Fall 2020

Let Me Tell You a Story

Antonio Oposa Jr.

I’ve spent my time caring for the Life-sources of Land, Air, and Waters–the LAW of Life. It began by being touched by the Sea and the story of my mariner grandfather. It went on to raids to fight environmental crime syndicates in the Philippines and on to the court of law. The Court is a good venue to light a STAR: to tell a Story, put the issues on the Table for orderly discussion, spark Action, and arrive at a Resolution. I founded the SEA Camp (Sea and Earth Advocates) to train children to care for the Sea and Earth and, later, founded the School of the SEA. Twice–in 2008 and in 2013–I saw the School erased by an extraordinary typhoon, a foretaste of the climate crisis. I’ve realized that when you use the law and science to change the mind, it can change tomorrow. But when you change the heart, it is forever. In the midst of the ongoing climate and COVID-19 crises, I believe that we can change the story of the world if we change the storyline. “The seeds of goodness live in the soil of appreciation for goodness.”

Antonio Oposa Jr. is one of Asia’s leading voices in the arena of environmental law. Fighting to protect the Philippines’ natural patrimony, he has initiated landmark cases to protect the country’s remaining virgin tropical forests and clean up Manila Bay. He has also organized and led enforcement operations against environmental criminals. As a founder of SEA Camp (Sea and Earth Advocates), an experiential learning center, he has trained thousands of children, teachers, government officials, fishermen, law enforcement officers, lawyers, and citizens for sustainable living.

Do you know this good-looking gentleman? Is he a military man? An actor? You probably don’t. He was my grandfather. He was a merchant mariner, one of the first in my country, the Philippines. He was a rich man and I grew up with him. He treated me like a son.

Young and handsome Filipino mariner

At eighty, he passed on. A day after he was buried, his lawyer called me and requested that I visit his office. There he told me that my grandfather left me an inheritance of about $10 million.

What does a sophomore law student do with that kind of money? I deposited it in the bank. The day after, I withdrew $2 million. I took my friends out drinking, carousing, and gambling. In a few hours, $2 million was gone. The next day, and for three more days after that, I did the same thing: withdrew $2 million, went drinking, partying, and gambling. On the sixth day, I had only about $100,000 left.

What took my grandfather eighty years to save, I squandered in less than a week. As if that is not bad enough, I went to my accountant and instructed him to list all my expenses and losses as revenue and profit. I also told him I was making good progress in my quest for mature development.

Is that correct?

Are we not doing the same thing to the Earth? The Earth took 4.5 billion years to become what it is. It is the only planet known to contain Life and the sources of Life: the Land, Air, and Waters (LAW) of Life. The animal Homo sapiens, in its present shape and form, has been here only for the last one hundred thousand years or so, literally a blink of the eyes of Grandfather Time.

About two hundred years ago, the industrial revolution began the era of mindless consumption: We started to use Earth’s Life-sources faster than they could replenish. We cut down trees that took all of time to grow, sell them off as lumber, and count them as revenue. We scoop out the Seas to eat fish by the millions of tons, fish that were here long before us. In a matter of hours, we dig out carbon that formed over one hundred million years, and burn it as coal, oil, and gas. In a matter of minutes, we burn them to run our cars and light our homes, belching out poisonous gases into the very Air that we breathe. We take out so much from the Earth, use it for a while, and then throw it away as “waste.” We call it progress and development.

And we dare to call ourselves “wise.” Homo sapiens.

Oh, the story of my grandfather? It is only a story. The best stories are those that blend fact, fiction, and fantasy. The fact is that he was my grandfather. He was a merchant mariner and I grew up with him. The fiction is that he was very rich. The fantasy is that he left me a big inheritance that I squandered in a few days.

But, again, is this not the fantasy world we are living in? What took the Earth 4.5 billion years to form, we burn in a blink of an eye. And what remains we throw away as solid, liquid, and gaseous wastes. And then we call it a “contribution to GDP,” that modern measure of “economic progress.”

The textbook definition of the word economic is the “efficient use of scarce resources.” Is waste good economics? What is the meaning of GDP? Gross domestic product? Or great disaster for the planet?

. . . 

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