Thursday, July 22, 2004

How green is the SONA?

Environmental lawyer Antonio A. Oposa, Jr. whose green opus (two huge colorful books on the Philippine environment) I had featured here, is shaking the ramparts on behalf of all greenies.

Says he: ``In all of Pres. Arroyo’s three State of the Nation Addresses (SONA), she never said a single word on the environment. Repeat, not a single word was said on the condition of the very natural elements—land, air, water—upon which all life in this country depend.’’

Oposa’s little grievance paper is titled ``The President is an Environmental Ignoramus.’’ Ouch. ``Sometimes words have to be a little wild,’’ Oposa says, quoting JM Keynes ``Because they are the assault of thoughts upon the unthinking.’’

In painful silence the greenies listened to the past SONA, they waited for those few little green words. But they heard nothing.

After Pres. Arroyo won a mandate in the recent elections, she laid out her 10-point agenda. Again, not a single word on the environment. (Well, at least she wore green for her oath-taking.) This says something about the President’s level of awareness of the importance of air, water and land resources, Oposa points out. This is a symptom that she is suffering from a severe case of environmental ignorantia.

On Monday, July 26, the President will deliver her fourth SONA. Maybe this time she’ll add a splash of green to her address (not her dress). Or maybe not, not with released hostage Angelo de la Cruz there, taking center stage. You bet so many minutes will be devoted to the hostage crisis that led to the pull out of Philippine troops in Irag. You bet she will dwell on how it was to be between Iraq and a hard place. She will talk about more security for overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in the Middle East. They’re our dollar earners, aren’t they?

But environmental security, Oposa argues, is in fact the highest form of security. He or she who does not understand this has neither right nor reason to aspire for or hold public office. For the Philippine Constitution, lest you and I forget, speaks of the importance of a ``healthful and balanced ecology.’’

The President will surely zero in on the state of the economy. Oposa complains: ``We give too much importance to economics, totally forgetting that the base of all economic activity is the security, supply and quality of the very elements that support life—air, water and soil.’’ Didn’t the great Indian Chief Seattle say, ``Only when we have cut down all the trees, poisoned all the rivers and fished out all the seas, will we suddenly realize that we cannot eat money’’?

Economics is only a minor subset of the environment, the environmental law professor argues. Economics, is only a ``small and wholly-owned subsidiary of Ecology.’’

Economics and ecology, Oposa reminds, come from the same eco root. Eco comes from the Greek word oikos which means home. Ecology, the great science, (and art, if you may) of the environment, is about our natural home, Planet Earth, and all the living and non-living things therein that sustain life.

Come on, this is really ABC. But the UP and Harvard-trained lawyer likes to talk ABC. In the truest sense everyone is an environmentalist, he says, or should be, for who wants to drink poisoned water, breathe polluted air, eat dirty food? It goes without saying that protecting all these life-giving resources should be second nature to us. The problem is, we’re not doing this. Not all of us.

In contrast to the subject that is Ecology, Oposa says Economics is the very narrow study of the supply of things needed by a single animal to live. This animal is homo sapiens—us. Well, in fact, the natural elements in the environment are at the very foundation of this economic life. Without them there is no life, no economic life.

What a shame, Oposa rues, that in the name of economics, people have spoiled the air, dirtied the waters, scorched the earth, cleared the forests, leveled the mountains. Economic progress, anyone?

You can’t have good economics if you have bad ecology. The irony is that the exploitation of natural resources or the destruction of the ``natural capital’’ is often translated or recorded as ``profit’’. No one records the depreciation and depletion of the natural assets. The economic balance sheets do not record this. A system of accounting for our natural assets and liabilities has yet to be invented for economists.

Oposa worries: ``In the Laws of Nature, there is no right or wrong. There are only consequences. If the environmental crises and recurring tragedies do not awaken the President, if she is stuck in that economic mindset that treats depletion as revenue and losses as income, God save us from eternal damnation.’’

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)and civic and environmental groups want to sponsor a public debate on the proposition: ``Environmental security is the highest form of national security.’’ For the affirmative side, the IBP National Environmental Action Team (of which Oposa is the founding chair) will field a three-person debating team.

The best and brightest in the President’s Cabinet are being challenged to join. Since the Arroyo administration has not included the environment and sustainable development in the National Agenda, it must justify its stance by taking the negative side of the debate, that is, by arguing that environmental security is not the highest form of national security.

The public be the judge. Should the affirmative side win, Oposa demands that the prize be the inclusion of and giving top priority to the natural environment and sustainable development in the government agenda.