On Content Creation, Writing, and Ryan’s Day

“Hey guys, welcome to my vlog!” Most likely than not, you’ve heard this line before. It’s the most overused intro of vloggers or content creators. It is a straightforward opening to a video so I suppose, there’s nothing really wrong about it except that its overabundance has become more annoying than welcoming.

I never thought of doing it myself. Having a vlog, I mean. But I have to admit online visual stories are effective in getting the message across especially so that about 11 hours are  spent online at an average by most Filipinos. And so, I did this travel vlog x climate justice story for Greenpeace and I have to say, I enjoyed it (the series is featured by EngageMedia, check it out here). It was fun but it was also a lot of work. One might assume that it only takes a camera or a phone, plus good lighting, maybe, then you’re good to go. But it takes so much more than that. A ton of courage to put one’s self out there is required. I remember taking a video of myself in a public place with people staring and I couldn’t help but cringe. I’m not cut out for this. It is a good thing this is not my full-time job but it is impressive how being a content creator can be a career path these days.

I’ll stick to writing, thank you very much. I don’t do it professionally but I write mostly for myself. But having some kind of impact to someone who reads my piece is a bonus. I also hope to be a better writer and the best way to achieve that is to write, and then write some more, and write again. It can be a challenge especially if you’re feeling uninspired or there’s nothing to write about but the key is to keep at it.

I’ve been writing mostly about climate and environment stuff. It has become my sort of brand. Today is Earth Day – Ryan’s Day, as someone fondly dubbed it as tribute to my advocacy and passion towards environmentalism. It is an opportunity to put a spotlight on a subject matter which frankly is rather not taken seriously. Despite warnings from science. Not even first-hand experience can seem to convince us to do something about it. And what I’m referring to here is the climate crisis and environmental decay. It’s not because we don’t care – well there are some who are frustratingly indifferent about all these things, perhaps cushioned by their sheltered and privileged life, to be honest, but there’s no easy way to solve a wicked problem.

Incidentally, while writing this, I was listening to a podcast where Stanford guys, Matt Abrahams and BJ Fogg were discussing about behavior change. BJ mentions information-action fallacy stressing that providing facts or information to change attitudes and behavior could just not work. So being aware about Earth Day and learning about all the information one needs to save the planet (when will we realize this is for us to save ourselves), a more environment-friendly attitude and behavior would not be expected. He proposes that motivation, ability (simplicity factor), and prompts are elements that could actually change behavior. To illustrate this in the context of reducing the use of plastic bags when shopping – an extra cost for plastic bags would be a motivation to bring a reusable bag, a simple thing to do; prompted by a poster saying, “Bring your reusable bags.” This makes sense and also relates to value-action gap. Those trying to embrace a sustainable lifestyle may not be able to translate that into action because the sustainable path can be difficult, costly, and sometimes the path may not be even there.

So this Ryan’s Day, I hope we could appreciate nature more and realize its value so we become motivated to protect it. May the systems in place make it easy for us to choose the sustainable option. And may adaptive designs nudge us towards a better choice, something that is kinder for the planet.

P.S. Here’s a random photo with an Earth Day feels to catch your attention. 🙂


A Weekend of Fun Farming Activities

We are so disconnected to the earth. And this does not come as a surprise considering that most of our lives are spent inside buildings, in front of our computers, barely seeing any green. Especially so if you happen to live in Metro Manila. So when I saw the Move to Change Foundation (M2C) call for volunteers for some farm activities last weekend, I happily signed up.

Nestled in a private lot in San Juan is M2C’s small urban farm which is being developed to be a farm lab. The day started with harvesting which for me was the easiest among the tasks in store for us. Lettuce and cilantro were assigned to our small group. We simply had to uproot the leafy greens, give it a wash, weigh it (for monitoring), then it will now be ready for storage or for cooking. Some of the harvests were prepared for lunch.

Transplanting came next where one has to carefully transfer tiny seedlings from seed trays to plots. I was glad I worked on eggplants which are relatively resilient because I was not sure I was careful enough not to damage their roots as I removed them from the tray. I can only hope that at least a half of them survives.

The plot preparation was the most physically demanding of all the activities. It entailed removing grass, crushing the soil, adding decarbonized rice husk and vermicast (fertilizer made up of organic matter broken down by earthworms), watering it with fermented fruit juice concoction (this is meant to kill bacteria), then covering it with a plastic sheet.

Finally, we sowed some seeds and learned about how to prepare concoctions. We then happily enjoyed lunch together feeling accomplished. Being with nature, working with soil which mind you activates happy hormones, is truly a good way of spending the weekend.

One of the kids said he would not want to do this again realizing the amount of effort farming requires. Another commented that farmers should be paid more. The good thing about participating in food growing is you gain deeper appreciation for food and for those who labor so that we can be fed.

Photo Credit: M2C

Trash Talk

What would it take for us to actually reduce our waste or ditch single-use plastic?

Our garbage is killing wildlife; polluting water bodies, the land, and the air; and plastic in particular is disintegrating into microplastics now found in human poop, human organs, and human blood! Yikes!

A capitalistic world encourages us to be consumers where our value is measured by the things we buy. This is our attempt to chase after happiness. Fooled to believe we will find them in material things.

With our insatiable demand for stuff we don’t really need, we keep buying cheap things not thinking that their real cost is not captured in the price. The use of resources and the disposal after the end of its life are all externalized.

Blame, of course, falls once again to individuals. We do have a part in changing the system. Our consumption patterns dictate market demand for better, more environment-friendly products. Our collective action of reducing, re-using, and recycling can mean one less trash dumped in landfills. Recycling, by the way, is at the end of the three Rs because it is supposed to be the final option. Consumption should be reduced in the first place.

Government regulation and proper implementation of environmental laws is ideal. Businesses would also have to clean up their act. They have the resources and capacity to lessen their negative impact to the planet and regenerate it instead.

Raising awareness, changing mindset and behavior, demanding government action and corporate accountability. We need all of these. This Zero Waste Month, may we be reminded of that, yet again. We cannot keep on giving in to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality because quite frankly, we are already consuming the trash we have been throwing away.

Exploring the Paradise of Easter Samar x Climate Justice Stories

I hosted the third episode of “KalikaSan Tayo” of Greenpeace where I explored Eastern Samar, its beautiful beaches and sceneries, churches, and historical sites. I also heard stories of climate resilience and recovery from Typhoon Yolanda.

Book Recommendations

I read Craig Taylor’s Londoners whilst in London where everyone is different and thus, anyone can fit in, as observed by Paddington Bear. It’s a book ‘told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it, and long for it.’ I, for one, am longing for it. Not the cold, gloomy, rainy weather but especially the efficient transport, which makes it easy to get from one place to another.

Will the Philippines ever get to sort out its messy transportation system? Not anytime soon, I suppose, as the solution we could only come up with is road expansions. I can only hope for a better choice architecture influencing one option over another. That is, in this case, choosing public transport over private cars through the nudge theory. This was brilliantly tackled in Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sustein). In a nutshell, it’s about taking advantage of man’s tendency to depend on mental shortcuts by nudging us towards an ideal choice.

Related to Nudge is the concept of System 1 and System 2 thinking, the automatic and concentrated mental activity, respectively, discussed further in Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman). It was fascinating to learn about our nature of being led by our cognitive biases. Adam Grant’s Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know can come in handy as it teaches us to embrace the joy of being wrong. I also liked Adam’s bestseller, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World offering lessons on how to promote creativity and innovation.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (James Clear) is pretty straightforward – small incremental steps to build habits. Much like The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results (Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan) imploring us to focus on one task or goal at a time.

These were part of my reading list in 2022. Any recommendations for 2023?

Holistic Health for 2023

Went for my usual weekly jog and as expected, there were more people doing the same thing perhaps resolved to once again try to be healthier. But exercise is just one part of the formula. Eating right and getting enough sleep, plus staying mentally sharp and being social all make up a holistic health regimen.

After jog photo.

Funny enough, health issues have become the usual topic with friends around dinner table these days. A sign of aging, maybe, but mind you, I look so much younger than my age. Thanks to my Asian gene, I’d say, when talking to Westerners. It could also be due to my diet. I’m always asked if I’m vegetarian. Well, I’m flexitarian, which is also known as a casual vegetarian or someone having a Mediterranean diet. That is, it’s mostly plant-based but meat is fine occasionally. It’s good for one’s health and the climate, too, with its low carbon footprint. So it fits perfectly with my environmental advocacy.

How about sleep? I’m getting enough of it, thankfully. Social life? I do my best to cultivate the friendships that I have. I sometimes tell myself I already have enough friends but I still make an effort to connect to new people. As to staying mentally sharp, encouraging myself to write more might do the trick. Tried not to overthink it, as you can tell from this rambling.

Stay holistically healthy. I guess that’s my goal for 2023. What’s yours?

Musings on Whatever: A Year of Climate Work

In 2020, I was one of the recipients of the British Government-funded Chevening Scholarship and I decided to pursue MSc Climate Change and International Development at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. I wanted to have a sort of specialization considering that as an environmentalist, I was supposed to be a “jack of all trades and master of none.” But besides that, the climate crisis is very relevant to a climate-vulnerable country like the Philippines. A few weeks ago, I was in Eastern Samar documenting the impacts of climate change to this province frequented by heavy rains and strong typhoons. Around this time of the year, Super Typhoons have hit the country in the past. Now, widespread flooding is being experienced in the Southern Philippines.

Climate change has become a buzzword. Everybody seems to talk about it. Politicians agree that it is a priority. But all these talk do not necessarily translate into action. Yes, it is a global problem and it would require global cooperation for it to be solved. The creation of a Loss and Damage Fund during COP27 is a welcome development. Yet in the grand scheme of things, this is but a drop in the ocean. Realistically, drastic system changes would have to take place and how exactly can you topple down a capitalistic society where everything is built upon? Time and again, I’d say, “Do what you can, in whatever capacity you have, wherever you are.”

Upon my return from the UK this year, I became involved in various climate work which is great. For Oscar M. Lopez Center for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management Foundation, Inc., I was the Technical Coordinator of Project Upturn which entailed the creation of an inventory of climate adaptation practices in the Philippines. For Greenpeace, I was part of the climate justice campaign where I helped produce videos of youth climate stories. As a Consultant of the UN’s International Organization for Migration in their Climate Change-Conflict Nexus Project, I assisted local government units in the development of their Local Climate Change Action Plan.

Funny enough, I had to do things that I swore I’d never do. Like a tiktok dance for the Party for the Planet Campaign or be a vlogger for a Youtube video. But hey, it’s for climate action so why not?

For 2023, there is more work to be done, for sure. Will the climate crisis get better? It will get worse. That’s the reality and we have to prepare for it. But I am hopeful because the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves and the climate movement is growing. In the words of Ryunosuke Satoro, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” Well, this might just be the ocean that could turn things around.

Organic Leadership Masterclass: Revisiting the organic movement and shaping the steps forward

Back in 2018, I had the privilege of undergoing the Organic Foundation Course (OFC) implemented by International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)-Asia. The OFC trains local government officials, partners, and individuals on the principles of organic agriculture (OA). This year, the 2022 Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA) Organic Leadership Masterclass gathered 19 people selected among all the graduates of the six OFC trainings, including myself. We, the participants came from Bhutan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Indonesia, and Iran.

The learning sessions provided an opportunity to discuss relevant topics on the organic movement – its place in achieving the SDGs and addressing the climate crisis; its ever evolving name such as adopting the words regenerative and agroecology; innovations in production and marketing; and issues of certification.

We had the chance to visit Seol-mae Farm, Goesan-Seoul Farm, and Heuksarang. Seol-mae Farm is a farmer’s cooperative established in 1994 consisting of 21 members. Goesan-Seoul Farm is a demo school introducing organic agriculture and farming to urban dwellers. Meanwhile, Heuksarang is a processing plant mainly for organic corn and cabbage. These organic businesses in Goesan County are well-organized and are greatly supported by the local and national governments.

We met farmers young and old who expressed their deep commitment in protecting the environment and prioritizing health. The young ones in particular are inspiring for choosing the path less traveled – ditching the city life and deciding to devote their life in growing food that embraces the principles of OA revolving around health, ecology, fairness, and care.

We were also divided into groups according to area or location. Challenges from different contexts were highlighted particularly issues on government regulation and certification, gap between producers and consumers, and disinterest from the youth to organic agriculture or farming in general. Solutions and action plans were presented that focused on advocacy, awareness raising, and continuous engagement.

Another part of the masterclass is our participation to the 8th ALGOA Summit and the 2nd International Conference on Organic Agriculture Policy. In these events, it was emphasized how OA can provide a holistic approach in tackling both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis.

The masterclass did not only foster the OA knowledge of the participants. It, likewise, served as a reunion of old friends and it is where new connections were built that can lead to collaborations towards achieving a more organic future.

Photo: IFOAM-Asia

Musings on Whatever: Musical and Theater Overload

The orchestra swelled inside the Soundheim Theatre. I was pumped with excitement for my first West End show – Les Miserables: The Staged Concert. Being in the UK and in London felt like being in theater heaven. I sure did not miss the chance of catching all the shows I can depending on time and my limited budget. One can avail of affordable tickets thanks, in part, to government subsidy.

Early on, I developed a fondness to theater and musicals. It was mostly because of my involvement to a local theatre group in my hometown allowing me to perform Broadway or West End songs. The classic ones – Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked, as expected were amazing. The incredible singing and acting made the story alive, complimented further by the extravagant set and costume. In the same way, Lion King was a feast for both the eyes and the ears. Something that, for me, was not quite achieved by Cinderella and Moulin Rouge. The set and costume were their strengths. However, the story of Cinderella was not reimagined enough and Moulin Rouge’s updated playlist did not give “a little bit funny, feeling inside,” I got from the original film.

Turning films into musicals can be tricky but Back to the Future pulled through managing to replicate the movie with the use of visual effects. Saturday Night Fever and Dirty Dancing were all about the dance and nostalgia. For Dirty Dancing, it seemed like we were just waiting for the much anticipated final dance. The theatre roared once “Now I’ve… had the time of my life…” came on.

I suppose some plays capitalize on the entertainment value and we go see them just to have fun. Like Mamma Mia which brought about the rise of the jukebox musical. The story can be secondary. The Choir of Man, in particular, did not have a protagonist or a villain. It was simply men in a pub giving their unique renditions of pop songs like Adele’s “Hello” and Sia’s “Chandelier.” I might be biased for being a 90s kid who is familiar with Britney and boy band songs but I think these were perfect for & Juliet, a Romeo and Juliet play with a twist. I also did see a modern take of this Shakespearean tragedy. Watched it standing up, like how they used to, at the Shakespeare’s Globe.

Historical musicals like Jersey Boys (The Four Seasons), Get Up, Stand Up (Bob Marley), and Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton) are in abundance. Mary Poppins, Matilda, and Frozen will magically charm kids and kids at heart. Dear Evan Hansen and Heathers, I think, will appeal more to teens. They’re all very different. Especially The Book of Mormon, which some may find offensive. I thought it was irreverently hilarious.

I might be partial to those with the right combination of story, music, acting, and stage presentation like Come from Away but I have to say I enjoyed every show I went to. There is something about live performances that elevate entertainment as all your senses are engaged. And with things slowly going back to normal, I for one, am looking forward to seeing more musicals and theater shows in the future.

Humans of the World: Peter from Devon, England

Following the ways of nature, for a change. This is one of the principles that Peter abides by as he tries to convert his house in Torquay, Devon into flats using upcycled and eco-friendly materials. He plans to rent out the place which will then support his conservation work saving rainforests.

Peter is passionate about sustainability and environmentalism. As someone who is also as passionate about these things, I was glad to volunteer and do a Workaway for him. I helped install window wall plaques, put up a green wall on the trunk of a dead tree, and organize rooms.

As with all of my Workaway experiences, what I value the most is the conversations I have with my hosts. I talked about my indigenous heritage, the culture of the Philippines, and my advocacy for the environment. Peter, in turn, gave his insights about climate change solutions and shared a lot of stories of his travels and his past. He showed videos of some of his projects like the Ecoplaza Paradise Oasis serving as a model of a world saved from climate change, and his bubble house idea, an alternative way of building climate resilient dwelling.

It was not all serious stuff. Peter and I also bonded over food, music, and spa sessions. As he used to be a chef, he prepared topnotch cuisines and we also tried out different dishes when eating out – Polish pierogi/dumplings, Mexican wrap, Italian pasta, French baguette, Thai and Nepali curries; and of course the quintessential British food such as fish and chips, fisherman’s pie, full English breakfast, and Sunday roast.

It is our genuine care for the environment that connected us. And while we met us strangers, we parted as friends.