Divya writes about gender, philanthropy, startup and workplace trends, and business from the lens of its impact on people. She is keen to find interesting stories and new ways of telling them. A journalism graduate from Mumbai who was previously with The Economic Times, Divya is also an editor and proof-reader. Outside of work, she likes to travel, read books, drink hot chocolate, and endlessly watch, read and talk about cinema.
Aakash Ranison, a Digital content creator and climate optimist
Aakash Ranison calls himself a climate optimist, which is also the title of his new book. The 28-year-old digital influencer wants to put his skills to good use across online and offline mediums to create more awareness among people about climate change. He has over 45,000 followers on Instagram, and thousands on Twitter and YouTube, where he has conversations around climate change. He leads a minimalist life, runs his own non-profit called the Greener Earth Foundation, and has now written a book. In fact, all royalties from the book will be donated to his charity.
Ranison says he has written this book because climate change is often talked about in technical terms—like ‘carbon neutral’, ‘net-zero’, ‘climate emergency’ etc., for instance—which often leaves lay people wondering if they will ever be able to contribute, at a personal level, to make a difference. There are policy-level discussions and sustainability goals, yes, but how do we, as individuals, play a role in climate conversations? Ranison’s book tries to answer this question.
He takes stock of industries like mobility, food, beauty and cosmetics, textiles and tourism, and ties it down to everyday actionable things that you can follow in daily life. He also has a game-plan for corporates to be more responsible and follow sustainable practices. Edited excerpts from a conversation on Forbes India’s From the Bookshelves podcast:
Q. Why did you think you were qualified to write a book on climate change, covering various industries and a wide spectrum of topics? If you had to reflect on your work and impact in this space, how would you sum that up? I’m just a passionate guy. I’ve been travelling around the globe for 10 years and while travelling, I realised that I’m not travelling for food, architecture, but for nature. And if you love anything, you try to protect it. That’s when I started putting whatever skills I have towards protecting the environment. About eight years ago, I started reading up on climate change, took up courses from different universities, and understood that my skillset is in communication. I can communicate things to people in a simple, artistic way. That is when I started making art installations to communicate the message of climate change, wrote articles, and sometimes did short-form content or documentaries. I then felt like I should compile a book that offers solutions to people to live a sustainable life.
Earlier, the only resource people had was to look up different articles on the internet, all of which were written by different people for different platforms. Many of them were not about India. I found a lot of content coming from the West. Those solutions might not always apply to us in India, because we live a very different life. Also, finding the right data in India is really a fight. We don’t have organisations, associations or boards in India that are collecting the right data. A lot of data is being hidden from us. So I wanted to write a book on climate change focused solely on India.
To do this, in each chapter, I also spoke with industry experts [like Zerodha Co-founder Nithin Kamath, Alkem India MD Sandeep Singh, doctor and content creator Tanaya Narendra] who reconfirmed whatever I’m saying. I sent specific chapters to people who have been running businesses for decades. They read the chapter, gave me their inputs, and helped me make it better. I understand people can say, how can this one 28-year-old guy, who has not even gone to university or college, who was failing in school, write such a thick book covering eight-nine industries?
So I say that my job is to communicate, and I do that by getting together voices of leaders from different industries.
Q. One feedback I got from people who read this book is that many of the things mentioned here are practices that maybe our parents or people from their generation practised in their day-to-day life. Can you reflect on some of these practices that the generations before us have been following, but our generations have forgotten, and can perhaps start adopting them again? Let’s take two very basic things: First is food. For example, if we make rice and chapati that we couldn’t finish tonight. These days, we feel rice from the previous day is not really edible, but my naani would take this old rice, heat it, make it more flavourful by adding some salt and spices. And rather than wasting it, we consumed it. Even chapati, we crushed it into small pieces, roasted it a bit with oil and spices, and consumed it.
In today’s time, we place an order for food online, eat whatever we can, and just throw away the rest. We don’t really care about wastage. But every year globally, the world produces food for at least 13 billion people. We are eight billion people in this world. Still at least one billion people sleep hungry. Why? Because of food waste and animal agriculture.
Second example is textile. Traditionally, we had different sets of clothes for different occasions—for home, work, or cultural functions. Today, every day is a function. We have so many creators on Instagram who have popularised #OOTD (outfit of the day). Why OOTD? Just for today, with no occasion. This way, we build a challenge for everyone. Make more money, buy more clothes, a new laptop, the latest phone, a new car. Everything has to look new.
This is corporate-created competition. In order to run their businesses, they have to make us buy more products. We don’t buy these things out of need. I have a phone that I’ve been using for three years now. My laptop is seven-eight years old. I can’t get into a competition to buy the best phone or laptop, or start feeling that I am lagging behind if I don’t have it.
Q. Speaking of OOTDs, there is a chapter in your book called ‘Tech and Digital’ where you talk about the carbon impact of browsing social media. What does that mean? Everything we do in our life is connected to the environment and has something to do with carbon. Everything comes from carbon. Let’s say, I’ve got to watch a documentary on XYZ platform or I’ve got to search some content on XYZ social media platform. This data is stored in minimum three-five servers around the world, because all these services are global. When I’m scrolling through a social media platform or watching videos, I do not know which video will come up next. A lot of times, we watch videos from other countries, as far as Russia or Antarctica. In order to make this content quickly accessible to users around the globe, companies have different servers storing this data. These are on-ground servers in warehouses, surrounded by air-conditioners to keep them cool. The consumption of energy is huge. So even when you watch content online on social media, it has an environmental impact. One of the best ways to cut down on carbon emissions [due to social media] is to have servers powered by renewable energy, like windmill or solar energy.
Q. So at the core of all of this seems to be the fact that companies need to do better. What do companies here in India specifically need to do, and are there companies setting an example of how to be more climate conscious? Companies just need to start focussing on where their business operations are consuming the most amount of energy. Look at where you are consuming energy from, and if the source is renewable or not. If not, can you set up a renewable energy source, like a rooftop solar panel? That’s one of the easiest ways to cut down on carbon emissions. Second, look at your energy consumption patterns. If you are a manufacturer of TV remotes, for example, look at from where you are sourcing your plastic, rubber and other materials. See if they are recyclable and of good quality so that they last long. Keep earth or nature at the centre, rather than profit. Third, look at the waste you are creating. Lastly, they can become part of projects and fund organisations to offset their carbon emissions.
Q. Do companies have the required infrastructure to be more climate conscious, and are there enough policies to make them accountable? The biggest company in India can afford it and have the resources to do it. They have been making so much money off this country, it’s their responsibility to do it for the people of this country. They have made money out of the environment, so they have to let go of money to save it. They will make more money in the long run. I know all companies do not come with this budget, and I want to be supportive of these brands. My request to them is to be mindful. Because you cannot always rely on the rich to do everything. If we are expecting something, we all have to contribute and do our part.
Q. You’ve been using social media to create more awareness about the climate—you call yourself a digital nomad. How well are we using social media in India to create more awareness about climate change? What is the impact of all this? For a long time, I was disappointed with social media in India because most people were self-proclaimed teachers of sustainability whose knowledge was limited to not using plastic. Or using bamboo toothbrushes or eating at home. The whole fight was largely centred around plastic, which was misinformation, because most of the people watching this thought if they don’t use plastic, they will be able to fix climate change. Plastic is not climate change. It’s part of the whole game, but not the only thing.
But in the past one year or so, I’ve been seeing people who really study sustainability and climate change in universities, or even if they have not studied in an academic system, they try and gain knowledge about it, and now they are on social media to communicate and put forth facts about climate change. They talk about what is happening globally, and also what you can do at a personal level. So now I see a lot of positive work coming up, and with time, those people who were misinforming on social media with half-baked content, will go out of the space.