Preface

Sailesh Rao Suit.jpg
The only myth that’s going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one talking about the planet — not this city, not these people, but the planet and everybody on it
— Joseph Campbell

I began writing this book over two years ago. I attended a Vipassana retreat[1] in Twenty Nine Palms, Southern California in January 2014 and during those ten days of silence and meditation, the patterns of this unabashedly positive story began to emerge. It was stunning! As a systems specialist, I’m now in total awe of the systems design that is Nature. I’m talking about Nature as a whole, including us humans, with all our blatant flaws. It all fits beautifully when we consider the crime scene backwards. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gets Sherlock Holmes to say in A Study in Scarlet[2],

“In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practice it much.”

I had not practiced it much either, but this was precisely what it took to thread this story. But before I begin, here’s my background so that you understand my perspectives.

I was born to a Hindu Brahmin family in South India in 1960 in the village of Iddya near Mangalore and was raised and educated in Chennai, the fourth largest city in India. In 1981, I immigrated to the United States to pursue my graduate studies in Electrical Engineering.
Chennai recently suffered a “once in a thousand year flood” during the NorthEast monsoons, affecting millions of lives[3]. Climate change clearly loaded the dice in favor of such an extreme flood event occurring and this loading will only get worse if the Earth’s temperature continues to rise. My birthplace, India, is expected to be one of the most affected countries due to climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification and toxic pollution. Therefore, I have a lot at stake, personally, to ensure that our human story rights itself without an apocalyptic loss of lives.  

Prof. Thomas Kailath at Stanford University in California trained me as an electrical systems engineer, in the early 80s. Prof. Kailath is such a giant in this field that he has gone on to receive numerous international accolades, including the U.S. National Medal of Science from President Obama and the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian honor bestowed by the Government of India. He taught me that a genuine systems specialist must peer over the shoulders of experts in different fields of study in order to discern cross-disciplinary patterns. Thus, a systems specialist is mainly an integrator of the individual stories told by other storytellers in their respective fields of expertise. In order to be effective, he or she must have the curiosity to

“Know something about everything and everything about something,"

as Prof. Donald Knuth, from Stanford University, put it recently[4]. About twenty years ago, I thought I knew “something” about every conceivable source of interference that could affect the quality of data communications over the Internet and "everything" about exchanging data over twisted-pair copper wires through silicon chips. That's how I became deeply involved in designing the hardware infrastructure of the Internet in the 90’s. It was professionally rewarding as the Internet exploded in popularity!

Until about 10 years ago, I considered my work on the Internet to be some of the most difficult and interesting systems challenges in the world. Then, one evening, it changed. I happened to be watching former Vice President Al Gore's Global Warming slide show on LinkTV and it changed my life[5]!

The environmental systems problem that he described was more challenging than anything that I had ever encountered in my technical career. I realized how tremendously consequential it was for the legacy we were leaving our children. For the past ten years, I've been working full time on environmental issues, while staying self-funded. In 2011, my book, Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies[6], was published about “what” we need to do as a species to reach sustainability.

This book is a follow-up on “how” we can go about doing it. It is also an updated story of the patterns that I have discerned so far, five years later, in this mother of all systems challenges. Just as the author and public theologian, Brian McLaren, had done in “Everything Must Change[7]” from a Christian perspective, this book connects our environmental and economic crises with the spiritual crises that humanity is facing. As was the case in Carbon Dharma, this book draws upon ancient Hindu texts extensively, mainly due to my familiarity with the Hindu tradition. However, in this book I’ve tried to include quotes from the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran to show that the Rig Vedic verse

“Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahudha Vadanti (The Truth is One; The Wise Call It by Many Names),

holds when it comes to all long-standing faith and wisdom traditions. There should be no daylight between us in our response to our global predicament.

As a systems engineer, I’m not a trained philosopher or theologian, though I'm fascinated by all faith and wisdom traditions including Secular Humanism, and have been studying them all. I'm not a trained environmentalist or climate scientist, though I've been poring through the scientific literature on climate change and environmental degradation for the past ten years. I'm not a trained nutritionist or food scientist, though I've completed the online course on Plant-Based Nutrition[8] from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell and have actively experimented with my diet over the past 30 years. I'm not a trained economist, though I've been closely following the latest developments in financial markets and in digital currencies. I’m not a trained sociologist, though I have been immersed in social justice issues for many decades. I'm not a trained astro-biologist, though I've been fascinated by the possibility of extraterrestrial life for as long as I can remember. I mention these varied disciplines because the story in this book draws upon these fields a fair bit. Thanks to the Internet, I had ready access to the accumulated knowledge in all these disciplines and to many generous subject matter experts who patiently led me through the nuances of their respective fields of study. However, I must hasten to add that while these varied sources provided the plausible "dots" for this story, any misinterpretations that have seeped through are really due to my limited understanding of their respective fields.

I've also had the pleasure of working alongside so many passionate people from Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as the Foundation for Ecological Security[9] (FES) and SAI Sanctuary[10] in the villages of India and the Climate Reality Project[11] and the movement for American Indian rights[12] in the US. These generous activists and indigenous people that I met during the course of my field work at Climate Healers have truly contributed as much to my growth and understanding and to this story as all of my respected colleagues in the scientific realm.

The Booklist, in its review of Ian Morris’s book, Why the West Rules - For Now: The Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future[13], wrote that[14],

“Only the supremely self-confident put forth all-encompassing theories of world history, and Morris is one such daredevil.”

Ian Morris, a historian and archaeologist, with a chaired position as Professor of Classics and Professor of History at Stanford University, is most certainly qualified to put forth such all-encompassing theories. This book does propose such an all-encompassing theory of world history, but it isn’t supreme self confidence that compelled me to write it. Rather, it is my undying love for my children and their generation, and above all, my undying love for my granddaughter and her generation. Our future generations are simply amazing and deserve better than the apocalyptic stories that they are being told today. If our children don’t have a positive story of their world to work with, then have we not failed as parents? Therefore, given my systems training, I felt that it is my duty to discern a positive story that fits the same underlying facts and reality, even as our current socioeconomic system grinds towards an inevitable collapse.

The system is breaking. There is widespread discontent throughout the world, especially among the youth. Ever since world leaders resolved the financial collapse of 2007-8 with massive bank bailouts, the youth of the world have been rebelling against the established order. Despite appearances to the contrary, the Greek movement of 2008 and the Tunisian, Occupy and Indignados movements of 2011 have remained potent. They have simply morphed into numerous social justice movements that are beginning to have a substantial impact on political processes throughout the world. In the United States, the Occupy movement has been followed by the DREAM’ers, the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, Direct Action Everywhere, Collectively Free and the Climate Mobilization movement, to name a few. They have propelled a rumpled, socialist candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, to within a hair’s breadth of the nomination for the Presidency of the United States in the Democratic Party.

The system is breaking. Last year, I was invited by Rep. Raul Grijalva to speak on a panel about the Trans Pacific Partnership(TPP)[15], a trade deal so egregious that it is unimaginable that any conscious legislator could vote for it and hope to win reelection. The TPP contains every possible half-baked idea ever devised to maximize corporate profits and socialize corporate risks. It’s as if the political establishment is terrified of corporate profit reductions triggering a system collapse and is going out of its way to ensure corporate well being.

The system is breaking. The Republican Party in the US is serving up Presidential candidates who no longer mince words about their racist, misogynist, bigoted, fascist policies. Unlike the Democratic Party, even the pretense of upholding “liberty and justice for all” is gone, as social divisions are laid bare and exploited by the leaders of this once Grand Old Party.  

The system is breaking. Official secrets are leaking, not in dribs and drabs, but in gushing torrents, exposing the powerful and the ruthless games they play. It is now a good policy for every official to assume that anything they say or do will be exposed, if not now, then at some point in the future. Therefore, radical transparency is not only the best policy, but it is the default option as well.

To paraphrase the great Persian poet, Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, or more fondly, just plain Rumi, where the system is breaking, that’s where the light is entering[16]! This is undoubtedly an optimistic view, but I am an optimist. I’m also an unabashed salesman of Ahimsa, the ancient Vedic doctrine of non-violence towards all Life. Many of my meat, fish and dairy consuming friends and relatives will tell you that I take every opportunity to advance this cause. Reasoning backwards, I was amazed to discover that the underlying connecting thread for the story of Carbon Yoga is indeed compassion for all Creation. It is the head telling us that only the heart has the solution! While I must hasten to add that Carbon Yoga is just one plausible view of all that has happened so far and the scenario I've outlined is just one possible path forward towards a sustainable future, as far as I can tell, the path of compassion seems to be the only way towards a positive future that doesn’t involve genocidal interludes.

Finally, while writing this book, I've tried to quote directly from various sources so that the story gets integrated mostly in their original words. As much as possible, I've tried to be the faithful recorder of the story as it was being told all around me by countless others.

Sailesh Rao.
Phoenix, AZ.
April 2016

 


[1] Vipassana, which means to see things as they are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. For more information, please see, e.g., http://www.dhamma.org

[2] A Study in Scarlet is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first novel featuring Sherlock Holmes, perhaps the most famous fictional detective of all time. It can be found online at http://www.online-literature.com/doyle/study_scarlet/.

[3] The global temperature increase of 1 deg C has resulted in a 4% increase in moisture content of the atmosphere. This has caused extreme weather events such as the Chennai floods to become more frequent. Please see, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_South_Indian_floods for more details.

[4] Prof. Donald Knuth uttered these words at the 2014 Kailath Lecture at Stanford University on May 7, 2014. The full lecture can be viewed online here: http://kailathlecture.stanford.edu/2014KailathLecture.html

[5] The segment aired in December 2005 on Link TV: http://www.linktv.org

[6] Rao, Sailesh, Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies, Climate Healers, ISBN-13: 9781467928458, Oct. 2011. http://www.carbondharma.org

[7] McLaren, Brian D., Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis and a Revolution of Hope, Thomas Nelson, ISBN-13: 9780849901836, Oct. 2007, http://amzn.to/1NDFdi7

[8] The Plant-based Nutrition course is a joint offering of Cornell University and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. Details can be found at http://nutritionstudies.org/courses/plant-based-nutrition/.

[9] The Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that began as the National Tree Growers Cooperative Federation under the auspices of the National Dairy Development Board, Anand, Gujarat, India in 1988. More on FES at http://www.fes.org.in

[10] SAI Sanctuary was founded by Pamela and Dr. Anil K. Malhotra in 1991 in the Kodagu district of Karnataka, India. More on SAI Sanctuary at http://saisanctuary.com/

[11] The Climate Reality Project is the non-profit founded by former Vice President Al Gore to spread global awareness on climate change. More at https://www.climaterealityproject.org/

[12] The movement for American Indian rights aims to reverse policies that suppress the spiritual traditions of the indigenous communities of North America and help revive them. More, e.g., at http://aimovement.org/

[13] Ian Morris, Why the West Rules for Now: The Patterns of History and What they Reveal About the Future, Picador, Oct 2011, ISBN-13: 9780312611699. http://amzn.to/240JWMD

[14] The Booklist review was accessed on the Amazon web site at www.amazon.com/Why-West-Rules-Now-Patterns/dp/0312611692

[15] The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement between the 12 nations of the Pacific Rim that was signed on Feb. 12, 2016. It has not yet been ratified by the nations and therefore, has not entered into force yet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Partnership

[16] The Rumi quote in question: “The wound is the place where the light enters you,” https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/103315-the-wound-is-the-place-where-the-light-enters-you

 

Sailesh Rao

Dr. Sailesh Rao is an Electrical Engineer, systems specialist, Climate Healer, author of "Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies" and "Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis", and Executive Producer of "The Human Experiment", "Cowspiracy," "What The Health” and “A Prayer for Compassion.