Green Movement Pushes Sri Lanka Back to the Future

Green activists and their co-conspirators in NGOs and governments continue their policies that immiserate and further impoverish the poor and working classes.

First in the news is the smash-up in Sri Lanka that’s seen a mob of workers, farmers and the poor attack and overrun the presidential residence, sending President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing to a naval vessel offshore.  What’s the problem?  Of course there are many, but, as Michael Shellenberger reports, utterly, obviously wrongheaded and regressive “green” policies did much to impoverish a nation that, just a few years ago, was an up-and-coming economy.

The underlying reason for the fall of Sri Lanka is that its leaders… fell under the spell of Western green elites peddling organic agriculture and “ESG,” which refers to investments made following supposedly higher Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria. Sri Lanka has a near-perfect ESG score of 98—higher than Sweden (96) and the United States (51).

Yes, “a near-perfect ESG score,” riots in the streets and a deposed head of state.

Sri Lanka’s economy is, to a significant degree, agrarian.  So it came as a great and ultimately catastrophic surprise when president Rajapaksa decreed last year that chemical fertilizers were banned from use throughout the country.  For decades, Sri Lankan farmers had used mostly biological materials (manure, compost, etc.) and lived in poverty as a result of low crop yields.  Then the country began importing the chemical fertilizers that had powered the green revolution in the West.  Crop yields leapt and Sri Lanka became self-sufficient in rice production and a net exporter of tea.

No longer.

The fertilizer ban, starting in April 2021, changed everything…

The results have been devastating and widely predicted by tea farmers, with exports crashing 18 percent between November 2021 and February 2022—reaching their lowest level in more than two decades…

One-third of Sri Lanka’s farm lands were dormant in 2021 due to the fertilizer ban. Over 90 percent of Sri Lanka’s farmers had used chemical fertilizers before they were banned. After they were banned, an astonishing 85 percent experienced crop losses. Rice production fell 20 percent and prices skyrocketed 50 percent in just six months. Sri Lanka had to import $450 million worth of rice despite having been self-sufficient just months earlier. The price of carrots and tomatoes rose fivefold. All this had a dramatic impact on the more than 15 million people of the country’s 22 million people who are directly or indirectly dependent on farming…

But the damage to tea was the key to Sri Lanka’s ruin. Before 2021, tea production generated $1.3 billion in exports annually. Tea exports paid for 71 percent of the nation’s food imports before 2021. 

That precipitous drop in income from foreign trade put the government in a bind for hard currency.

In May 2022, Sri Lanka failed to pay $77 million on its foreign debt repayments. That may seem like a small sum in the bigger scheme of things, but the default made it hard for Sri Lanka to borrow money. So, it devalued its currency, inflation rose 30 percent, and the government ran out of the cash it needed to import fuel, food and medicines.

In short, the chemical fertilizer ban was just the first of many dominoes to fall, resulting in an economy moving backward and millions of Sri Lankans suffering needlessly.  That ban was instigated, cheered on and financed by the U.S. and E.U. governments working from a playbook written by western environmentalists.

So what, exactly, were Sri Lanka’s leaders thinking? They weren’t. They were following a rigid, pro-scarcity dogma, which was developed in the 18th century and has been recycled and greenwashed through the centuries by global elites who use nature as cover for their anti-human, anti-civilization worldview and policy agenda.

All that rather spectacularly failed.  When everyday people storm the presidential residence, set fire to it and send its occupant fleeing into the night, we know something has gone terribly wrong.  In Sri Lanka, that ‘something’ is the blandishments of environmentalists who, from the safe distance of western prosperity, seem always willing to experiment with the lives and livelihoods of the poor and people of color. 

That’s also the case with their comrades in arms, the climate activists who daily instruct poor nations and POC that doing what no nation has ever done in the history of humankind – reach widespread prosperity without the use of fossil fuels – is just the thing for them.  “Don’t do as we do, do as we say.” It’s rightly seen as Colonialism 2.0.  You’d think Sri Lankan officials would have known.

Now they do.

But it’s not just foreign countries that have come under the sway of anti-prosperity elites.  California is heading down much the same road and with much the same consequences for its poor and POC. 

I’ll discuss that in my next piece.

 

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