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The Power of Stories to Inspire

November 28, 2010

 “It’s almost dinnertime, and the only thing that’s standing between you and your food is me. So I shall tell you stories.”

Accomplished environmental lawyer Tony Oposa of the Philippines gave a keynote speech at Conference of Youth (COY) held at the Universidad del Caribe today. Mr Oposa has been an activist in the paralegal field for years, and been awarded the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) roll of honour for taking action against the government. Instead of a regular speech-style presentation, he spoke to an audience of about 200 youth through an interesting medium – stories.

Stories are incredibly powerful. They can speak where facts and data only serve to put us to sleep. Indeed, it is what makes an experience memorable and re-livable, and fires up passion that can drive youth to push for greater change. His first tale spoke of picture art in a cave, depicting the reality of the world in pictorial form on one side, and a fantastical Utopian ideal on the other.

We are all story tellers; our words are our paintbrushes. Our expertise is our canvas, our medium. 

There was once a young man, whose father was incredibly rich. Upon his coming of age, the son was given his inheritance – on the condition that he could only withdraw a million dollars a day from the investment that had taken eighty years to accumulate. He withdrew his due on his birthday, and spent it all. He did so the second day, and without a second thought, continued for the rest of the days, until his family legacy had been squandered, one million at a time. And instead of counting this as a loss, he convinced himself that he had made progress, and was doing well.

The son had blinded himself to the loss incurred.

This is an analogy of Man’s wasteful nature. The Earth is brought down from generation to generation, and with each, a little piece of a huge planet was being destroyed, day by day. These were euphemised into economic jargon like “GDP growth” and “economic development”. Oposa made a strong case for himself when he brought up the conventional paradigm of consumption-based economics, which was less for more. Instead, we were producing in excess, which eventually goes to waste. In other words, inefficient consumption leads to waste.

According to the I=PAT theory of resource management, influence on resources (I) is affected by a combination of population (P), affluence (A) and (T) for technology. Affluence relates to the consumption lifestyles of a person: whether he drives a car, eats red meat every day, for example. Thus, with greater affluence and consumption comes a greater strain on our finite resources.

Therefore, Oposa likens our overspending habits to “borrowing on credit”, as our influence is far exceeding the capacity of the Earth to function healthily and maintain the delicate ecosystems on our planet.

Oposa is well known for his extensive work in the field of legal action on behalf of the environment and future generations. He shares his perspective that anybody can change the world. He maintained that his way of contributing to this cause he is passionate for is through his expertise of law and legal action, by negotiating, mediating, arbitrating and litigating. When the mouths of babes open, grown-ups listen.

Oposa was adamant that youth were empowered to create change because we are unbridled by national interest; we are idealistic and bursting with energy. Most of all, we are the ones who have the highest stake in this issue – because we would be living in the effects of climate change.

COY will continue today. Keep posted on updates from the ECO@COP16 team! We will also be tweeting live from the conference venue. COP16 begins on Monday, 29 November.

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