Book review: Part memoir, part handbook for environmental advocacy
(The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines -  Ramon Magsaysay awardee Tony Oposa’s latest book, “Shooting Stars and Dancing Fish” (Ramon Aboitiz Foundation 2017) reads like an environment advocate’s handbook for the layman, its subtitle “a walk to the world we want” indicative of the gentle persuasion employed by the author to get the reader on the good side of the weather.

All this is done in the simplest of language, paintings, drawings and sketches as well as photographs, vignettes told as if in a classroom, for Oposa, a known environment lawyer, has himself founded a School of the SEA in his beloved hideaway of Bantayan Island off Cebu, built on land left to him by his grandfather, who was a mariner.

One of the pioneers of environmental law in the country, Oposa has had his own scrapes with the law as well as with unsavory, shady characters in his decades-long quixotic battles, which include the assassination of his friend Cebu City bantay dagat Jojo de la Victoria in April 2006, banner story of The STAR’s Nation page at the time edited by Antonio Paño. Before the incident, a P1-million booty was announced for the killing of both De la Victoria and Oposa.

There were significant victories, as when the Supreme Court ruled that logging companies should be answerable for depletion of forests which future generations might no longer be able to enjoy and benefit from. The lawyer admits to at times taking a fatalistic stance – that it didn’t matter if a case was lost so long as some awareness was generated on the issue.

One of his more controversial proposals is the road sharing scheme, where main roads would be halved, one for cars and conventional vehicles and the other reserved for pedestrians and bikers, in line with the maxim, “those who have less in wheels should have more in roads.” Mention of cars traveling in single file may seem laughable if not satiric, but not that much when you consider the logic of the ant.

To further drive his point home, he quotes a former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, saying that progress is when the rich ride public transportation and not when the poor buy cars. Oposa’s championing of walking as exercise is inspired by doctor’s orders to walk five kilometers a day.

While he says that he is not anti-car per se and admits to its occasional necessity, the lawyer says one of the few regrets in his life is being stuck in traffic for hours.

Another of his projects is the push for edible gardens, harnessing idle lands and vacant lots to plant vegetables and fruit trees, which would help address food scarcity and in turn clean up the air. This, he says, would also improve the health of the fledgling gardeners. 

Oposa also cites other green friendly endeavors in other parts of the world, such as led traffic lights in Chicago, floating solar panels in Japan, the renewable energy city of Freiburg in Germany, a green powered island in Scotland, green roofs in Toronto and cities of Germany and Australia, as well as car-free days in Bogota.

The book is never one to strong-arm you into joining the fight against climate change, as the author may be only too aware that this might have the opposite effect. Instead, Shooting stars is thoroughly readable and perhaps the most accessible of Oposa’s works so far, in fact reminiscent of that college reading staple, “Hope for the Flowers.”

Oposa is obviously not done yet, and his strong points are his humor and calmness, which could have only come from years of managing the School of the SEA. Never condescending and always bearing in mind the big picture, the environment lawyer may yet convince the Filipino everyman that the fight for the environment is present with every breath one takes, and turn us all into unconscious guardians of the mountain, forest and waterway .

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