Eight students, one professor, and gracious hosts in the Mekong Delta eager to share stories and adventures.

The Yin-Yang Climate Change Solution


January 4, 2012

Story By Dana Christmas

As we hopped out of our air-conditioned bus we were greeted by a man smiling from ear to ear. (This seems to be standard in Vietnam.) His weathered hands and wrinkled eyes emitted a humble kind of wisdom. He led us to a banana shaped wooden boat alongside a channel of the Mekong River Delta. We eagerly stepped aboard, a little skeptical of the cracks leaking water into the boat’s interior. He gracefully rowed us across the channel, one he must have crossed a thousand times. We arrived at his farm on the other side. The plot did not look like a conventional farm. It was a collage of pigs, chickens, fruit trees, fish, and vegetables all woven into the jungle. We came to find out that this man was a lead farmer in the area and that his family had worked the land on which we stood for three generations.

His farming practices and the meal later prepared for us seemed to reflect the yin-yang principle, which is woven into the fabric of Vietnamese culture. We had learned from Mr. Bich the day before that the yin and the yang represent complementary opposites that interact as part of a dynamic system. Everything in nature has both yin and yang aspects, as light cannot exist without darkness. This principle continued to manifest itself throughout our visit. Like the yin and yang, everything in this farm relied on one another, and apparent opposites could coexist in a “closed system.” The fish rely on a variety of vegetation supplied by the fruit trees and surrounding jungle. The rice relies on the sediment from the canal and nutrients from the jungle decay. The pig’s organic waste is drained from their pens into a methane converter. The methane is then used as energy for the family to cook their meals.

The leftover scraps of food are then fed to the chickens and pigs. Nothing is wasted; each component fuels the next. This system eliminates the use of pesticides and insecticides because the fish will not survive if the rice or fruit trees are sprayed with toxic chemicals. It eliminates deforestation because the people use methane for fuel instead of firewood.

After touring the farm and a thrilling motorbike ride to the neighbors, we sat down to eat. Our hosts had prepared a beautiful meal and laid it out before us “family style.” Each dish was made with intention and encompassed the yin yang principle. The fish that we witnessed wiggling earlier in the day, sat in between a large bowl of fresh greens and a plate of rice papers. The yellow curry prepared was a perfect blend of spices that contrasted vibrantly with the pink fish and green vegetables. For dessert the sweet, tropical fruit was balanced by the bitter and spicy chili infused dipping salt. We devoured our meal; satisfied and content knowing it was made without degrading the environment.

We cannot outsmart nature. When humans try to play God and manipulate the natural cycle, we run into continuous problems. But if we learn from nature and model endeavors and ourselves after it, we become part of something very powerful. This truth has been over looked by our own country for so very long and now places like Vietnam are dealing with the implications.

The farm model I described above is not the solution to climate change in the Mekong Delta. The problems of climate change and everything that comes along with globalization is complex, and there is no easy solution. This farming model serves as a glimpse into what sustainability might look like on a small scale. But more importantly, this farm model offers a way for this farmer and his family to maintain their livelihood, while also preserving their culture and protecting the environment.

Like the yin and the yang, no piece of our global sustainability challenge is unaffected by another, and solutions will have to incorporate the wisdom of this philosophy. We are all interconnected in this struggle. Each part of our current globalized system: the old wisdoms and the new innovations; the local grassroots organizations, governments and global institutions; the indigenous peoples and modern hyper-consumers; the farmers and the scientists, all contradict one another but are dependent on each other at the same time. They all provide perspectives that will need to be balanced to achieve solutions to the global problem of climate change.

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