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Innovating for survival

Renton de Alwis

The other night I watched with delight the launch of Sri Lanka’s newest TV Channel, HTV or Heritage Television. The reason for my delight was that its innovators had used modern info-communication technology as a tool in presenting our traditions, culture, lifestyles and heritage to the world at large.

The Kohomba Kankariya Shanthi Karma (traditional invoking of blessings), presented on stage had still retained its authenticity to a large extent and was the opening sequence of the event. Given a prioritized positioning in the line up of channels on a leading satellite TV network, Heritage Television’s programing content of ‘walk about’ tours exploring our natural, cultural and social milieu and events was both refreshing and a welcome change.

It also features book reviews and dialogues with eminent literary personalities, not often seen or heard on most other channels.

Our own ethos

At a time when our entertainment presents us with imitations of ‘American Idol’, ‘Shop till you drop’ type ‘Reality TV’ programing that often bring in aspects of the dominant western lifestyles not altogether akin to ours, I salute and congratulate this innovative venture, not only as a Sri Lankan, but as a citizen of Mother Earth.

Today, solid scientific evidence points us to causes of climate change and the resultant global warming to be the unsustainable life styles we indulged in over the past few centuries. We live in a world, where we have little choice but to re-adjust ourlife styles, if we are to ensure that the only planet we have for now, will survive the otherwise imminent onslaught of nature’s wrath.

Countries the likes of Sri Lanka have a lot to present to the world in unfolding sustainable lifestyles, where our heritage, culture and our lifestyles were one with nature in a harmonious relationship, until we sought to seek a model of growth most alien to us. In the post-war model of western style growth, there were many technological innovations that brought about efficacy and if used wisely, would have brought prosperity to most on this Earth.

Greed against need

Instead, we chose to utilize that technology, in the main to feed the greed of a few and only left the crumbs for the majority of people as demonstrated in the 80/20 percent allocation of the world’s resources between the rich and poor countries. Even inoculations and critical pharmaceutical innovations were branded and priced at exorbitant prices often beyond the reach of the poor. Glitzy and greedy ways took over where substance and meaning should have reigned and we seem to have lost our way with our lifestyles.

The quest to feed human greed with choice meant the production of many versions of the same good or service. That same need indeed could have been met effectively with less of that choice, saving on resources and avoiding damage to the environment.

A traditional folk dance form of Sri Lanka. File photo

came up with innovative initiatives like welfare schemes and indulged in concepts such as corporate social responsibility, socially responsible investment and took on greening initiatives to wipe out the guilt and satisfy what was left of our social consciousness.

At this defining time in human history, we have an opportunity to present and promote sustainable lifestyles based on the principle of ‘meeting the needs of all and not the greed of a few’ by rediscovering socio-economic structures based on the ‘Sufficiency Economy’ model. Instead of discussing the merits and demerits of carbon-credit funds or other patchwork type solutions to the global climate crisis, the upcoming Copenhagen Round must focus squarely on defining alternative lifestyles if the world’s leadership is to make a real impact on the issues at hand.

Seeking effective ways

The hypocrisy that surrounds the seeking of solutions to the climate crisis is alarming.

I have seen leading global magazines and media outfits carry lead articles or even full-fledged supplements on global warming and in the same issue feature the most luxurious of luxury brands of products and services in its advertising.

While freedom of choice and the power of advertising in sustaining media houses is a given in the dominant cultural belief system , we may need to reinvent and rediscover ways in which we can present and promote what is useful and most needed to sustain lives at levels that will not be threatening to the good health of Mother Earth. Info-communications, nanotechnology and other innovations can serve humankind well, to seek effective means of further conserving our resources within this proposed framework of taking on sustainable lifestyles.

Out of the box

In the Sri Lankan context, it is time that we followed the cue of the presenters of Heritage TV, and think of highlighting what is our own as sustainable alternatives and lessons to be learnt, when the rest of the world seeks models for future survival.

This certainly can not be done by ‘dressing the wounds’ when ‘surgery’ is the answer. We need to think out of the dominant western model’s box and look inwards to seek ‘surgery’ for unfolding solutions.

Our festivals and forms of entertainment must not be bad imitations of Hip Hop or Latino style dance forms, but a total immersion of what our culture offers with its substance and meaning exposed to the world.

I believe that we need to rejuvenate places like Hikkaduwa with re-engineered convention centre type activities that will have consistent long-term relevance for the destination and its people.

When looking for the development of the East and the North for accommodating visitors, we need to seek models that are based on ‘rooms in homes’ type accommodation facilitation, instead of large hotels and resort developments.

Such activities done right will not need centralized systems of air-conditioning, sewage disposal, water and electricity supply, that will add to carbon emissions and are wasteful. Instead, such development will meet the discerning demand of most visitors both local and foreign for meaningful interaction with people.

It also can bring direct benefits to communities and will be sustainable even when the demand for the destination is affected by pandemics, regional or global terrorism or any other crisis.

Being defiant and bold

It is time now for us to leave behind the ways of the dominant culture to innovate our own ways, drawing from models of our own.

This in no way means that we should isolate ourselves from the rest of the world or shun what is good in the now dominant models.

What in effect we need to do, will be to share a bit of our own wisdom and ways drawn from our traditional way of life, to lead the world with innovative ways to ensure our very survival on this, our Planet Earth.

 

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