life. It’s all a question of balancing risks with benefits. Also discerning what we really need as opposed to what we want.

Focusing on bad news is the media’s typical approach, and demonising science and technology is common in many sections of our print and broadcast media. Such posturing also fits well into the prevailing narrative of the ‘whole world being out to undermine, destabilise and destroy us’. So chemical industries must be part of that ‘conspiracy’, no?

Many of Lanka’s environmental activists don’t allow facts and analysis to get in the way of a good scare story. Uncritical journalists and their editors often peddle their half-baked arguments and conspiracy theories unsupported by any evidence. Very few scientists speak out for science and reason.

So when the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), a moderate advocacy group, invited me to talk to a group of journalists and broadcasters at a media workshop, I welcomed the opportunity.

I based my talk on five scientists each of who took on once-revered chemicals and formidable industry interests, all in the public interest. By showcasing these champions of public science, I wanted to show that there are honest, diligent scientists who engage in evidence-based advocacy. Not all scientists are part of some global conspiracy to poison us…

The five are those who worked tirelessly and left their mark in their discipline, and in how we look at chemical and environmental management:
Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)
Alice Hamilton (1869 – 1970)
Sherwood Rowland (1927 – 2012)
Theo Colborn (1927 – )
Anil Agarwal (1947 – 2002)

I ended by urging journalists to look for credible and moderate scientists who are led by evidence, not conjecture or prejudice. Amplifying their voices is something we in the media are well positioned to do, but don’t do nearly enough.

Presentation to Media workshop on scientific reporting on chemical issues, organised by Centre for Environmental Justice in Colombo, 25 September 2012:

Ozone Friendly Pure Ceylon Tea: The Cup that Cheers now Saves Ozone!

Text of my article that appears in Ceylon Today newspaper, on 20 September 2012

Ozone Friendly Logo adorns Ceylon Tea packaging – photo by Nalaka Gunawardene

On 21 September 2012, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will honour Sri Lanka for its long standing commitment to preserving the ozone layer.

At a special ceremony at Jana Kala Kendraya (Folk Art Centre) in Battaramulla, a global plaque is to be presented to the Speaker of Parliament and Minister of Environment by Marco Gonzalez, Executive Secretary of UNEP’s Ozone Secretariat.

This is one of six events worldwide to mark the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer — the world’s most widely subscribed international law.

Since it signed and ratified the Montreal Protocol in 1989, Sri Lanka has been active on several fronts to phase out various industrial and agricultural chemicals that damage the ozone layer – a natural occurring atmospheric phenomenon that protects all life from the Sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Among the many accomplishments is introducing the world’s first ozone friendly tea. The May 2011 launch of ‘Ozone Friendly Pure Ceylon Tea’ logo highlighted a remarkable success story of a developing country complying with a global environmental treaty while also enhancing a major export industry.

The logo is already displayed by many Ceylon Tea manufacturers and distributors. It marks another value addition to the island’s best known export product, an industry worth US Dollars 1.5 billion a year.

The logo reminds Ceylon Tea drinkers worldwide that their favourite ‘cuppa’ has been produced without harming the Ozone Layer. That means our tea is growing without any Methyl Bromide on tea plantations. Instead, ozone-friendly substitutes are now used as fumigants to protect tea bushes from pest attacks, particularly the nematodes (roundworms).

The Montreal Protocol requires all Methyl Bromide use to end by 1 January 2015 (except in emergency situations and quarantine purposes). Sri Lanka got there ahead of schedule.

“Sri Lanka is renowned for its creative activities to raise public awareness on ozone layer protection. The Ozone-Friendly Ceylon Tea logo is another significant achievement of Sri Lanka,” says Atul Bagai, Senior Regional Coordinator of UNEP’s OzonAction team based in Bangkok, Thailand.

He sees multiple benefits from this branding exercise: “Considering the worldwide popularity of Ceylon Tea, this initiative will greatly contribute to the global efforts to protect the ozone layer.”

Searching for Substitutes

It took many years and involved collaboration between government agencies, private companies, scientists and the international community.

Producing Ceylon Tea — known for its distinctive and diverse range of flavours — is as much an art as it’s a science. In recent years, Sri Lanka’s tea industry has modernised manufacturing, distribution and marketing. It has also responded to rising consumer expectations and regulatory requirements in export markets.

The Sri Lanka Tea Board believes that ‘Ozone Friendly’ status could give a competitive advantage for Ceylon Tea at a time when ethically and environmentally responsible products are gaining markets around the world.

Methyl Bromide, also known as Bromo-methane, is a colourless, odourless and highly toxic gas at normal temperatures and pressures. It has been widely used in agriculture since the 1930s to fumigate the soil against weeds, harmful insects and worms. It is a versatile pesticide that works against various creatures that attack crops both in the field and at storage.

UNEP says alternatives have been identified for most Methyl Bromide applications. These include using other chemicals, as well as non-chemical measures such as solarisation, exposure to steam or hot water, and crop rotation.

The National Ozone Unit of the Ministry of Environment initiated action to phase out Methyl Bromide in tea plantations over a dozen years ago. The Tea Research Institute (TRI), working with tea plantation companies, found some environmentally friendly alternatives. The Registrar of Pesticides, the state regulator for all agro-chemicals, was also consulted.

In fact, the search for substitutes started in the mid 1990s when the Ministry of Environment alerted the TRI about on-going discussions at Montreal Protocol meetings about controlling Methyl Bromide.

Perceptive officials realised how the highly technical discussions being held in far away places could one day affect how Ceylon Tea was grown and marketed.

Dr Janaka Ratnasiri, then head of the Ministry’s Montreal Protocol Unit, recalls negotiations at Montreal Protocol meetings in the late 1990s. “We had to persuade other countries to get tea included in the list of crops eligible for research funding to eliminate Methyl Bromide. Initially only five other crops – grown mainly in the west – were on that list.”

To make matters more difficult, no other tea-growing country was using this chemical. But his ‘scientific diplomacy’ worked, and Sri Lanka’s case to add tea to the crop list was accepted.

In 1995, the TRI responded with a proposal to research for substitutes. Initial funding support came from the Norwegian aid agency NORAD. The Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol, set up to assist developing countries in protecting ozone, helped continue that research and field testing.

“TRI scientists, led by Ms Sushila Vitarana, worked with meagre sums of money and came out with several recommendations for adoption by the tea plantations,” says Dr Ratnasiri.

Many Hands, One Aim

During the past few years, all Sri Lankan tea plantations – large and small – have gradually introduced substitutes to Methyl Bromide. For example, plantations owned by Sri Lanka’s Dilmah Tea, among the top five global tea brands, have switched to using Basamid-Granular for soil fumigation.

“Although the new methodology is cumbersome, our plantations have adopted it unreservedly in order to reduce the damage to ozone layer,” says Dilhan C Fernando, marketing director of Dilmah Tea.

It was the partnership between policy makers, researchers, tea plantation companies and the development donors that enabled the Sri Lankan tea industry to wean itself from a decades-long dependence on a trusted chemical.

Janaka Gunawardana, Director of the National Ozone Unit with ozone friendly Ceylon Tea

“This is a good example of public-private partnership (PPP),” says Janaka Gunawardana, Director of the National Ozone Unit. “It was with the support from the private sector tea plantation companies that Sri Lanka was able to eliminate Methyl Bromide use. And now, we are using this environmentally responsible conduct to enhance the brand value of Ceylon Tea worldwide.”

“Public-private partnerships are very helpful in implementing international treaties such as the Montreal Protocol,” says Gunawardana. “They can be challenging at times, but we want to build up more collaborations with the private sector.”

The Tea Board aims to have all tea exports displaying the ozone friendly logo by end 2012.

“All tea grown in Sri Lanka is now 100% ozone-friendly. This is a distinction of which no other tea-producing nation can boast,” says the Tea Board website, www.pureceylontea.com.

It adds: “When you reach for a cup of Ceylon Tea, you’re not just refreshing yourself; you’re also helping refresh and renew an environmental resource critically important to all life on Earth.”

Shattered Sky: New film on climate advocacy lessons of ozone protection

A film by Steve Dorst and Dan Evans.


An invisible compound threatens Earth’s life-support systems, with effects so pervasive that scientists sound the alarm, businesses must innovate, politicians are forced to take action—and American leadership is absolutely vital. Climate change? No…the hole in the ozone layer. For the first time in film, Shattered Sky tells the story of how—during geopolitical turmoil, a recession, and two consecutive Republican administrations— America led the world to solve the biggest environmental crisis ever seen. Today, will we dare to do the same on energy and climate?

A film by Steve Dorst and Dan Evans. The story of how America led the world to solve the biggest environmental crisis ever seen. Today, will we dare to do the same on energy and climate?

A new film looks at American leadership during the ozone crisis and compares it to the situation with global warming today. A good interview with the filmmaker.

Montreal Protocol at 25: Celebrating Ozone Safe Generation!

On 16 September, the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer will be observed once again all over the world. This year’s theme is “Protecting our atmosphere for generations to come”.

Exactly 25 years ago, governments of the world came together at a historic conference in Montreal, Canada, to adopt the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

In a quarter century, it has rallied governments and industries in both developed and developing countries to phase out, or substantially reduce, nearly 100 chemicals that damage the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

The Ozone Secretariat and UNEP OzonAction have jointly produced two 30-second videos mark the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol (MP).

These Public Service Announcements (PSAs) hail the extraordinary achievements of this Multilateral Environmental Agreement over a quarter century. They also project the MP as a protector of our shared atmosphere for generations to come.

The first PSA briefly introduces the ozone layer depletion issue and highlights its recovery that was made possible when countries of the world joined hands for saving the ozone layer – a global action at its best.

The second PSA revolves around the multiple benefits of the Protocol: it is not just a treaty protecting the ozone layer, but has multiple benefits for our biodiversity, climate, human health and the global economy.

The third version of this PSA (below) is twice as long, gives more info and moves at a more leisurely pace.

These PSAs, made by friends in the UK are proof that even a highly esoteric and technical subject like ozone protection can be presented in engaging, human interest terms.

Growing up in an Ozone Safe World: that’s worth celebrating!

Do Journalist By-lines matter in Paradise? Three of us anxiously waited to find out…

To keep up with the silly season, here’s another photo taken in July 2011 in…well, read the sign behind us.

Waiting to be let in – surely they know our bylines? L to R – Nalaka Gunawardene, Kunda Dixit, Darryl D’Monte – Maldives, May 2011

PS: It’s actually in the Maldives, where fellow journalists Kunda Dixit, Darryl D’Monte and I were working hard to earn an honest living at a regional meeting on ozone and climate. Yes, we were let in — and we liked the salubrious settings…

L to R – Nalaka Gunawardene, Darryl D’Monte & Kunda Dixit in Paradise, May 2011

The Last Filming? Mystery of Missing Science Writer and Cameraman finally solved…

Cooling without warming: Cool Biz for a safer future?

Image courtesy - Paradise Island Resort, Maldives

Paradise, The Maldives. 10 May 2011

I’m sitting in Paradise – and freezing. This isn’t quite what I imagined it to be.

Well, actually I’m attending a serious inter-governmental meeting being held at the Paradise Island Resort and Spa in the Maldives.

The setting is exotic enough – I’m near some of the finest beaches and bluest seas in the world. It’s a cloudy day outside, with tropical sunshine interrupted by occasional showers. We’re just a few hundred kilometres north of the Equator.

But it’s whole different world inside the meeting room. We have no windows and are visually cut off from the scenery. And the air conditioning is too strong. Even the 50 or so people inside the room don’t emit enough body heat to counter the chill spilling out from the ceiling.

Paradise (resort) isn’t alone. Across tropical Asia, our public offices, hotels and shopping malls just love to freeze us out.

This habit has a particular irony at this meeting. Convened by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), it’s discussing how to stay cool without killing the planet.

To be precise, how air conditioning and refrigeration industries can continue their business – and keep cooling people and goods – without damaging the ozone layer or warming the planet.

It’s the semi-annual meeting of government officials from across Asia who help implement the Montreal Protocol to control and phase out several dozen industrial chemicals that damage the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

A nitpicker in Paradise? Photo by Darryl D'Monte

Adopted in 1987 and now ratified by 196 countries, it is the world’s most successful environmental treaty. It has reversed a catastrophic loss of ozone high up in the Earth’s atmosphere, and prevented tens of thousands of cases of skin cancer and cataract.

A landmark was reached at the end of 2009, when it succeeded in totally phasing out the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — chemicals that had helped the cooling industries for decades. Now, a bigger challenge remains: removing two other widely used gases known as HCFCs and HFCs.

Both were originally promoted as substitutes for CFCs in the early days of the Protocol. HCFCs are less ozone-damaging than CFCs, while HFCs are fully ozone-safe. However, both have a high global warming potential — up to 1,700 times that of Carbon dioxide — and therefore contribute to climate change.

It was only a few years ago that scientists and officials realized that there was little point in fixing one atmospheric problem if it aggravated another. So in 2007, the Montreal Protocol countries agreed to address the climate impacts of their work.

The Montreal Protocol now encourages the countries to promote the selection of alternatives to HCFCs that minimize environmental impacts, in particular impacts on climate change.

The air conditioning and refrigeration industries are being encouraged to switch from HCFC to substitutes ahead of the global phase-out deadline of 2030. Alternatives — including natural refrigerants such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons — are entering the market for many applications.

Parallel to this, consumers are being encouraged to opt for newer appliances that are both ozone-safe and climate friendly.

It takes time and effort for this message to spread and take hold. Many users — especially in the developing countries — only consider the purchase price of appliances and not necessarily the long-term energy savings or planetary benefits.

Events like the first Asian Ozone2Climate Roadshow, held in the Maldivian capital Malé from 8 to 12 May 2011, are pushing for this clarity and awareness. It’s still an uphill task: too many people have to be won over on too many appliances using a wide range of chemicals and processes.

And sitting here at my freezing corner of Paradise, I feel we should add another message: conserving energy includes a more rational and sensible use of air conditioning.

Perhaps we should promote and adopt the Japanese practice of Cool Biz.

Introduced by the Japanese Ministry of Environment in the summer of 2005, the idea behind Cool Biz was simple: ensure the thermostat in all air conditioners stayed fixed at 28 degrees Centigrade.

CoolBiz Logo

That’s not exactly a very cool temperature (and certainly no freezing), but not unbearable either.

The Cool Biz dress code advised office workers to starch collars “so they stand up and to wear trousers made from materials that breathe and absorb moisture”. They were encouraged to wear short-sleeved shirts without jackets or ties.

A Cool Koizumi: Leading from the front...

Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi himself set the tone, wearing informal attire. But then, he was already known for his unorthodox style.

Clothes designers and retailers chipped in, with clothes offering greater comfort at higher temperatures.

Cool Biz changed the Japanese work environment – and fast. I remember walking into a meeting at a government office in Tokyo a few weeks after the idea had been introduced, and finding I was the most formally dressed.

The Japanese like to count things. When the first season of Cool Biz ended, they calculated the countrywide campaign to have saved at least 460,000 tons of Carbon dioxide emissions (by avoided electricity use). That’s about the same emissions from a million Japanese households for a month.

The following year, an even more aggressive Cool Biz campaign helped save an estimated 1.14 million tons of Carbon dioxide – or two and half times more than in the first year.

The idea also traveled beyond Japan. In 2006, the South Korean Ministry of Environment and the British Trade Union Congress both endorsed the idea.

This summer, the seventh since Cool Biz started, there is an added reason for the Japanese to conserve energy. As the Asahi Shimbun reported on 28 April 2011: “In what has been dubbed the ‘power-conserving biz’ campaign, many companies plan to conserve energy during the peak summer period in light of expected power shortages caused by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

Meanwhile, the rest of us freeze-happy tropical Asians can evolve our own Cool Biz practices – we don’t need to wait for governments and industry to launch organized campaigns.

For a start, we – as consumers or patrons – can urge those who maintain public-access buildings to observe voluntary upper limits of cooling. Sensitive thermostats can automatically adjust air conditioner operations when temperatures rise above a pre-determined comfortable level.

It all depends on how many of us pause to think. Of course, we can also continue business as usual – and freeze ourselves today for a warmer tomorrow.

The sun sets in Paradise too - photo by Nalaka Gunawardene

UK Nepal Climate Change Film Competition: We’re toast in 3 minutes!

Tell a climate story in just 180 seconds...

Tell a climate story in just 180 seconds...

In July 2007, we had an interesting discussion on this blog on the shrinking durations of Nature and environment films and TV programmes. The moving images community is divided on this, with some purists holding out that to pack complex, nuanced messages into a few minutes is akin to dumbing everything down. Noted film-makers like Neil Curry disagreed.

I revisited this topic in August 2008, saying: “But there’s no argument of the sheer power of well produced public service announcements (PSAs) to move people with a specific, short message. Nothing can beat them for the economy of time and efficacy of delivery.”

Kathmandu to Copenhagen - in three minutes?

Kathmandu to Copenhagen - in three minutes?

The trend to make ever shorter films has been fuelled by the growth of online video, where the dominant value seems to be: less is certainly more! This is the premise, for example, of the current competition One Minute to Save the World.

In Nepal, they were more generous — and allowed three minutes. I recently came across the winners of the UK Nepal Climate Change Film Competition, where Nepali film makers were invited to “make short, effective films of up to 3 minutes on the theme of Climate Change”. The submitted films had to be original in concept, innovative and highly motivational – no restrictions were set in terms of discipline or genre. It was organised by our friends at Himal Association, better known for sustaining Film South Asia festival for a decade.

The winning films were screened at an awards ceremony in September 2009 at the Regional Climate Change Conference in Kathmandu. They will also be screened at Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival 2009 (10-14 December) and will be broadcast on television.

The winning film, Act locally think globally, was directed by Santoshi Nepal and Ishu Lama:

First runner-up, Jeopardy, is an animation directed by Shiva Sharan Koirala:

Second runner-up, 3 Cs of Climate Change, directed by Binod K Dhami and Padam Raj Paneru:

The competition attracted an impressive 124 entries. Angelo D’Silva, an educationist and media critic in Kathmandu, recently reviewed the entries in Himal Southasian special issue on climate change. He wrote: “In cash-strapped times, these contests focusing on climate change prove to be a cost-effective strategy in generating content. With no funding directed to the filmmaker for production, and prize money amounting to NPR 130,000 (USD 1700) for the three winners, the climate-change film contest is a way to make a splash on the cheap.”

He added: “While the filmmakers, all of whom were Nepali, exhibited an impressive range and quality, it was a range obscured by the selection of some fairly typical public-service-announcement-type finalists. Hopefully, however, two sets among the entries will soon see the light of day: those documenting the effects of climate change on Nepali communities, and those exploring (and exploiting) anxieties and fears about the burgeoning climate crisis.”

Read full review here.

I have only seen the three winning entries that are available online, so it would be unfair to comment on other entries. But I found the three winners predictably text-bookish. For sure, simple awareness raising is always helpful, but much more is needed – and urgently so – to deal with climate change. Film can be a powerful force for changing lifestyles, and not all of them have to be feature film length in Al Gore style.

Douglas Varchol: Secret of keeping ‘perfectly cool’ in a warming world…

Douglas Varchol (standing, extreme right) speaking at Ozone Media Roundable, 8 Oct 2009

Douglas Varchol (standing, extreme right) speaking at Ozone Media Roundable, 8 Oct 2009


With his wild hair and trendy suits, Douglas J Varchol can pass for a rock star. He is actually an accomplished independent film-maker, currently operating out of Bangkok, Thailand, covering a variety of science and environmental stories in Asia.

Last week, he participated in the Ozone Media Roundtable that TVE Asia Pacific and UNEP organised in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. After showing his latest documentary film on ozone, titled Earth Report: Perfectly Cool, which was first broadcast on BBC World News in September 2009, he talked about his experience in making the film.

Perfectly Cool is a 22 minute film looking at the challenges faced in trying to phase out a chemical called Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs for short), a coolant gas used in air conditioners across the developing world. As chemicals go, it’s a double hazard: this ozone depleting substance also contributes to climate change by acting as a greenhouse gas.

But non-specialist viewers watch broadcast television for good stories, not science lessons. The challenge for journalists and film makers is to ‘sugarcoat’ the technicalities by wrapping it up in human interest stories. Douglas recalled how he did this: combining imagination, hard work and luck.

First, here’s the official synopsis of the film which sums up the story:
Air conditioners are damaging the environment. One widely used coolant gas, HCFC, damages the ozone layer. With booming sales of domestic ACs around the world, the problem has grown in recent years, despite vigorous international efforts to reduce ozone depleting chemicals. Under the international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol, HCFC will be phased out worldwide by 2030. An ozone-friendly replacement gas – HFC – is now used in Europe, but that gas is a potent greenhouse gas — which means it contributes to global warming. However, an answer may be at hand. Earth Report travels to China, centre of the global AC industry, to investigate the cost of cool and meets the industry representatives working on a solution – and Sa DingDing, a musician with extreme views on air conditioners.

Watch the first 4 mins of Earth Report – Perfectly Cool

Humanising science stories is hard enough, and when the subject is something people can’t see or feel, it becomes harder. As I wrote a few days ago, the Ozone Layer – located between 10 and 50 kilometres above the Earth, and invisible to the naked eye – is not something tangible like cuddly animals or endangered plants. Moving ordinary people to care for something they can’t see or touch is tough, even if all life on Earth depends critically on it (the Ozone Layer absorbs most of the Sun’s harmful ultra-violet days).

Douglas had his work cut out for him. Throw into this mix the fact that the editorially independent film was being made pooling funds from six development agencies – each with their own agenda – and that the story was filmed in China where filming permission still involve a lot of paperwork, it’s a small miracle Perfectly Cool was completed. And as we saw, Douglas tells a good story without compromising accuracy or balance.

So did he keep perfectly cool during the making of this film, I asked. He revealed that there were moments of panic and despair, although in the end everything fell into place. While the editors at BBC World were satisfied with the film, some technical specialists consulted for the script had felt it was over-simplified.

Ah, I do know that feeling! When I made a film on ozone in 2006 (Return of the Ozone Layer: Are We There Yet?) it took us 18 months to finish, and went through endless revisions. The UN system seems to just love making films by committee…

With his film, Douglas faced additional hurdles. For example, he takes us inside the Gree company‘s factory producing air conditioners. In 2004, Gree became the largest AC manufacturer in the world, but they had never before allowed television cameras inside their plant. That took lots of time and effort to set up.

Sometimes, things not going according to plans actually helps. When on location, Douglas serendipitously came across elements that were not in the original story treatment but enhanced the human interest: for example, a modern day wedding where the new couple gifted reusable chop sticks to all their guests. That was good environmental conduct – but then they headed off to choose air conditioners for their new apartment…

Douglas Varchol (extreme right) makes a point during Ozone Media Roundtable

Douglas Varchol (extreme right) makes a point during Ozone Media Roundtable

Douglas paid a tribute to his Chinese researcher Lihong Shi and crew, without whose local knowledge and contacts he couldn’t have made the film.

In the end, Douglas pulls it off. Despite its seemingly esoteric and complex subject, Perfectly Cool is perfectly watchable — and not just for science buffs like myself.

Douglas, who once worked with Wired Science making science programmes for American PBS, said he set out to make a film on HCFCs that even his mom (a high school teacher) could understand. I can’t speak for her, but those of us who watched it in Chiang Mai were enthralled.

Tata Young: Singing up a storm for the Ozone Layer

Tata Young - photo by Nirmal Ghosh

Tata Young - photo by Nirmal Ghosh

“Tata Young sings up a storm for Ozone Layer.”

That was a headline in the Bangkok Post newspaper on 8 October 2009, while I was in Thailand for the Ozone Media Roundtable. My friends at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) were ecstatic.

Tata Young, 28, is a Thai-American singer, model and actress who is one of the best known performers in Thailand, with a growing following across Southeast Asia. Last week, she was among the performers at the “What on Earth!” concert in Bangkok, part of the EU Green Days event to coincide with the latest round of negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN-FCCC.

Tata is the latest Asian entertainment celebrity to join the climate bandwagon. Inside the UN Convention Centre in Bangkok, the climate negotiations were making slow progress. Environmental activists and campaigners were trying every trick in their books to speed things up — but governments bickered over selfish interests even as the planet heated up.

Tata’s newest album, Ready for Love, has its cover printed on recycled paper and sports a sticker that says “Protect the Ozone Layer”. Her interest in campaigning for ozone was sparked when she donated her time filming an ozone related public service announcement for UNEP last year.

The PSA is one of four that UNEP’s ozone team in Asia produced in 2008 as part of their public awareness campaign. They all draw attention to an important date that is drawing close: by or before 1 January 2010, all consumption and production of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, one of the main destroyers of the ozone layer would be phased out in all countries of the world. That is a significant achievement under the Montreal Protocol that nations of the world adopted in 1987 to save the endangered ozone layer.

The PSAs started screening in movie theatres in the Philippines earlier this year, to be followed by Thailand and other countries in the region.

Watch Tata Young’s ozone PSA for UNEP:

In June this year, talking to journalist Nirmal Ghosh, Tata Young said: “It’s important that people are aware of the little things you can do to protect our world, are aware (of ozone) and know what’s going on, especially because unlike garbage and other types of pollution, you can’t see the ozone layer.”

Read the full text on Nirmal’s blog: More Than Just Hot Air, 4 June 2009

Tata is now singing and speaking for the ozone layer on her own steam. Unlike some other UN agencies, UNEP does not have a formal goodwill ambassador programme. But she has de facto become one.

Full credit to her for this choice. After all, the Ozone Layer – located between 10 and 50 kilometres above the Earth, and invisible to the naked eye – is not something tangible like cuddly animals or endangered plants. Moving ordinary people to care for something they can’t see or touch is that much harder, even if all life on Earth depends critically on it (the Ozone Layer absorbs most of the Sun’s harmful ultra-violet days).

Tata used to hit the headlines in Thailand for some songs which were considered a little too ‘hot’ for the conservative guardians of culture. But looking at the less-than-glacial pace kept by climate change talks in Bangkok, perhaps activists should roll out Tata Young to turn on the heat…