Sri Lanka has dramatically cut its fossil fuel emissions, completely involuntarily. We don’t use diesel, petrol, or natural gas simply because we can’t import any. We have no natural reserves and no credit to buy. The country has literally run out of gas.
Transport For The Rich
For a sense of what that’s like, my family has a diesel jeep which is now an expensive lawn ornament. It has a quarter tank of gas and the only time I touched it was to move an appliance. Instead of taking the kids to school in that car, I now take the bus. This also runs on diesel but carries 40+ people and is vastly more efficient.
Taking the bus used to suck because there was so much traffic, but now there are dramatically fewer cars on the road and the trip takes about 15 minutes as compared to a sweaty 30 before. The cost has, however, doubled. There are also far fewer people on the bus because economic activity (ie going to work) has generally collapsed.
Our extended family has a plug-in hybrid with about 18km of electric range and we use that sometimes, but mostly we actually just don’t go anywhere at all. The school run is our only essential travel and beyond that we just don’t. We got bicycles and I went to visit a friend on that at night and that was fine, though I had to ride shirtless cause I got so hot.
Now the fact is that most of the country did not have a car, most were taking public transport anyway, but all the investment and ‘development’ went to the assholes with cars. Now all those highways, flyovers, and even the cars themselves are dead assets and everybody’s suddenly depending on the public services we neglected for so long.
Transport For The Poor
Bus fare going from Rs. 28 to Rs 50 means nothing to me, trading down from a jeep, but if you were taking the bus before suddenly your transport costs have doubled. If you want to get a bicycle, guess what, those prices have doubled too.
Basically, rich people were obliterating forex to import cars, fuel, and the government was using loans to build highways and flyovers, and now it has all imploded and the rich people have become tourists in the ordinary, doubling prices for everyone.
Poor people also depended on highly fuel-efficient transport like motorbikes and tuk-tuks (three-wheelers), but now they’re stuck in the same queues as people with jeeps with no prioritization. My jeep takes nearly 70 liters and a tuk-tuk takes 20 liters and they’re both stuck in the same queue. Tuks are also used to generate income as taxis or to move goods, whereas cars are for personal use but again, no prioritization. And don’t get me started on tractors and lorries, which are also in the same bloody queue.
I hope you can see the trend already, which is that hip, seemingly healthy, and at worst inconvenient adaptations by the rich are just violent fucking handbrakes on the lives and livelihoods of the poor.
Energy For The Rich
When the power cuts started months ago, we bought cheap (for us) rechargeable fans and lights which were OK but still sucked. When they continued, we got expensive battery backup and now we don’t experience power cuts at all. The only inconvenience is that we can’t use AC, but everything else just runs.
In the kitchen we have an induction cooker, which runs off electricity, and can even go for a bit off battery power. So we have cooked food, which is increasingly a luxury. Because we have all of these capital assets, our home energy needs are sorted. We don’t experience power cuts, we don’t queue for cooking gas, we’re quite insulated now.
What we experience are at worst mild inconveniences. But for people without capital, the energy crisis is catastrophic.
Energy For The Poor
Battery backup is waaay too expensive for ordinary families, over a year’s worth of household income (around 1.6 million and household income was 100,000 in Colombo last I checked). Ordinary people simply have powercuts. Electricity rates will also go up for everyone, when in fact they should simply be dramatically higher for higher consumption (ie, the rich).
Our extended family has given out dozens of induction cookers which is only necessary because most people can’t afford them. They’re like 20k now, and in short supply. Instead, people waste days in queues to get natural gas canisters refilled, or hours gathering firewood, or buy it if they’re lucky. Some people work miracles with just a rice cooker.
Successive capitalist governments have kicked people out of suddenly desirably neighborhoods to build empty investment condos, and now these people are living in high-rise apartments. And you can’t light fires there. So they’re completely fucked.
My Achchi’s house near Agalawatte has always used firewood, but people in urban areas are struggling to cook food. For rich people ‘going electric’ is just another capital investment that moves us forward, but people without capital are just being thrust further backward.
Now they’re proposing 800% rate increases on the poorest electricity consumers, and just 36% on the richest. Following the usual IMF guidance, they’re doing human sacrifice to give investors some mystical sense of ‘confidence’. In truth, bludgeoning the working class only hurts ‘the economy’ even more.
Note that I’m not really talking about the ‘middle-class’ because that’s been obliterated. People who came from houses that burnt firewood and took the bus graduated to a gas canister and a Suzuki WagonR over the last 20 years, but now they’re right back where they started. Actually worse. They have zero capital to get out of this, they just have loans.
What I am talking about is the dramatic dichotomy in climate ‘adaptation’ between the poor and the rich. For the rich, it’s inconvenient (I get less range with an electric car) while for the poor it’s incapacitating (I can’t get to work). In a capitalist system, your ability to adapt depends on capital and it literally doesn’t work for workers at all. That is, it doesn’t work for most people at all.
Sri Lanka is an involuntary test bed for what the necessary level of fossil fuel cuts would look like, and I can see that without equally dramatic investments in public transport, public energy, and even public good, it just won’t work. No population in their right mind would do this to themselves, as much sense as it makes for the species. Without climate communism to better allocate resources, climate adaptation is just suicide for working people.
I mean, look at us. Sri Lanka is what it looks like when a country completely stops using fossil fuels because of a collapse in capitalism. More capitalism is no way out. We need what I call climate communism. The allocation of increasingly scarce resources around the needs of human beings, not whatever gets investors off. Sri Lanka has run out of gas and the whole planet is running on fumes. We’ve got to turn around.
If you want to donate, Community Meal Share is a bit local, my friend is doing a GoFundMe to support rural food production, go there.