Designers of Development Options

Issue No. 2020-015

The Law of Life

Ben S. Malayang III, Ph.D.

My Take, Dumaguete Metro Post, October 11, 2020

Tony Oposa’s been a friend for some time now. He’s a well-known and highly respected advocate of environmental justice. He was behind Oposa vs. Factoran, a landmark Supreme Court decision on intergenerational equity, and another landmark decision on Manila Bay. In the latter, the Supreme Court issued a “continuing mandamus” ordering 13 government agencies “to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to SB level [Class B sea waters per Water Classification Tables under DENR Administrative Order 34 (1990)]”. This means, to a quality that allows fishes and other marine biota to thrive. (It’s certainly not about putting white sand on a short stretch of the Bay’s coastline.)

Sometime ago, we talked about his concept of the “LAW of Life”. It’s a rather cute and succinct sweep of the basic environmental elements that’d allow life to exist on earth. (This includes human life and the life of other organisms; in fact, life itself as a phenomenon.)

LAW stands for Land, Air, and Water. “Land” refers to the all-inclusive concept of geosphere, or the earth and its physical and material features that serve as terrestrial and aquatic platforms for life to occur. “Water” would be as habitat and sustenance for cellular functions. So is “Air”. All three serve as spring wells of chemical elements and compounds that are needed to create and sustain life.

At first glance, Oposa’s LAW seems Biology 101. Yet, it embodies something more. It’s a simple and indubitable truth that necessitates aligning human behavior toward a necessary purpose. And this purpose is to keep the quality and integrity of our lands, our waters, and our air – for our continuing survival!

This, because, when all’s said and done, the continuing viability of life (ours and of others in this planet) is, eventually, directly related to the integrity of our landscapes, seascapes, waters, and air.

Unfortunately, this now seems trite to a lot of people. A truth so persistently preached by many in years past that we’re now inured to the clarion call in the message. It does not seem to compel us to action.

You see evidence of this cold indifference around. Landscapes and seascapes continue being modified. Water pollution is unabated. Air pollution is worsening. Insatiable human appetite for more of everything we want is trumping the need to moderate our harms to our lands, waters, and air.

This, friend, is where Oposa’s “LAW of Life” really hits the jugular. It leads us to face a “wicked problem”. A problem that persistently eludes solution. And this is the problem: how we might moderate our unkindness to our lands, waters, and air so that they’ll continue to make life viable and flourish in our planet?

It’s a complex problem involving social, economic, and ecological issues. It involves understanding a host of closely interlocking concerns: human needs and aspirations, politics, biodiversity, surface water flows, soils, mineralization, tidal patterns, weather and climate, congestion, consumption, even contagions. It involves understanding and addressing virtually all processes in our nook of earth because in our world, everything is (somehow, eventually) related to everything else.

It’s wicked because it requires a self-negating solution – for us to restrain doing to our lands, waters, and air what we so love to do to them without restraints.

It’s a real struggle to keep our lands, waters, and air as best we could, yet also really want (and feel the need) to subjugate and sequester them for our use. It’s difficult letting them be as pristine as when God made them, when we so want to have sway over them and use as much of them as we could to feed our self-justified appetites for pleasant spaces, better amenities, and higher luxuries.

Letting them be is right smack against our contrary compulsions of wanting to not let them be. The “LAW of Life” is simply a polar opposite pull of the “law of our appetites”.

What to do?

My take: we need to make a hard choice. We could choose to ease up on the pedal when ramming our interests on our lands, waters, and air, or blatantly trump the LAW of Life with our avarice and risk incurring the sure and severe penalties of Nature’s justice. It’s not a choice between abstinence and license. It’s between moderation (because we do need them to meet our needs) and excess (because beyond satisfying need is greed). It’s not about total restraint, but rational, careful, and mindful moderation.

Think Minamata. Think Bhopal. Think Chernobyl. Think Love Canal. Think of the sea wall in Hallandale Beach. Think CoViD-19. These were ugly. They happened because of negligence and willful tort against Nature.

Yes, we must advance life and human well-being – as well and as best we could. But do so with care because we could fail – with disastrous results – in gingerly balancing human advancement with careful tapping of Nature’s beautiful and bountiful endowments that God has so graciously provided for our needs.

Yes. Let’s do more . . . to not fail any further