Paris, Climate Change and the Bhagavad Gita

Self Portrait at DawnWhen pondering humanity’s role and responsibilities in addressing climate change, we see the issue touches many elements from the teachings of yoga. At the most basic level, our shared atmosphere reminds us that we are all one. Every carbon dioxide molecule we emit travels around the world as part of the air, destabilizing the global climate by increasing the insulating value of the atmosphere. In the same fashion, every molecule of CO2 that we can keep out of atmosphere benefits us all. Though the impacts of climate change may manifest differently in different places – a deeper drought on Salt Spring Island or a harsher monsoon in Haridwar – Earth’s climate is being changed by the actions and inactions of humanity.

Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita (on Karma Yoga), instructs us to “Perform your obligatory duty; for action is superior to inaction.” There are actions, or obligatory duties, prescribed for individuals. They include five duties including duties to yourself, your family, your community, your country and towards the earth. “Duties toward the earth, such as caring for the soil, water, and plant and animal life. If nature is harmed by pollution in the air, water, and earth the whole universe will be negatively affected.” When one does not perform obligatory duties, it is a form of inaction, which Lord Krishna says is not desirable for those who are active in the world.

Clearly, climate action is warranted, if not for contemporary self-evident reasons, then because the Baghavad Gita tells us so. Last month, I joined representatives from the world’s 196 countries in Paris, as they gathered to negotiate a framework for global action on climate change. My climate work developing emissions reductions projects draws its imperative from this international work that places a value on getting carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Similar to my experience at the 2005 COP11 in Montreal, and 2009’s COP15 in Copenhagen, this 21st UN Conference of the Parties (COP21), was a beautiful, two week cacophony of inspiration, collaboration and insight as 40,000 people focused on the goal. This time, we got the outcome we needed, in a great success for multilateralism, as all of the countries of the world set aside their differences to settle on the Paris Agreement.

Key tenets of action in the Paris Agreement include:

Keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees

The nations of the world agreed to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels” in order to give us the best chance of maintaining a stable climate. This is the overarching task of our work on climate change, and provides a clear goal. There is power in this clarity, and in the same way that committing to a yoga practice won’t have us achieve enlightenment all on its own, we’re going to have a much harder time without making such a commitment.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

Ahead of Paris, countries prepared and submitted their own individual mid-term targets for climate action, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). One could consider these to be “marching orders”, on how far, how fast, and by what routes action will be achieved. By having each nation commit to action rather than accept an externally imposed target, it is easier for a nation to hold itself to account. In a similar fashion, each yoga aspirant must choose for themselves the practices, observances and sacrifices they are willing to make in their current practice, building perseverance and warding off hopelessness at the distance of the end goal.

Finance for developing countries

The Paris Agreement reiterated the commitment from developed nations to help finance climate mitigation (getting and keeping greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere), along with adaptation (adapting to the climate change that is already happening) in vulnerable, developing countries. Setting a floor of $100 billion per year in funding, this manifests the duty of action towards community, helping those in need become more resilient to the climate tribulations coming their way.

Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs)

This concept of an ITMO, launched in Paris, is exciting because it builds a framework for nations to increase their contribution to fighting climate change by collaborating to reduce emissions in other countries around the world. By clarifying the way that mitigation actions are recognized, a bigger tent and more ambitious action can be built, enabling the momentum and collaboration we’ll need to overcome the daunting challenge of climate change. ITMOs are interesting to ponder in the light of yoga, because on one hand, they represent the opposite of karma yoga, selfless service, for by their nature, they allow for the accounting of positive actions. Viewed from a different angle, ITMOs are the essence of Karma yoga, for by helping others (reduce their emissions), we help ourselves (in meeting our emissions reduction goals – and ultimately halting climate change). What a blessing to the climate practitioner, that the nuances of a global climate accord may help us ponder nuances deep within yoga.

What does it all mean?

When seeking to understand the meaning of COP21, and the international climate change process, it’s critical to recognize that this conference had a very specific purpose – to set an agreed upon, international framework to guide and monitor progress. Paris is not the action. You are the action. The Gita alone does not bring enlightenment, but rather sets the aspirant up with inspiration and direction that one must act upon themselves. It’s the same reality for Paris and climate action. Though much of the commentary on COP21 has surprised me with its negativity, I realize that people were hoping for a silver bullet that would solve this crisis in a flash. The reality is much more grounded in our understanding of the yoga practice. The Paris Agreement sets up a framework for action, but we will only beat climate change through the regular sadhana of climate action on all fronts today, and long into the future.

So we seek places in life where we may more fully carry out our duties to the earth. Perhaps your highest contribution is in the meditative diligence of reducing your own footprint. Or it may be to teach yoga, build community, and help others achieve peace. In addition, consider where there may be specific actions you can take at work, in your city, or among the community of nations to keep more greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. After all, as Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, in response to our duties, action is better than inaction. The whole universe will be positively affected.

Joseph in sweater on ferryActive in the carbon market since 2004 and a life-long seeker of environmental solutions, Joseph Ramesh Pallant is passionate about the role of business in solving climate change. Building pioneering emissions reductions projects, developing strong standards, and helping society understand the role of carbon markets fill his day-to-day.

image: “Self Portrait at Dawn” by Jorg Reuter, flickr creative commons license

Our Centre Community: Joseph Ramesh Pallant

 Joseph Ramesh in Estuary - Great Bear Rainforest

Joseph Ramesh in Estuary – Great Bear Rainforest

I am a fortunate man, to have been born a member of Dharma Sara, and to have grown up visiting the Saltspring Centre of Yoga. My parents Pamela Chandra Rose and Wayne Dinesh Pallant were married in a yajna in White Rock at the first annual yoga retreat with Babaji, and so much of life has flowed from that font.

1975 retreat Chandra and Dinesh at cake cutting

1975 retreat Chandra and Dinesh at cake cutting

I received my name, Ramesh from Babaji when I was a few days old. I’d always thought the name’s nuance was simple – “lover (husband) of Rama”, another name for Vishnu. Only found out much later the connection to Narayana, ‘resting place for all living entities’ and so a remover of fear. That attribution resonates deeply for me, as I seek to build understanding and remove fear in this world.

 Babaji and Ramesh

Babaji and Ramesh

Babaji first held me when I was three months old, in Vancouver, on the way up to the 1978 retreat at Camp Hatikvah in Oyama, BC. I took my first dip in Kalamalka Lake that retreat, a joy I’ve repeated so many times since. I’m told that when I was 15 months old, I started walking so I could follow Babaji around and he wrote, “he knows me”. Also wrote, “he is a thinker”. As a child, I loved to dance dance dance for Babaji during kirtan, something so many of you have kindly reminded me about.

Ramesh, Varuna and Dinesh Stick Dance

Ramesh, Varuna and Dinesh Stick Dance

Anand Dass and Ramesh (with 'Beaver') 1986 Santa Cruz

Anand Dass and Ramesh (with ‘Beaver’) 1986 Santa Cruz

My fortune on the father front multiplied with Allan Rose arriving in my life at the age of three. He and Chandra were married at the Centre, with a great dance in the old barn. The family welcomed Gabriel Vinod – ‘the playful one’. I remember life as happy, living on West 15th Avenue in Kitsilano, Vancouver. Radhika and her mom Mayana lived with us there. We rode bicycles, had Easter egg hunts and bathed in the love of family and Dharma Sara.

Summers at the Center were a joy. I was a monkey in the Ramayana. We could walk the back way to swim at Blackburn Lake, though you had to watch out for leeches. I was always out and about digging for gold and gems. When Babaji would see me, he’d write “any luck?” When I’d been away from the Centre for a few years and came back, the first thing he wrote was “any luck?” At the Retreat when I was seven, I had a loose tooth, and Babaji pulled it out with dental floss. I realized today that in this way, Babaji assisted my manifestation of “luck” via the tooth fairy. At the ferry terminal I went to a gift booth, bought a ceramic cobra and brought it to show Babaji and Ma Renu. I know that my gem hunt was at least partially spurred by the colouring book story The Magic Gem.

1988 family pic

1988 family pic

Our family moved to California when I was 8 and Vernon when I was 9 to join the Kebzeh community of Murat Yagan. I remember that I wasn’t very cool at school (the “rat tail” hair fashion was lost on these country kids), so I spent my time reading reading reading, and moved over to St. James Catholic School. We weren’t Catholic but the school was very inclusive and the people were kind. Mom figured that I was spiritually aware enough to know what’s what. The Kebzeh community was awesome. Its motto is “one for all, all for one,” a sweet ‘take’ on unity and an active reminder of the role of community. Though as kids we didn’t delve too deeply into the formal teachings of Kebzeh, you know you’re engaged when you’re reminded of the time you said, “Heck, mom, what’s money compared to understanding psychological toxins!” Vernon and the community were a great place to grow up, with a bunch of kids the same age as Gabriel and me, beautiful hills that I mountain biked daily, and the aforementioned jewel of Kalamalka lake.

When I came down to Saltspring by myself for the retreat after Grade 10, I hadn’t been there for a few years. It was such a sweet homecoming. Mount Madonna youth who had been training with Babaji in the “power of pranayama” came up that year and blew us all away with their feats of strength through breath. Seeing your peers crushing glass in their hands, bending rebar with their eyes and crushing 800 pound rocks on their chests with sledgehammers is surely inspiring – and great teenage advertising for the study of yoga. I happily recall the excitement of meeting a whole new group of people my age, and the unique joys of being a teenager.

My love of nature and the outdoors gained ever more tangible form as a student of Earthquest in Grade 11, taught by Barry and Moe Reid. It was an amazing program where we spent one semester in the classroom, and the other outside learning First Nations technology, running, biking, rock climbing, telemark skiing, and kayaking. The beauty and intensity of the program bound us “Questies” tightly in community, always made easier when one is fluent in the practice. We were challenged and ultimately proud gaining an ability to track animals, flake arrowheads, start fire with a bow drill, make cattail mats, split cedar root baskets, and use plants for food and medicine. The great outdoors truly is great, a place of spirit and wonder.

Inspired by Earthquest, I studied Biology and Environmental Studies at University of Victoria. Life, learning and excitement were bountiful through these years, rooted in the student community. Setting out after graduation, I was deeply inspired by my travels to Latin America and went on to do a graduate program in Latin American Management at McRae Institute of International Management.

Among the blessings I’ve received from the Saltspring Centre was its direct role in the discovery of my life’s work in climate change. I was traveling home from the 1999 Annual Community Yoga Retreat on the little ferry with my mom and dad, when mom spotted Dirk Brinkman in a car up ahead. I’d just come back from a disastrous brush cutting season in Northern BC and Papa said, “Dirk runs a good tree planting company – you should go apply.” We spoke, he invited me to come plant next year, and though I ended up teaching Science Venture Camp in Victoria the following summers, the meeting kicked off an association with Dirk that led me to work to tackle climate change.

Gabriel and Ramesh with Babaji 2007 at SSCY

Gabriel and Ramesh with Babaji 2007 at SSCY

I wrangled a job with Dirk and his team in 2004, developing reforestation carbon offset projects in Latin America. It was at the United Nations climate conference in Montreal the next year, where I realized I could speak intelligently about forest carbon with any one of the 10,000 climate experts in attendance – and that I’d found my calling. I took the opportunity to finish my graduate program as an MBA in Paris, came back to Canada and started CPS Carbon Project Solutions Inc. I ran the company for 6 years, “turning action into offset”, helping foresters, engineers and technology holders that get and keep carbon out of the atmosphere to turn that benefit into a standardized economic unit (the carbon offset) that would pay for the project to be done. I went on to work with BC’s Pacific Carbon Trust crown corporation to aggregate offsets that enable the government to go carbon neutral. Last year, I accepted an offer to come back to Brinkman and formalize a new division of the company focused on carbon offset development.

My photo of Marcy with Allan, Chandra and Magoo - Shaun and Melinda's wedding

My photo of Marcy with Allan, Chandra and Magoo – Shaun and Melinda’s wedding

Emily, Gabriel, Ramesh and Marcy

Emily, Gabriel, Ramesh and Marcy

A return to Vancouver enabled happy evolution of the relationship with my love, Marcy. We have made a happy home in East Vancouver, and became engaged this spring under a waterfall. My brother Gabriel and his wife Emily live just across town, and their son Asher was born near the start of summer. I feel happy and excited to be near family as life blooms anew. It’s great that we have a Vancouver satsang and meditation with Divakar.

Marcy and Ramesh - Joffre Lakes Alpine

Marcy and Ramesh – Joffre Lakes Alpine

I am grateful to earn my livelihood developing great projects that keep greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. On-the-ground work is paired with strategic engagement of government, business and civil society to establish smart climate policies – including putting a limit and price on carbon emissions through cap and trade. Climate change manifests a key facet of yoga – that we are all connected, that we are all one. The earth has one atmosphere, and every human’s emission or reduction of greenhouse gases affects every other. Recognizing our interconnected, interdependent nature is the key to both the inspiration and motivation to take the actions required.

Family snowy walk in Vernon

Family snowy walk in Vernon

Community is a blessing so necessary – the right space to grow in knowledge, service and devotion. The Saltspring Centre of Yoga gives us a place to learn, to love, to inspire and be inspired. We are all so very fortunate.