An apocryphal story of an Oxford student meeting a Tibetan monk, in verse.

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Photo by Greg Jeanneau on Unsplash

I wrote the following poem when I was spending a lot of time with “smart” students and at the same time traveling back and forth to places where wisdom still takes primacy over mind acrobatics. Having imbibed both ways of thinking, I imagined what a heated (but sensible) conversation between the two traditions could look like.

In a way it is the mastery of the external world speaking to the mastery of the internal self. Enjoy the read!

What should one do
When there is no goal to pursue
When future prospects look rather bleak
and political will is also weak?


Start getting used to these lifestyle changes before you are forced to.

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Photo by Joshua van der Schyff on Unsplash

The climate crisis has already started. Thanks to our safe bubbles, some of us are sheltered from its immediacy and that’s why we afford to ignore it. For those relying on rain and temperature to make a living or those closer to the elements, climate denial is a joke.

As temperatures increase, economies will suffer. Prices will rise, water shortages will become common, and jobs will be scarce. Taxation might increase.

If you hope to live till the end of the century or hope that your kids or grandkids will, you will have to get used to a few changes in your lifestyle. …


How our intellect hinders us from communicating with the land.

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Sunrise on the Desert. Photo by Fabian Struwe on Unsplash

Logic is a great tool, and it sharpens our intellect. The intellect needs to be sharp, like a surgical knife, in order for it to help us navigate situations that need careful analysis. But so far, logic hasn’t helped us when dealing with the landscape. The knife rips right through it.

Have you ever looked at a landscape and felt no particular connection with it? Or started enumerating and categorizing what you saw? Rushing to take a picture or thinking what you see is a natural “resource?” That’s what I am talking about.

To understand how plants and animals work, we kill them, isolate them, bring them into the lab, and analyze them. Then we try to put all the dead parts together with tape through what we call systems thinking. …


How to not make the same learning mistakes you’ve made during your twenties.

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Photo: Philippe Bout/Unsplash

The reality is that most of us were not ready for university when we attended it in our twenties. Whether it was a compulsive choice of major, wanting to leave home, or any other external factor, there were far too many things to deal with not to get distracted from the real purpose of going to university: learning.

I went to university thinking my study skills from high school were enough to keep me in the top tier, which wasn’t wrong. I remained in the top tier, but I ended up not benefiting much.

Two degrees later, I am now thinking of going back to university to study landscape architecture. Based on my experience, here are the tips I found most helpful in avoiding the same learning mistakes I made the first time. …


I wanted less plastic in my life. I ended up on a learning journey about the natural world.

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Photo by Ellieelien on Unsplash

Plastic pollution advocacy is my day job. I gather data and publish results to try to influence policy. At night, I try to reduce my own footprint. We consume a lot of yogurt at home, and it all comes in plastic.

I decided to start making it at home. I had no idea what this decision would end up teaching me about plant starters, pasteurization, low-tech insulation, and ultimately, sustaining a sense of wonder about the natural world.

When doing the math, it turned out I could even save money: 1 liter (or 1 quart) of milk makes 8 glasses of yogurt, and is cheaper than buying the same amount of yogurt packaged in plastic. …


Rich people have the most environmental impact. Let’s make sustainability their next milestone.

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Lebombo Lodge in South Africa. Photo: Jessica138 (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

The richest 10% of people emit around 50% of global individual-based emissions, and the average footprint of the richest 1% could be 175 times that of someone in the poorest 10%, according to a 2015 study by Oxfam.

So, instead of forcing the bottom 99% of society to change their individual actions or to take to the streets to demand political change, how about just tricking rich people into desiring sustainability?

If it works, everyone will follow. Rich people are trendsetters. Even policy would tag along since it always follows the interests of the rich, right?

To make things clear, I am not talking about fancy electric cars. Think low-tech stuff. Bamboo faucets, wicker baskets, thatched roofs, and bio-gas cookers. Not imported organic food, but a food garden just outside your window. …


A tour guide offers guided visits after a climate apocalypse. His group is an unusual bunch.

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Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

It’s 2300, the whole world has collapsed
There’s no more green to be seen
only buildings with diamonds on their crowns
and everything looks like a shade of brown
A group of tourists look at the scene
The tour guide speaks with a frown:

The biosphere used to be here
All around you
Walking in a forest, you’d be in fear
Of something that might eat you
Giants were always near
Sloths twice the size of you
But now in the obscene Anthropocene
There’s nothing left but you
Roaming the desert of the real
The ruins of modern civilization
That I think you all feel
Was the biggest abomination
Today, nothing left remains, just urban decay
And silicone sands stretching far…


Hand laundry is seen as a chore, but it really is a sustainable joy.

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Buddhist Monks Doing Laundry. Photo: Public Domain.

Being a ‘deep’ environmentalist and choosing to lead by example, I keep spotting and listing things in my life that need a sustainable replacement. The washing machine has been a particularly difficult exercise. I found articles describing how someone attached a gear system and a bicycle to the rotor of an old washing machine and it worked just like a charm.

But these kinds of solutions come from places where washing machines are abundantly produced and frequently sold so that many end up going to waste. In the drylands, things are different. Poverty makes it so there are no ‘spare’ washing machines that are not for sale. All of them go to second and third-hand markets. Even dysfunctional ones are taken apart and the functioning parts are sold separately. So I didn’t have the option of salvaging a wasted one to hook it up to a bicycle. …


I quit my job and changed my routine but couldn’t get rid of Monday morning stress.

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Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Monday morning stress needs no introduction. It is that feeling that one can’t afford to be lazy, be sloppy, or indulge on a Monday until “enough” work has been done or one’s responsibilities have been taken care of to a satisfying degree. It could be described as the opposite of the Friday afternoon relief.

I have been trying to get rid of Monday morning stress for a long time, every time thinking the culprit was something external to me. After chasing it for a few years, I finally understood that it was me.

I left my job, started freelancing as a project manager, changed my working hours, but my realization only came in a few months ago. …


In the Global South, adaptation should be prioritized over reducing emissions. Climate funds enable the opposite.

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Solar panels in a desert landscape. Photo credit: Isofoton.es (CC-BY 3.0)

Not all countries are equally responsible for causing climate change.

Even if we disregard the historical responsibility of Global North countries, it is still the case that most countries in the Global South are not emitting as much today as their Northern counterparts.

In the lab, climate change models have been throwing their dice and it looks like there is a general rule emerging as to the predicted outcomes: countries that contribute less to climate change will suffer more from its impacts.

This isn’t a coincidence. There are many contributing factors to unpack: a major issue of climate justice, historical responsibility, and the vulnerability of previously colonized countries. But this isn’t the point I am making today. …

About

The Moor from the Drylands

A resilient human living in the drylands. I write about our relationship with the environment and I sometimes compose poems.

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