Key Concepts

Sustainable Living
The Ancient Indian Vedas tell us that, in order to be healthy (Sanskrit: Svastha or “established in the self”) we must achieve a balance both within ourselves (body-mind-spirit), and between ourselves and the natural world.

It is this all-encompassing balance that, for me, lies at the heart of sustainable living.

A few central points:

– Obviously, we have to consume – food, clothing, transport, power and so on. But we don’t need to over-consume. By rediscovering the idea of “enough” we can limit our needs, without necessarily curbing our fun. Arguably, ever since industrialization took hold, a large section of the world’s population have been trapped on a statistical treadmill, forever upping the pace in order to push forward “key indicators” that dominate their lives – GDP, PMI (what? Oh yes, that’s Purchasing Managers’ Index), whatever….

– When we take (consume) what we need, remember to give. In terms of cultivating the land, it isn’t enough to do no harm by avoiding the use of damaging chemicals and industrial fertilizers. We have to maintain, and preferably improve, the quality of the soil for the long term. It takes time and effort; we are repaid with higher quality soil, healthier plants and improved yields, plus improved biodiversity among insect and bird populations. I suspect that another happy outcome  would be healthier and more contented human beings…

– Out of respect for the earth, we should use resources efficiently. In the Middle East, water conservation ought to be a priority, but it isn’t. By irrigating only after dark, using drip technologies rather than a flooding approach, and sorting out leaks/ burst pipes when they happen, we can save water. Similarly, if we accept that genetic modification is acceptable in principle, then again, out of respect, let’s promote the conservation and cultivation of a wide variety of plants to maintain crucial biodiversity as a safeguard for the future.

– Rediscovering the local would also be wise. When resident in Qatar, we used to have a choice of carrots (in the supermarket) from a) Australia or b) China. I would ponder the size of each carrot’s carbon footprint, and despair. Of course, when “going local” nothing could be better than popping out into the garden and picking your very own!

– A return to seasonal cultivation and consumption would enable us to re-tune to the rhythms of our local environment. It’s another way to reduce costs and the consumption of precious resources (air-conditioned greenhouses in the Arabian Gulf, heated ones in northern Europe).

– We are all part of an integral whole: “Mother Earth”. Man/woman is part of nature, nature is within us, and every one of us is more dependent on her than we care to acknowledge. The concept of sharing resources seems to have been lost somewhere along the line, possibly with the over-privileging of words such as “me, mine”. In times of great suffering, we do remember – think of Live Aid. The Ancient Egyptians knew a thing or two about this:

“My Upper Egyptian barley was it that travelled upstream and reached Wawat,
that travelled downstream and reached This…
… Never did I permit it to happen that anyone died of hunger in this nome.*
I have given Upper Egypt a loan of seed
and lent upper Egyptian barley to Lower Egypt.”

As long ago as the Ninth Dynasty (approx. 2100 BCE), in the chaos of Egypt’s First Intermediate Period, Ankhtifi, regional governor of Mo’alla, could boast that he was able to feed the population of his area and to loan vital produce to other parts of the country.

*The third nome, or administrative region, in Upper Egypt was centred on ancient
Nekhen/ Hierakonpolis.


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