Celebrating Heroes in the Animal Rights Movement

Dr. Sailesh Rao

Among the many reasons we love April is Earth Day. During the spring of 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day. That year more than 20 million Americans demonstrated throughout the United States, including two thousand colleges and universities, ten thousand high schools and grade schools, and several thousand communities in all participated in one of the most exciting and significant grassroots efforts in the history of this country.

Now Earth Day includes a wide range of events coordinated globally by EARTHDAY.ORG including 1 billion people in more than 193 countries.

This year the Earth Day theme is Invest In Our Planet…and no one is investing more than legendary environmentalist Dr. Sailesh Rao.

Dr. Rao is the founder and Executive Director of Climate Healers, a non-profit dedicated to healing the Earth’s climate, and the author of four books, Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies, Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis, Animal Agriculture is Immoral and The Pinky Promise, and Executive Producer of several documentaries, including Cowspiracy (2014), What The Health (2017), A Prayer for Compassion (2019), They’re Trying to Kill Us (2021), and many more. His work is featured in the award-winning film, Countdown to Year Zero, produced by Jane Velez-Mitchell and Unchained TV.

Designated a Climate Hero by The Guardian Newspaper in 2023, he has been recognized as “a foremost voice on green transition and on the true scale of societal change required to save the planet.”

For our April CHARM interview, I had the great honor of interviewing Dr. Rao. 

In 2006 you walked away from a highly distinguished career as a systems engineer to become an environmentalist. Some would consider that quite a drastic pivot.
Can you explain what was going on in your life at that time and why you made that decision?

I worked on the internet communications infrastructure for twenty years after graduating with my Ph. D. in electrical systems engineering from Stanford University in 1985. During this time, I was responsible for the transformation of early analog internet connections to more robust digital connections, while accelerating their speeds tenfold. However, by 2005, the internet had become wildly successful commercially and the internet communications standards body was no longer the collegial body that I had been working with during its nascent phase.

While so disillusioned with the standards process, I came home from work one December night in 2005, dog-tired, plopped down on the sofa, and turned on the TV. There was Vice President Al Gore talking about global warming to some activists in San Francisco. I was rooted to my seat, filled with horror and I told my wife, Jaine, that if half of what he is saying is true, I feel like I’m wasting my time working on making the internet ten times faster. She said that if you think it is that important, why don’t you look into it.

That’s what I did.

Within 3 months, I realized that it was far worse than what Mr. Gore was saying. He was only considering the impact of our energy demands on the planet while neglecting the impact of our food and other consumer demands. I spent the next few years trying to convince Mr. Gore to consider all aspects of this multi-pronged problem, but he preferred to focus on just the energy aspect. His stated motivation was to preserve civilization as we know it, which ruled out any actions that might challenge our way of life.

I love challenges, and I realized that healing the climate was the biggest systems engineering challenge around, dwarfing anything that I had done in the internet arena. I founded the non-profit organization Climate Healers in 2007 to solve this problem. That’s how I became deeply immersed in this issue.

With so much corruption involved and such a broad spectrum of changes that need to be made, how do you measure success?

I don’t measure success like that. This is a non-linear transformation, like bursting a dam. The fundamental thing we need to get people to do is to acknowledge they need to change the system. Once enough people want to change the system, then the system will change. The best I can do is to convince more and more people who are sitting on the fence that we need to transition. To reach critical mass. You don’t know when the dam will burst. It’s happening in ways you can see. In Switzerland, 2000 women are suing the government to address climate change. There is so much restlessness, but I don’t try to measure it. So I don’t have expectations. It’s a dam bursting project. Let’s punch holes in the dam.

What about those at the top who are supplying the public with misinformation?

Basically, it’s about putting out facts that they cannot dispute. Ultimately, it’s about consistency. Highlighting logical data. I’m asking for consistency; as an engineer, that’s what we do in order to build an effective system.

Take a look at our Top 6 Facts About Animal Agriculture. 

  1. 77% of the agricultural land on the planet is directly used for raising animals, while 23% is used for raising crops. Since half the crops are fed to animals, animal agriculture accounts for 86% of the agricultural land area of the planet.
  1. 7% of the ice-free land area of the planet provides 85% of the food we eat in the form of plant foods. Animal agriculture takes up 43% of the ice-free land area of the planet while providing just 12% of the food we eat in the form of meat, dairy, and eggs. The seafood we eat constitutes the remaining 3%, for which we have been destroying the entire ocean.
  1. Each and every day, the methane that is emitted from animal agriculture causes more incremental planetary heating than the CO2 emitted from all fossil fuel sources combined.
  1. Land stores three times as much CO2 as the atmosphere. 98% of the CO2 stored on land is in forests and croplands while 2% is in deserts and grazing lands used for animal agriculture.
  1. In the past 10,000 years, humans have cut about 3 trillion trees, about half the trees on the planet, mainly to raise animals for food.
  1. If we restore the native ecosystems on the grazing lands that are currently being used for animal agriculture, we can reverse climate change.

I worked with a professor in Illinois at the University of Illinois and the data is there.

98% of the CO2 on land is stored in forests and croplands and only 2% is stored in grazing lands and deserts. If you clean back the forest on grazing lands you can reverse climate change.

What do you believe will be the greatest challenge in healing our planet?

Getting enough people to want to do it and agree this is the way to do it.
Recently climate scientist, Professor Abraham Oort, author of Physics of Climate joined our organization. It is because of individuals like him who are disseminating the truth that we are able to educate people about what’s really happening and what we need to do to change the system.

With 2026 only 3 years away, what does the fast track look like?

Ultimately, it has to happen in scale to get there. I’m looking for a few people in positions of authority to agree to join us. 

What is your greatest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration is our granddaughter, Kimaya, who was instrumental in changing my perspectives on humanity. Until she was born, I was under the impression that humans were the only species that do not belong on earth, since all other species just live and the planet thrives, while humans just live and the planet dies. She convinced me that humans also belong on earth exactly as we are and that we are in a Climate HEATing phase of our existence while seeking to transform to a Climate Healing phase.

Can you explain what it means to be a Human, Earth, and Animal Liberation (HEAL) activist?

My systems engineering analysis of the Climate HEATing phase of our existence showed that we are literally torturing ourselves as well as animals and the planet in order to HEAT the climate by telling a story of separation from Nature and playing a top-down economic game with fiat currency money that’s literally a Ponzi scheme. To liberate ourselves from this phase and transition to a Climate Healing phase of our existence, we must simultaneously liberate ourselves, the earth and all animals, by telling a story of belonging in Nature (the Wishing Tree story – in The Pinky Promise book) and playing a bottom-up economic game with responsible ecological accounting that has equality and sustainability built-in by design. Thus HEAT stands for Human Earth Animal Torture, while HEAL stands for Human Earth Animal Liberation. A HEAL activist works on the nexus of liberation movements across these domains.  

How if at all do your spiritual beliefs tie into your activism?

I have acknowledged that my granddaughter, Kimaya, brought me to faith by convincing me that humans belong exactly as we are in nature and that separation from nature is indeed a delusion. Ultimately, I consider spirituality as being in alignment with reality, which is also precisely what systems engineering is all about.

What advice would you offer someone who is ethically vegan but does not consider themselves spiritual and identifies as an atheist?

You don’t have to believe in a deity. You just need to know that life wants to thrive. Life has been around for billions of years. If you know that life wants to thrive – Life, to me, is intelligence –
Have faith that life has never wanted to commit suicide. If one does not believe in energy, then there is not much I can say. Ultimately, energy conservationist is one of the laws of physics that we rely on. Energy is energy, it is basically creating force that does the work. We see the work being done around us. We also do work. The Sun is basically creating energy, and without the sun there is no life.

In 2021, along with your granddaughter Kimaya, you were the co-recipient of the inaugural Homo Ahimsa award from the Interfaith Vegan Coalition. Can you tell us what Homo Ahimsa is and explain what the Interfaith Vegan Coalition is?

In the Climate HEATing phase of our existence, we humans have been calling ourselves, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, which is Latin for the “Wise, Wise Hominid.” In my experience, I have never met truly wise persons who pronounce themselves “wise, wise” and therefore, I consider this to be a narcissistic phase of humanity, for which we are receiving our Karmic comeuppance in the form of collective suffering and the ecological crises we face.

Judy Carman, the co-founder of the Interfaith Vegan Coalition, has postulated that humans will transform to Homo Ahimsa, a combination of a Latin and a Sanskrit word, loosely translated as the “nonviolent species,” describing our character, not our characteristic, and signifying that we are coming together as a species from across the world by focusing on the core of all established religions, which is “compassion for all creation.” Kimaya and I are grateful that the Interfaith Vegan Coalition awarded us the inaugural Homo Ahimsa award in 2021.

In 2023 you have formally taken the Ubuntu pledge to become Homo Ahimsa and the Liberation Pledge to accelerate the adoption of Veganism. Can you explain these pledges and how others can follow your path?

Ubuntu literally translates to “I am because you are,” and it acknowledges the interconnectedness of our existence on Earth. The Ubuntu pledge reads, “I pledge to honor and protect all the animals, people, and the planet herself by following an infinitely sustainable, cruelty-free vegan lifestyle that heals the climate and restores right relationships in the true spirit of Ubuntu.”

The Liberation pledge is a pledge to live vegan and refuse to sit where animals are being eaten. This highlights the incongruity of eating animals in our current global circumstances and therefore, I believe, it accelerates our transition to a vegan world.

In order to inspire others to do the same, can you talk about the importance of your Pinky Promise and with whom it was made?

The Pinky Promise was made with my granddaughter, Kimaya when she discovered that all animals are her relatives and that it was my job to make people stop eating animals. She made me promise her that I would do my job before she turns 16 on Nov 19, 2026.

The Pinky Promise did two things for me. Firstly, it provided me with a timeline to complete my job, and in my engineering experience, we don’t focus on implementing something without such a timeline. Secondly, it made me take responsibility for this job instead of transferring the responsibility to political or environmental leaders while confining myself to merely lecturing them from the sidelines. Right now, I feel that if anyone is not participating in creating an infinitely sustainable, cruelty-free, vegan world, it is my responsibility to help them understand their role and inspire them to come along. The Pinky Promise

What is The Vegan World 2026 Project? With only 3 years into the future, why is the year 2026 so significant?

The World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Reports indicate that we are on track to wipe out almost 100% of wild animals by the year 2026. Therefore, it is inevitable that we are all going to change by that time.

However, as Tracey Martin said, “Change is inevitable, but Transformation is intentional.” In the Vegan World 2026 project, we have been producing documentaries, presenting in colleges, schools, and conferences, and networking quarterly with other organizations in order to hasten this transformation so that we minimize the overall planetary suffering during this inevitable transition.

Recently you shared a story about actress and well-known climate change activist, Jane Fonda and how she reached out to Jane Velez-Mitchell, asking her to stop talking about animal agriculture as it relates to climate change. What do you believe is behind this intentional exemption of the truth and can you please talk about the white paper you prepared on the subject?

When Jane Velez-Mitchell related this story about Jane Fonda, she asked me to explain why I focus so much on ending animal agriculture to solve climate change. I decided to write the position paper on the subject and submitted it for publication to various scientific journals. 

All of the North American and European scientific journals I submitted to declined to consider it for publication, mainly on the grounds that it was not of interest to their readers.

Finally, the Indian Journal of Ecological Society published it, which caused quite a stir and consternation among the European and North American scientific cliques. 

Why did this journal decide to publish when all the others wouldn’t?

I was invited to speak at their annual event as a Keynote Speaker, and they published it at my request. They are not trying to maintain the system, a colonial system. They are on the other side of it, they don’t know they are in a colonial system.

No one in positions of power wants to talk about animal agriculture in this system. If you cannot exploit animals, you cannot exploit humans. We have taken a position that humans are superior to animals. Speciesism is foundational here. This is an entire system of normalized violence, and the game of money is driving that system. It is basically the love of power within the hierarchy.

Maintaining the hierarchy requires us to tell these stories and play this game.

This system, the money game, is really a Ponzi scheme. If it doesn’t grow it collapses. It must keep growing. If you heal it, it will cease to grow.

The money game is people trying to hold money. If money is flowing and you are allowed within the rules, tap into the flow and grab it, and put it into your bank account, it will protect you. But if you tap into it in another place, they put you in jail. When it is flowing up the hierarchy you can tap as much as you want, that is called profit-taking. When it’s flowing down the hierarchy you are not allowed to tap it, that’s called theft. It’s all a game. We have all bought into that game. This ensures that money is always flowing up. 

Money is created by banks out of thin air and flows up the hierarchy. It’s a game of holding. The people are always trying to figure out how to get the money out of you…and they get it out of you by making you sick. Then you say, “Take my money and fix me.” Ultimately it is about our own survival.

Then you ask what kind of game would I be playing in a system in which health is normal, a nonviolent system. It’s not about holding, it’s about flowing.

So money has to basically flow through you, and if you try to hold it, it shrinks. It’s a different flow. When we all play THAT game it’s about a collaborative engineering project, which is about healing the planet. The objective is to heal the planet. I am now working on a board game which will demonstrate this very experiment. We are designing it right now.

This will be an infinite game, not a finite game which is what we are used to.

This is not about winning and losing. A climate healing system, not a climate heating system. The purpose being to continue the game forever. In an infinite game, the players come and go. This is what my granddaughter taught me. Read Finite Games by James P. Carse.

Who is Goodland and Anhang? How is their work significant to this topic?

The late Dr. Robert Goodland was a well-known environmental impact assessment expert, who spent more than two decades working at the World Bank in various capacities. He was nicknamed “the conscience of the World Bank” as he wrote and persuaded the World Bank to adopt most of its social and environmental safeguard policies, especially the official umbrella policy on environmental assessment. He led the team compiling the World Bank’s three-volume Environmental and Social Assessment Sourcebook. In other words, he was perfectly qualified to unearth the true impact of animal agriculture on climate change.

Together with Jeff Anhang, an environmental assessment specialist at the International Finance Corporation, Dr. Goodland wrote a seminal report on the impact of farmed animals on climate change, correcting the mistakes in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) “official” calculations. This was the first report to point out several of the Six Deadly Climate Deceptions in the UN IPCC’s greenhouse gas emissions accounting conventions.

On June 4th FARM is once again hosting the 2nd Annual Planet Bethesda Festival to commemorate World Environment Day, an international day of awakening created by the United Nations in 1974.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which stems from the United Nations publicly denounces animal agriculture’s profound contribution to climate change. What do you believe is behind all of these incongruencies?

The economic system depends on growth at all costs as it is truly a Ponzi scheme with nature and animals at the base. In this Ponzi scheme, deception is an essential part of the game, which explains all this incongruence.

What is the IPCC?

The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The operative qualification here is “Intergovernmental” meaning that this Panel comprises the same governments who are routinely subsidizing and promoting animal products to their citizens, especially children. How can we expect such governments to evaluate the impact of animal agriculture on climate change with integrity?

As long as nations are involved they will override what scientists and engineers say. It is a political process.

Why are the UN’s 2006 18% figure and the World’s Watch Institutes’ 51% figure on greenhouse gas emissions so drastically different?

The World Watch Institute’s report by Goodland and Anhang went to great lengths to explain why its results are different from that of the UN FAO. The two groups then had a peer-reviewed scientific debate in the Animal Feed Science and Technology Journal, which Goodland/Anhang won, as the UN FAO scientists declined to continue the debate.

Is there a video or transcription of this debate available anywhere? 

Yes. Use the following links to learn more.
Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right. 

Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right, by Herrero et al. 

In your opinion, are there any trusted resources or statistical graphs that we can draw from when we have our climate change debates with others?

I have compiled the results of my systems engineering analysis at drawing on data from various sources to the best of my ability. Please feel free to tap into these resources as I have no financial strings attached to my work and only report to my granddaughter, Kimaya.

What does the following really mean? From a system’s perspective…

A system’s perspective is a 10,000 foot overall view of the problem, taking into account all domains impacting the problem and ensuring data consistency across those domains. In case of data discrepancies, the systems engineer will track down the source of the discrepancies, which typically turn out to be vested economic interests.

What is your advice to anyone who is passionate about change and wants to get involved on the front lines?

Plunge into action but detach yourself completely from the outcome of your action.

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Celebrating Heroes in the Animal Rights Movement (CHARM) is a micro-program of Farm Animal Rights Movement FARM.
Do you know an ethical vegan who practices an abolitionist approach to animal exploitation, still active in the movement, has an interesting story to tell and is an unsung hero to animals and their vegan community?  We would like to hear about them.
 Suggest a candidate for a future CHARM feature below.

3 thoughts on “Dr. Sailesh Rao”

  1. This should be REQUIRED reading in all schools and universities and conference rooms and political debates and discussed widely in the media. Everywhere.

  2. Re “we humans have been calling ourselves, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, which is Latin for the “Wise, Wise Hominid.” In my experience, I have never met truly wise persons who pronounce themselves “wise, wise” and therefore, I consider this to be a narcissistic phase of humanity”

    The last part of this sentence is a misleading reality-whitewashing false statement. It’s NOT “a narcissistic PHASE of humanity” but a CHRONIC reality of humanity for millennia —

    Once you understand that humans are “invisibly” insane (pink elephant people, see cited essay) you’ll UNDERSTAND (well, perhaps) why they, especially their alleged experts, perpetually come up with myths and lies about everything … including about themselves (their nature, their intelligence, their origins, etc).

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