I’ve had the wonderful opportunity recently to spend time and absorb a bit of the brilliance of systems engineer Sailesh Rao, PhD, who spent most of his career developing a little thing we’re all familiar with: the Internet! When Dr. Rao, a lifelong vegetarian, learned about the climate/agriculture connection, he went vegan immediately and left his high-status engineering position to devote himself full time to saving this planet. He founded ClimateHealers.org and has joined the production teams of several vegan documentaries, including Cowspiracy, What the Health, and A Prayer for Compassion, set to debut in October.
- Dr. Rao, you are a systems engineer and you were one of the people who quite literally built the Internet. How does this background affect your vegan work today?
I’m struck by the parallels between what happened during the adoption of the Internet in the mid-90s and what is happening around the adoption of Veganism today. In the mid-90s, the Internet promised a major change in human lifestyles from the Telephony era, but there were many doubters early on. Newsweek carried an article in 1995 saying that the Internet was going nowhere, that no one would want to buy things off the Internet or read articles and books on the Internet. Back then, the prevalent Internet technologies used analog data communication methods and were quite slow and unreliable, which didn’t make for a good user experience.
Around that time, however, superior digital communication methods were becoming available due to advances in silicon technologies which could speed up Internet communication links by a factor of 10 and make them robust. When we implemented these digital communication methods, Internet user experiences improved considerably. And by 2005, the Internet had become an integral part of our lives.
There are close parallels with the Vegan movement today. Globally, we are poised to transition our lifestyles from an unsustainable Carnist culture of normalized violence to a sustainable Vegan culture of normalized nonviolence. There are always many doubters early on. The mainstream media mainly ignores and even marginalizes the Vegan movement as a fringe cult. Even the scientific community largely ignores the efficacy of the Vegan lifestyle, viewing a culture of normalized nonviolence as unattainable. However, superior organizational methods have now become available due to advances in cryptography and software technologies and it is now possible to create systems of governance that don’t require huge concentrations of power, which lead to corruption and normalized violence.
- There was a time when you were pessimistic about the future of life on earth. Today, you’re one of the few optimists I know. What changed?
I used to be pessimistic about the future of life on earth. I thought life on earth was doomed as long as human beings were around. As a species, we “didn’t belong” on earth. If humans disappeared, then every ecosystem on earth would flourish. Life would be “perfect” without humans. In 2010, when I held my granddaughter, Kimaya, in my arms for the first time, I had an epiphany that changed my outlook completely. I felt as if I was in the presence of perfection. I knew at that point that she belonged exactly as she was and that we all must belong exactly as we are on earth. I realized that our story of “not belonging” was just that — a story — and that we can change it. Perhaps we do “belong” exactly as we are?
If we do belong exactly as we are, then there must be a common story that is consistent with both religion and science, and I spent the next five years searching for it. Religion begins with the fundamental assumption that everything happens for the best, that there is a higher purpose for every action. Science begins from a neutral position of there being no apparent purpose to the Universe, and tries to make sense of our past and predict the future from that neutral position. A common story of our “belonging” with a higher purpose, pieced together using scientific facts, is related in my two books, Carbon Dharma: The Occupation of Butterflies, and Carbon Yoga: The Vegan Metamorphosis, and it relies on the metaphor of metamorphosis. A summary of these books can also be found in the short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzfq2AAYn38
3. You founded the organization ClimateHealers.org, and now you’re very involved with the Vegan World 2026 project. What is that and why 2026?
The Vegan World 2026 project aims to accelerate the adoption of Veganism with the goal of achieving a largely Vegan World by 2026. To accomplish this, the project will work on the governance protocols and infrastructure for a system of normalized nonviolence so that we can transition to it from our current system of normalized violence. We have identified 40 different changes that need to happen in our current system to create this new system of normalized nonviolence.
In the Living Planet Reports, the World Wildlife Fund reported that 52% of wild vertebrates died out between 1970 and 2010, while 58% died out by 2012. This means that wild animals are on track to die out by 2026 if our current system of normalized violence continues unchecked. Therefore, 2026 is the “deadline,” or rather the “Sacred Lifeline,” by which we must transition to a Vegan World of normalized nonviolence.
- To those of us who aren’t visionaries to the degree that you are, this seems impossible. It’s only 8 years. What are we missing?
We tend to think linearly and assume that whatever is happening now will continue to happen forever. However, life has always progressed in a nonlinear fashion and in fact, history is a chronicle of nonlinear events that changed the linear course of history. I’m just pointing out that a singularity event — the death of nearly 100% of wild animals — is on the horizon within the next 8 years, for which the appropriate response is an abrupt phase shift in how we relate to each other and especially, to all life. In other words, this singularity event is requiring us to make the Vegan ethic normal before then.
- What simple, practical steps can individuals take to bring about Vegan World 2026, and how can we help your project?
Firstly, please go Vegan, grow your own food, get active and promote Veganism in your community. The more we normalize Veganism, the more pressure we put on the current system of normalized violence to reconfigure itself.
Secondly, please participate in the upcoming Vegan World 2026 Conference where we will put our heads together to understand the essential features of a new system of normalized nonviolence.
Thank you so very much, Dr. Rao. The Conference will take place the weekend of October 26-28 in Tempe, Arizona. I will be there and hope that many of the people who read this will be, too.
Victoria Moran is the Chief Compassion Officer of Main Street Vegan Enterprises, comprising Main Street Vegan Academy, the Main Street Vegan podcast, and Main Street Vegan Productions, producing A Prayer for Compassion, the upcoming documentary from filmmaker Thomas Jackson, to introduce vegan living to people of faith.