Season 6 EP 4
November 22, 2023
Aakash Ranison. Climate Optimist. Author. Vegan. Minimalist. Nomad. Beautiful Thinker.
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Eunice Pak, Kelsey Pease, Natalie Ingalls

“I really need to take myself in control because all I do all the time is I read, I realize the problem and then I cry.” - Aakash Ranison



Today we are in the studio with Aakash Ranison, a nomad, author, activist, and climate optimist. He was named Climate Warrior of the Year by India Forbes in 2022.


Thank you so much for inviting me. Pleasure to be here.

We've been reading your book where you had an interesting take on mother nature’s saturation and that we should do less not more. Tell us about that.


Humans take it in a way that we are the center of the whole existence of life and Earth and everything, and that we need to run the world and that's how it functions. But that's not how it really is. It's more like nature is the center of everything and we exist around it. There are many other lives which exist and which completes the circle of life. We have taken it in a way that if we don't go and fix things, things will go wrong. Earth has seen worse times than what climate change will show us. It's a problem for us, not for Earth. We have created the problem. We are so delicate in terms of life that we are getting, let's say, destroyed by our own actions. It's not really that the Earth is getting saturated, it's just the bare minimum we need as humans to survive on Earth. The level of the saturation is going below that. So, we as humans must fight to keep it to a level where we have an ideal situation to keep living on.

Aakashranison website

On the homepage of Ranison’s website, it reads “Climate change is not a threat to nature, it’s a threat to the human species’ survival on earth.”

You used a phrase in your book that I thought was very interesting- eco-anxiety. This is another facet of saturation that we are exploring. Can you explain what eco-anxiety is?

Before I got into this space of climate change, I was just this happy kid doing whatever I felt like in life, which was majorly traveling, which I still do today. At that point of time I did not have climate change in my mind. The idea was to travel around countries and enjoy the life. While traveling I ended up going to one place in India, it goes by the name Ladakh, and Ladakh is the Himalayan region, which falls on the topnotch of the country. When I went over there for the first time, I saw plastic being littered around here and there because obviously it's a touristy place. Not that I haven't seen plastic littered around, and not that I was not the one throwing plastic around, I was part of it.

But when I saw it in Ladakh, which is a beautiful place I couldn't come in agreement with it. How can this place be like this? Imagine if you go to an art exhibition and you're seeing plastic littered around there on the floor. You'd be like, "Okay, at least this place can be clean so that I can focus on the art." And that got me thinking and slowly the journey began. I kept learning more about plastic pollution, then I got to learn that there's a thing called climate change and it is a far bigger problem than plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is visible to our naked eye. Wherever we go we can look at it. But climate change is not really something we can look at and say that, "Okay, this is climate change."

When I learned about it, I got scared because I really love nature and nature is not going to be there anymore because of climate change. When I was learning more and more about climate change, I experienced this thing called climate anxiety. We also call it eco-anxiety. It's like how climate change is destroying life in several ways, whether it's nature, whether it's forest, whether it's animal life or people who are living in countries which are more affected from climate change compared to other countries. Climate change is destroying all of this. It’s how you feel when you know that, “Okay, this is the reality. That climate change is eventually impacting you as well in your day-to-day life.”

And it's going to increase day by day because we are constantly emitting more and more carbon out there. Emissions are going up even though we have a number of reports and research and warnings from so many scientists, institutions and organizations. We are going to all these UN conferences and we are signing many more treaties and papers every other month. But in practicality, if we look at it, carbon emission is constantly increasing even today. Knowing this reality and being able to understand how this is going to impact not only my life but everyone's life around me, it made me feel climate anxiety.

This happened to me for about one to two years when I was living in a small village in the upper northern region of India before the pandemic. I would read and the more I learned, the more I realized that okay, the future is really dark for everyone out there and mostly for the people who are innocent. For animals. They haven't done anything. It's really dark for them because they do not have a cemented house, tall buildings or a helicopter to switch places. Or even for poor people, they haven't been emitting carbon or methane emissions, but they're the first ones who are going to fight with all these floods and hurricanes or tsunamis or drought and every problem, versus the people who have money, they're the ones causing the problem.

That's when I thought, okay, I really need to take control of myself because all I do all the time is I read, I realize the problem and then I cry. But this is not going to take me anywhere. It's a spiral. I'll just stay into it and I'll just keep crying and I'm not even helping anyone. That's when this journey of solving climate change started. I started looking into my own self and thought, okay, what are the things that I feel that I'm good at which I can do to help people understand what climate change is or help solve climate change itself? And I realized that, okay, I'm pretty good with communication and I can communicate in several ways, whether it's via visual in terms of art installation, making a short documentary or whether it's about writing a book or articles. So, I started using all of these forms of communication in different ways. And when I started doing this it helped me. I thought, okay, I'm doing whatever I can do best and hence I can be at peace.

So yes, obviously I have a life. I follow a lifestyle which is plant-based and I have a minimal lifestyle, so I have a limited number of pairs of clothes. My devices are very old. My watch is about 8 years old and still working and I just keep using it. So I do realize how I can live a balanced life, meatless and try to be as neutral as possible and communicate to help people understand climate change. This gives me the assurance that I'm doing the best I can and this helps me fight climate anxiety.


I have a question based on that. We were talking about climate anxiety and how there are certain people who care and don't know what to do about it, and your book helps educate and empower people to take steps in their own lives. But you also mentioned that a lot of innocent people are the ones who are affected because rich and wealthy people don't care as much and yet they are responsible for a big part of climate change. When you are out doing your activism and education work, are you trying to reach every single person that you can, or are you looking specifically for people who maybe are apathetic to the problem? How do you go about approaching different people?


So, each and every project has a different target audience. Communication agencies help a brand grow by selling their philosophy or product and people start buying it. And that's what I'm trying to do here. My brand is nature and I'm creating on behalf of nature, whatever the belief is. And the belief is that, okay, nature is in problem and we need to reach out to people and communicate it. And make them buy that yes, there is a problem and they should go and solve it.

When it comes to India, people are still not really that aware about the problem called climate change. And also that India is somewhat a developing country of 1.3 billion people. So they're really fighting hard every day to earn money so that they can have food to eat or money to pay the rent. So for them, it becomes the basic necessity, to make enough money so that I can pay for my food and I can pay my bills, and I can just wake up the next day so that I can live for another day. Even if it's affecting them, they don't have the time or energy or the bandwidth to even think about climate change.

Then there are families who have made enough money that they don't really have to worry about the next six months to pay their rent or food. What they feel is “I've worked so hard to come to this place where I've managed to make money now I want to enjoy the life. I can't be solving climate change. I worked so hard to be here. I don't want to be a charity. I just want to live my life. Even if the world is dying, I'm okay with it."

So at every stage, if you look at the ones who do not have money, the ones who have decent money, or the ones who have so much money, everyone has some other way to click the skip button on the problem climate change. That’s why I wrote the book.

Aakashranison book

I’m a Climate Optimist by Aakash Ranison simplifies topics like climate change and sustainability to make it easier for readers to understand and begin to take action one industry at a time.

The book has been written in a very simple way. Anyone can pick this book up and just read it from start to the end. I've tried to simplify and give examples. The only basic need is you should be 15 years old and you should know English. That's it. If you know these two things, you can pick up this book, read through it and you'll understand everything.

So for me, I need the poor people to read the book. I need rich people to read the book. Because what happens when poor people are reading the book, they still can vote. Every time there's a new leader we usually ask, "Okay, will you take care of roads or healthcare or education?" What about education and roads if I don't have a life? So that's why it's important to ask whether politicians are going to take care of the environment or not.

The way we vote is not only the time we go to election and vote. Another way of voting is when I pay you money. Every time I give you 1 cent or $1, I'm voting on you. The point here is now when somebody reads the chapter, they know the solution. So next time you vote, you can decide whether you want to put money on this counter or you want to put money on this counter. If you put money on a counter which makes sustainable or plant-based products, they will be able to produce the same product cheaper because more and more people are opting for it.

If you're a consumer, you are my target group. Read the book so that when you vote, you can decide which leader to vote for. And when you buy any product, you can choose which product to buy. Eventually it trickles down and helps decide the direction of the community or country.


You were in Paris this week meeting with some heads of state including Macron and the Prime Minister of Georgia. How did those conversations go and why were you there?


So I was in Paris for the Paris Peace Forum. This organization brings great leaders together and civil society activists as well. I go there as one of the civil society activists from India.

Aakashranison macronpmg

Photos from Ranison’s Instagram, @aakashranison, of him with the President of France and the Prime Minister of Georgia at the Paris Peace Forum.

The idea for the platform is to create a level where I can meet policymakers or leaders and communicate with them on how I feel about the current situation, my concerns, what can be done, what their thoughts on it are, and how we can move forward from there.

Here, the major focus is called new global financing pact. The idea here is there are smaller countries who haven't done much in terms of carbon emissions. But then there are countries who have been emitting way too much greenhouse gasses, but now these smaller countries are suffering because of these bigger countries. Now, who’s going to help these tiny countries so that they can fight the problems they are facing?

There are African nations who are facing problems, there are Asian nations who are facing problems, whilst these bigger nations like China or Russia or the U.S., have made so much money and business out of it and have emitted so much carbon and methane. But now it's a whole global issue. And even more than that, it's going to impact the smaller nations. So, we meet to negotiate on behalf of these tiny nations who are facing problems so that we can seek funds and financial support from the World Bank and from these bigger nations so that they can lend money to these tiny countries to fight climate change.


I know you have been getting the attention of a lot of leaders. Didn’t you meet with Mercedes-Benz a few weeks ago to test out their new EV?


But yeah, I work with brands like Mercedes. My idea is that I want to be appreciative to each and everyone whose service is trying to do something good. I could spread negativity. I can find problems in each and everything. And I think I'm pretty much talented when it comes to finding problems. I'll start asking you a question and I'll make you feel like he just ruined our day. We were happy, smiling and he's now finding mistakes in us. We were trying to help him take his message to people. So it's up to me. When I wake up every day, there are two ways I can make my day ahead. Either I can be happy about what I have today or I can be sad about the things I do not have. So I have chosen to be more positive because as of now, we all know that we need sustainable transportation.

Now, sustainable transportation could be anything or nothing that we have in place. Let's say electric vehicles might be the future. It could be be hydrogen fuel cell. Or we might find that hydrogen fuel cell is not sustainable.

Now, if I need a company to put more money into research for hydrogen fuel cell or other ways of making sustainable transportation, who will do it? A company which is already in the business, which already has distribution and customer base and trust in the automobile sector around the globe. Will that company be more than happy to put in more money, more research and bring another vehicle which is more sustainable or somebody who has nothing to do with it? So, rather than bashing off these companies, I can go to them and I can tell them that, "Hey, I'm selling this book and many more people like me are working to to make people aware that we are all going to go sustainable. If you as a company want to keep selling products and to keep making money and stay in profit, the best way is to supply the product we are demanding, prepare the product we need. Because tomorrow we are not going to buy internal combustion engines."

Young people are the ones who're going to be center stage. They have money so, you should know what they’re demanding. If your product is not sustainable, they'll discard it. They won't buy it. So the company, out of fear, wants to change their products and services to be more sustainable.

I want to be helping them rather than starting a fight with them. By saying this, I'm not saying that my other colleagues and my other friends around the globe who are protesting in a different format, they're not wrong. They're good. They're building pressure so that these guys feel scared and they come to me and say, “Aakash, we don’t want this. Tell us what to do."

I love working with these companies and I influence them in a positive way.

Aakash mercedes

Photo from Ranison’s Instagram of him in a Mercedes-Benz EQS during his collaboration with the company.


So, you do cycling, walking, and hitchhiking. How does each mode of transportation challenge you and contribute to your personal growth during travels?


Cycling taught me to be alone because obviously when I'm cycling, there’s no one with me. I'm just on my own. I think it's one of the greatest skills people can have, to be able to live with themselves. I've got to learn to live with myself and talk to myself to clear out a lot of things.

Aakashranison cycling

Photo from Ranison’s Instagram of him with his bike in 2020.

In 2015, I was cycling from a place called Chennai to another place called Bengaluru, and I asked myself a question, which is a question by Simon Sinek, Start with Why. I asked myself the question: what is my name and what does it mean?

My first name is Aakash. Aakash means Sky in English. It’s a very good name. Sky, confident, no limit. You can do whatever you feel like. I'm like ‘that's a good name and my mom gave it to me. It makes sense.’ But my second name at that time was not Ranison. It was Mishra, which belongs to a region, a caste which comes from your father’s surname. My father wasn't really in my life. It was my mom, as a single parent who was fighting for me, who was working at a job every day so that she could make enough money to pay for my school and pay for my food and the rent and everything. It didn't really make sense that I was giving my name to an identity to someone who's not even there. And whenever he was there, he didn’t really do good things.

Also I was not really enjoying the casting because I was traveling constantly. Caste is like, if you live in that group, you're good, you are safe, you are like in your tribe. But then as soon as you go out, the other people are like “okay you come from that tribe or you are from that group.” I don't want to be divided. I want to be one global citizen. I want to go everywhere. I want to be treated just as a simple human. So I decided caste doesn't work and my father’s surname doesn't work.

Name is an identity and my father was not there to introduce me to his people. My mom was the one who took me to places and introduced me to people. My mom's name is Rani. Rani means queen in English. Everybody would address me as ‘ hey, there’s Rani’s son,’ ‘what’s Rani’s son eating?’ So I decided to name myself Aakash Ranison and that's my real identity. In reality, your name is your identity, and my name should reflect my identity and not carry things which I don't even align with in reality.

Hitchhiking has given me one of the best learnings because when you're hitchhiking, you're asking for a lift and not every person is ready to give you a lift. They ignore you in several ways. I know almost all the possible ways to be ignored. They’re busy or they pretend they haven't seen you. Most of the people will lie to you rather than saying no in India. We don't like saying no in India because we find it hard and then there are people who will make weird faces. But this has helped me so much that now, “no” doesn't really affect me much. I've taken so many no's in life that I'm totally okay with it.

In this book, there are 45 people who have written with me. To get to 45 very well-known people in the country, I've written them so many emails. Some people have even taken 12 months to get to yes. Sometimes they have ignored me intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Sometimes they were genuinely busy. Sometimes they've said a clear “no” and still I kept trying. In the end, I have all of these amazing people who make this book so important and so unique in India that it's amazing. But what if I was scared of no?


When people are trying to make these small changes in their life, what standard of measure should they be using to know when/if it's enough?


Nothing is enough. We have taken so much loan from Earth that no matter how much we pay, it's difficult to bring it to neutral, right? We have emitted so much carbon and methane out there, there's nothing we can really feel like “Today, we have neutralized it and we are okay to not to put in any effort anymore.” It’s more like do it to a point where you don't feel exhausted. The point is not really to suffer, but to find a balance. You have to find your own fine balance because I never want anyone to reach the saturated level I felt when I started. We have to maintain a healthy balance.


I heard that you only travel with two bags. How do you not give into the temptation to accumulate material possession in a society that often equates success with material wealth?


I know that if I hold more things, I wouldn't be able to travel. So I need to choose. Do I want to travel or do I want to stay in one place? I always choose travel and that helps keep me reusing things. I never welcome gifts from anyone. I never buy gifts. I never take gifts because I'm always traveling. If I buy gifts, I'm sort of saying ‘look, consumerism is good.’ I'm buying memories and I'm buying network. I’ve accepted that it's sort of like my personality and I really like it, you know. I just know my character and I just love my character so much that I just want to stick to it.

I really love wearing these sort of like loose t-shirts, which are comfortable. I have 5 to 6 pairs of the same t-shirt in different colors and I can just keep rewearing them. I have three or four pens. One pair of shoes which I can use for comfort. They’re super comfortable and I stick to that. I have one watch, which I'm super proud and happy about. It was gifted to me by Suunto in 2017. I’ve never had to take it for repair.

Another thing is it’s sort of like a trap. If I buy one Apple Watch, then there's no going back. There's always new features and functions and I'm like “Okay, I need to have it.” But what if you never had it? So it's like, I never feel like I want to smoke cigarettes because I never had it. But if I do one, then I might have to do it more. The people who haven't traveled around the world, they don't feel like “I really need to travel. In the pandemic, I would cry. I would cry. My mom would ask me “What happened to you? Is everything okay?” And then I would cry, really sobbing bad. I would say in this little tiny voice that “I want to go back to the mountains.” Because I’ve experienced it.

Aakashranison mountains

Photo from Ranison’s Instagram of him in the Himalayan Mountains in 2021.

For ten years, I've been living out of two backpacks. It helps me because I want to save all of my money from all the nonsense. I want to spend the money on listening to amazing music, enjoying it because I am able to hear. It's a blessing. It's one of my greatest pleasures in life and also it's very, very much sustainable. So I spend my money buying tickets to concerts and going to orchestral or buying amazing vegan food. When I eat, I feel happy and my brain feels good that I'm feeding good things to myself and I can live longer, travel more and listen to more music. So I think it's a trap, which I have created for myself. But it's a very healthy trap. I think it's sustainable and you live a very happy life in your own self. And also like that's how you're able to call yourself optimistic.


The one question that we ask everybody that we interview is, how would you define beautiful thinking?


Do everything which makes you happy, but just make sure that your happiness doesn't cause any sort of harm to anyone. That’s it.


Thank you so much, Aakash. I think we've all thoroughly enjoyed this. Your optimism is infectious and it comes through in your book.


Thank you so much for inviting me on board. Super happy that I got to spend this hour with you and chat.


Thank you so much for listening. This episode was created and produced at the IU Media School as part of The Beautiful Thinkers Podcast: IU Edition. To follow along this season, check out @thebeautifulthinkers on Instagram and TikTok. Special thanks to Natalie Ingalls for our music and our students who researched and recorded this episode: Kelsey Pease, Eunice Pack, and Natalie Ingalls.