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Carbon-neutral electioneering: Gota sets an example

This is not about all the candidates, their policies, their relative merits over other candidates or chances of winning. This is about carbon footprints. 

Time was when elections were marked by violence. Before, during and after elections. The Mother of All Violent Elections was of course the presidential election of December 1988 when Ranasinghe Premadasa’s UNP and Rohana Wijeweera’s JVP competed with each other for the tag, ‘The Worst Brute’. Premadasa won that battle. That’s another story.  Elections since then have been less and less violent. This time, there’s hardly any violence reported apart from a few isolated scuffles.  

Then there was pollution. Clutter in the form of posters on every square inch of walls. Clutter in the form of cut-outs, hoardings and of course polytene banners and decorations. Garbage, cluttering places where rallies have been held. We’ve managed to do without these for the most part, the last thanks largely to the example set by the JVP.  

And yet, even factoring these positive developments, election campaigns cost the environment. Today we can even measure it fairly accurately. The enormous amount of energy used results in carbon dioxide emissions. The use of paper and electricity also cost the environment. They add up and make what is called the Carbon Footprint. The carbon footprint of an election campaign as a sum of the ‘footprints’ of all campaigns of all candidates. 

So far, there has been no mentioned whatsoever of this issue by any of the campaigns. Except that of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The campaign team or rather a section of the team tasked to think of such things has estimated that carbon neutrality can be achieved only if 20,000 trees were planted, taking into consideration average mortality rates and a reasonable buffer for unexpected destruction of trees. This is new. It’s fresh. Wholesome.  With the campaigns scheduled to wind down by midnight Wednesday the 12th of November, Gotabaya’s campaign has planted 26,000 trees across the country with the participation of local communities. That’s probably supporters. 

The campaign team maintains that each tree will have a geo-tag that makes for monitoring and that allometric equations will be used to infer the carbon content stored in these trees by using data such as height and diameter of the plants.  The monitoring and verification is to be done by an independent organization. Time will tell if enthusiasm for all this will outlive the campaign. That itself will be a challenge and will tell us something about this candidate. 

Of course, this does not mean that a) Gotabaya will win, or b) if he wins it would be better than if someone else does. What it means is simple.  Gotabaya’s campaign would have left something positive on the ground. 

The benefits will accrue to the people of Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Mahiyangana, Horana, Kaduwela, Ruwanwella, Ampara, Padukka, Dompe, Polonnaruwa, Kegalle, Nuwara Eliya, Wellawaya, Matara, Homagama, Weerawila, the Mahaweli Zones and indeed every place where major rallies were held. nd it won’t be just the loyalists. Even those who vote for someone else would one day enjoy the shade, reap the fruit and of course breathe cleaner air. That’s freedom of a kind. ‘Nidahase Husma’ (The Breath of Freedom) is an appropriate label for this element of the campaign.

The carbon-consciousness apart, there is an obvious propaganda element to the exercise. That said, it is indisputable that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s campaign team has come up with a fresh, unique and wholesome thing which any of the other candidates could have also adopted but didn’t. Ideally it will set a trend (like the JVP’s post-rally cleanups) and carbon-neutral election election campaigns will become the norm in Sri Lanka. 

If only Sajith Premadasa could have extended his ‘whatever you say, I will better it’ policy to this element of Gotabaya’s campaign! If only Anura Kumara Dissanayake and other other candidates got into a ‘more green than you’ kind of battle! They did not. They may in future elections. And we would have Gota to thank for it.  

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