Getting Ahead of the World by Leaving it Behind: Megapolis and the Myth of Progress

Farweez Imamudeen

The question remains. For Sri Lanka, in terms of its list of priorities, is Megapolis an absolute necessity or just another luxury that we can’t afford? or worse, a luxury that will eventually drive us and the world over the precipice?

There is a popular proverb. Look before you leap. Nonetheless it has been our tradition in Sri Lanka to look only after we have leapt, but still we don’t seem to have learnt anything.

A generation that intends to make money out of everything is well capable of putting money over people. We are in that era. From tusks to justice everything is up for grabs. Man in the name of modern civilization and economic expansion is fiercely competing against his kind for the finite resources, ripping the earth apart and leaving no stone unturned in his greedy quest for everything that has a consumer value, and he continues to gamble his own existence. There is nothing, not even virtues but has a price tag on it. Driven by his lust for wealth, comfort and power he sells even Knowledge, Justice, Health, Welfare, Information and Morals. It is not in terms of benefitting mankind we think today but in terms of maximizing profits; profit over people, all in the name of development and progress.

No idea, however awesome it may sound, should be considered in terms of economic development alone. The Megapolis initiative should be considered with respect to its long term effects on human welfare and the natural world. Climate change is here and modern development is only escalating the problem. As a developing nation we should be more concerned about its dangers as we lack the competence and access to modern technology to counter the effects of climate change. As the traces of the toll modern development has taken on nature begins to surface in the form of intense heat waves and melting glaciers, and while the world is uniting to fight the evils of unrestrained progress, we in Sri Lanka are gearing up to resurrect the monster. As blind emulators of the developed world it is no wonder that we are equating the Megapolis idea with the good life. For once we need to stop following the rich and powerful and use our rationality instead to distinguish between good and evil.

Ronald Wright the author of “A Short History of Progress” says

“The experience of a relatively easy 500 years of expansion and colonization, the constant taking over of new lands, led to the modern capitalist myth that you can expand forever. It is an absurd myth. We live on this planet. We can’t leave it and go somewhere else. We have to bring our economies and demands on nature within natural limits, but we have had a 500-year run where Europeans, Euro-Americans and other colonists have overrun the world and taken it over. This 500-year run made it not only seem easy but normal. We believe things will always get bigger and better. We have to understand that this long period of expansion and prosperity was an anomaly. It has rarely happened in history and will never happen again. We have to readjust our entire civilization to live in a finite world. But we are not doing it, because we are carrying far too much baggage, too many mythical versions of deliberately distorted history and a deeply ingrained feeling that what being modern is all about having more”.

Sri Lanka is not in another planet. It is a part of the earth, and it is a part of the bigger problem triggered by man’s deluded notion of progress. We cannot, despite the overwhelming evidence of the crisis we are in right now that is caused by our fascination and blind obsession with economic expansion and progress, betray our natural wisdom and logic, and attempt afresh to get ahead of the world by leaving it behind. Being modern certainly is not all about having more.

On the surface level the crisis is apparent. There is more than one elephant in the room. Climate change is real and the glaciers are melting which results in a rise in the global sea levels, which means the coasts are literally sinking. It is not a potential threat anymore. It is a threat already. The apocalypse has begun.

With these problems looming over us how can we possibly logically explain the further extraction of natural resources, and destruction of the natural world to create a Megapolis, which to any rationally thinking human being would be clear without a shadow of doubt, that will certainly precipitate the destruction of the world?

Yes, we need to progress economically. However adapting a solution that will further aggravate the crisis of global warming is neither an intellectual nor a moral approach.

Megapolis: Nothing But a Makeover

The president said about the Megapolis project,

“The aim of this plan is to transfer informal urban development into formal urban development and thereby increase the happiness of the people. Beautification of the towns as well as boosting the living standards of the people will be done through this development plan.(1)”

Two fundamental truths are neglected in his statement. Happiness is a state of the heart and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Thus Man can never impose happiness or appreciation for beauty on another. It is a process that happens within the depths of man, and no amount of external influence or cash giveaways can trigger these complex emotions or aesthetic senses unless he learns to be content, grateful and appreciative – although I strongly contend that the Megapolis initiative instead of creating and providing equal opportunities will only create an extreme polarization of economic classes – which is expected to be achieved through a good education, and a good education is the last thing our schools provide.

We are currently experiencing a heat wave, as never before, sweeping across Sri lanka which only appears to get worse in the following months until May. Isn’t that good enough a sign to rethink our development projects? Does that not remind us of a familiar threat? Climate change?! Imagine the amount of trees that will be cut down for this mega project which is supposed to end only in 2030, the amount of electricity that is required to keep this mega city running, the amount of water that is needed to power the generators, the amount of fossil fuel that will be burnt in the process, the amount of waste that will be disposed into our natural environments, the drastic effects it will have on the planet and the future generations.

In the last few months we experienced a number of wild fires across Sri Lanka triggered by extreme temperatures, yet these alarms do not seem to be serious enough to capture the attention of the Ministry of Megapolis(2). But then again why should such blatant ignorance surprise us at all when our politicians have been in the habit of flagrantly exposing time and again their greed to clutch on to power at the expense of public welfare.

To most of us, climate change is something that is happening in the Arctic and the Pacific. It’s affecting the polar bears. The realization that climate change is here and happening is yet to set in. However it is only natural for us humans to be extremely egocentric. Our inbuilt sensory receptors only seem to raise the warning sirens when the disaster is at our doorstep. When it is happening elsewhere why bother?!

The entire Megapolis project is going to cost 20 billion USD. Who will bear the burden? While the filthy rich are fleeing to tax havens with their whopping profits it is once again the poor and the middle class who will end up paying for the folly of the elite. What sense does such a larger than life project make while the Government is constantly turning to the IMF, India and China for further loans?

Currently there are 2 billion people around the world who are living in poverty. That is more than the entire world population in 1900. 1.8 million of them are in Sri Lanka(3). That is nearly 9% of the entire Sri Lankan population. However that data is not true because it is assumed on the premise that a person escapes poverty if he has Rs.3028 a month to fulfill his basic needs, that is food and other basic needs. This data concludes that a person can live comfortably with just Rs.100 a day. We all know that’s a blatant lie.

As we encounter such dire circumstances in Sri Lanka which sensibly need to be on top of the checklist what arguments do we have for a Megapolis?

Economic progress is certainly vital, however it is not economic progress per se the primary yardstick of human progress and civilization. Such a resolution in the absence of ethics and morals may inevitably create a society seeking development and progress at the cost of human dignity and lives. Such a society may think in terms of industries, highways, high rise buildings, Megapolis and whatever other indicators are of modern human progress but neglect the essential humane aspect of progress; protecting human welfare, dignity, nature and the environment. Thus development cannot merely be measured by economic expansion and infrastructural development for that would be dangerous and consequently lead to the annihilation of the natural world.

It is imperative that we think of development along ethical guidelines. We need to talk and walk sustainable development which according to the United Nations is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We are way past the danger zone, and if we refuse to believe it and fail to act now we might not even have a future generation. The catalyst of change is not the doctrine but its application, so we need to cut the nonsense and start to get beyond the round table conferences. We need to act. Thus far the developed world has failed the entire human fraternity. It is time that we Sri Lankans as responsible global citizens ask the all important question. What is so necessary that is fatal for human lives?

References
1.http://www.president.gov.lk/news/megapolis-development-plan-presented-to-president/
2.http://www.hirunews.lk/129003/wildfire-at-bopaththalawa-reserve-continues-photos
3.http://www.statistics.gov.lk/poverty/SriLankaPovertyReview%20_English.pdf

http://groundviews.org/2016/04/16/getting-ahead-of-the-world-by-leaving-it-behind-megapolis-and-the-myth-of-progress/

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