Iresha Herath Mudiyanselage, a mass communications graduate student at SCSU, spoke on Wednesday about the effects of climate change in Sri Lanka in the Alumni Room as a part of the Global Social Responsibility Conference.
“Our Climate is changing rapidly all around the globe,” said Mudiyanselage. “The reason I am here is to educate you about what is happening in my country.”
“Just like any other country, we have contributed, and are contributing, to the destruction of the planet,” she said.
Since the 1980s, she said that Sri Lanka has “undergone rapid industrialization,” which has led to energy consumption tripling in the last three decades.
Though Sri Lanka uses oil as a means of energy, with the last few years more and more people have been finding sustainable energy sources, including solar, wind and hydropower, she said.
Sri Lanka is set on a national energy grid, but some of the more rural areas are unable to connect to the energy grid. When people are unable to connect, the city will help them install solar panels to power their homes, and in the case of some farmers, solar panels can be used to power electrical fences to protect their crops from wildlife.
“Energy is a key component in climate change,” Mudiyanselage continued. “We use oil, knowing that it’s bad for the environment, and given the amount of sunlight, we can replace oil with solar [energy],” she said.
Along with find alternative energy sources, air pollution, deforestation and the increase of industrialization have grown into some of the main concerns in the country, she said.
“Between 1990 and 2000, Sri Lanka lost an average of 26.8 thousand hectares (over 66 thousand acres) of forest each year.” In the 1920s, 49 percent of the entire country was forested area; however, in 2005 the country saw a 20 percent decrease.
The increases in deforestation are largely to serve Sri Lanka’s growing population and for agricultural purposes, Mudiyanselage said. This has also “drastically” affected Sri Lanka’s economy, given that the country’s main income is agriculture.
Sri Lanka, having a high level of Biodiversity, is now considered the number one “hotspot” in the world, out of the total 35 recognized, she said. Qualifications for an area to be a hotspot include having 30 percent or less than its original vegetation, “in other words, being threatened,” she said.
Along with the economic impacts from deforestation, the increase in temperature and intense weather conditions causes “more draughts now, than ever in history,” Mudiyanselage said.
“Farmers are starving and suffering because of the droughts,” she said. “Birds of Sri Lanka are being drastically affected due to droughts…it’s almost impossible for them to live there,” she said.
Though, just like flipping a switch, Sri Lanka also experiences heavy rains, which in turn destroy crops and many wildlife habitats as well.
This severe weather makes it more and more difficult for wildlife to survive, she continued. Having 105 amphibian species in Sri Lanka, she said that “30 percent of amphibians in Sri Lanka are endangered, and 22 percent are already extinct because of the changes in the climate.”
Some regions of Sri Lanka experience flooding two to three times per year, along with mudslides occurring more frequently because of the heavy rains, resulting in 10 to 20 deaths per year, she said.
Because of climate change, she said that sea levels are rising causing the loss of coastal settlements all around the island, along with the rising temperature causing coral bleaching.
Another main source of income for Sri Lanka being tourism, the weather has strayed tourists and travelers away from the country, she said.
“One of the main things tourists come to Sri Lanka for is to see the coral reefs, but with the effects of climate change, there is more and more coral bleaching, which ultimately destroys the coral reefs,” Mudiyanselage said.
“We can’t show our natural attractions, because they are getting destroyed,” Mudiyanselage continued.
At this point in time, if climate changes continued to affect Sri Lanka at this rate, she said that “in 100 years, the temperature will rise by 5 Celsius, and sea level will raise 90 centimeters, which will mean we’ll lose nearly the whole island.”
“Climate change is not just native problem for us, it’s a global issue.”
Wrapping up the presentation just under the allotted time, she thanked the audience for attending, and ended by saying, “as Ghandi once said, be the change that you want to see in the world.”