Spotlight Series: Q&A with National Coordinator of Hindu Climate Action, Avnish Thakrar

We discussed what led Conscious Property Developer, Avnish to leading national campaign, Hindu Climate Action

What is your ethnic and professional/academic background?

I’m British but of Indian heritage. I have a BSc in Money, Banking and Finance and run my own property development business. Previously, I ran a nursing home for several years.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

My grandmother used to tell me stories of her life back in India and Africa. They were really poor and life was challenging. So, from a young age I realised the importance of gratitude and not to waste whether that’s food, water, clothes, heating or electricity. 

What is Hindu Climate Action? How did it come about, who’s involved and what do you hope to achieve?

Hindu Climate Action is a project of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. We felt an organisation in the UK was needed to: 

a) Raise awareness about climate change in our community

b) Highlight the religious importance of protecting the environment in the Hindu tradition

c) Provide resources to help Hindu organisations like Mandirs and the community ‘go green’

The team itself is small and diverse ranging from students to grandmothers! So everyone brings a different skill, talent and expertise which is great as we’d like to work with the whole Hindu community.

We have a presence on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Linkedin (@hinduclimateaction). We have also built our website, www.hinduclimateaction.org which has loads of resources from what is climate change to what we’re doing and how the community can engage. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings?

We’ve only been operating since the summer of 2020 but we’ve achieved loads in this short time:

a) Created a website and social media pages

b) Built contacts with several organisations such as Faith for the Climate, Hope for the Future, Sustainability Sisterss, South Asians for Sustainability and National Hindu Students Forum UK

c) Had media coverage with the BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-54978415

Our biggest learning point is that the community wants to become more sustainable. 

Our message that acts of kindness for the environment become acts of worship has resonated with the youth and we’ve had lots of engagement with that demographic.

We’ve formed strong relations with NHSF, a Hindu youth organisation and are excited to be working with them at one of their upcoming national events.

Being South Asian, have you faced any backlash for creating the campaign from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I’ve often been asked why it’s necessary to combine religion with climate change. Firstly, we feel climate change is an issue that’s not being discussed enough in our community. Secondly, Hindus are a large and prosperous community (there are nearly 1 million Hindus in the UK) and we can play a large role in tackling climate change. For this to happen, we need to engage with the wider community.

Environmental protection and the Dharmic traditions go hand in hand but there isn’t much representation or awareness.

That’s why it’s important to have groups such as ourselves and South Asians for Sustainability to raise awareness on climate change to all sections of our society. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I’ve made a number of changes to become more sustainable over the past few years including: buying an electric car, going vegan, having solar panels fitted in my house and spending more of my money on experiences rather than buying more and more new things. With my property development business, we try to make our houses as energy efficient as possible by implementing simple measures like fitting loft insulation and LED light bulbs and where possible, more costly measures like installing solar panels. We all want to make money in life but I believe our wealth should be used to benefit society.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think our community has become accustomed to hearing about climate change in the news such as bushfires, flooding and droughts around the world. I think it gives people a false sense of security that climate change doesn’t affect us in the UK.

Highlighting the severity of climate change and illustrating that protecting the environment is an integral part of our religion might help raise understanding in the community. 

Which groups of people have shown most interest in your campaign so far?

So far we’ve hosted 16 climate workshops and we’ve found the youth have shown the most interest in our work so far. In fact, half our team members are either still at university or recently graduated! Through social media in particular, we’ve been able to create a network of people engaging with our work and given us leads with media outlets like the BBC as well as a British Hindus podcast and independent reporters showing interest in our work.

Why did you choose to take a religious angle for the campaign? Do you find it’ll help engage a wider demographic?

The Hindu tradition is inherently environmentally friendly through concepts such as Dharma, Ahimsa and Karma Yoga. Dharma are those actions that uphold and sustain a peaceful and harmonious world. Dharma are those actions that allow all living beings to flourish. So, if we live a life of Dharma, there’ll be harmony in society and the natural world flourishes. How can we achieve such a state? By practicing values such as Ahimsa (causing the least harm) and selfless actions that benefit the world (Karma Yoga). Hindu Climate Action aims to promote these values to inspire the Hindu community to go green.

You touched on the importance of climate action being recognised as a form of worship, rooted deeply in Hindu dharmic traditions – can you elaborate on this?

For many Hindus, bhakti (devotion) is an important part of their religious practice and it influences their daily life. For example, many Hindus start their day by performing puja (rituals) and saying prayers at home. However, Hindus shouldn’t just see God in murtis (sacred images), we should see God everywhere and in all living beings. With this elevated level of consciousness, becoming environmentally friendly comes natural to us. 

The world is our Mandir and climate action is our puja. 

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

This is a really good question, some of the things I’ve done for the environment have been expensive such as the electric car and solar panels but there’s still so much that you can do:

a) Going plant-based is great for your health and if you eat more whole foods (as opposed to meat substitutes), you’ll actually save lots of money going vegan whilst also helping the environment. It’s a win-win! 

b) Some of the cheapest energy deals on the market are ‘green tariffs’ so this is a simple switch you can make. 

c) You can reduce the amount of energy you use at home e.g. reducing the temperature on the thermostat, wearing more layers instead of heating, ensuring all your lights are LEDs and getting loft insulation. These measures will cut your bills and help reduce your home’s carbon emissions.

d) Instead of driving short distances, why not walk or cycle? 

e) Say no to buying new things. Reducing the amount you consume is great for the environment and your wallet too! 

All these measures are relatively cheap and in some cases, even free! 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Climate change is happening now and sadly, it’ll only get worse unless we take action now. There’s no point waiting for politicians to take action. If you want to live in a world free from the catastrophic effects of climate change, make steps to become more sustainable now. As Gandhi ji said, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world.’

I’d also say don’t be intimidated by the magnitude of the problem. By implementing sustainable changes in your life and starting climate conversations with friends and family, you can inspire others and this causes a ripple effect. We can’t control what’s happening in the world but we can control what we do.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I’m part of an amazing organisation, Youth for Sewa. It’s a self-development program through serving underprivileged communities in the UK and India. A few years ago, my wife and I visited several projects in India ranging from uplifting tribal communities to educating and caring for disabled children. Hearing the inspiring stories of how each project started and how the workers devote their whole lives for the upliftment of society taught me the importance of contributing something positive to the world.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the campaign or otherwise?

We are a new organisation and while we’ve made a great start, we are a small team which limits the amount of projects we can run. We’re always on the lookout for more volunteers so if you’d like to contribute to our work, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We would love to hear your thoughts, feedback and ideas so do send us a message in our direct messages or email us on namaste@hinduclimateaction.org

Access Hindu Climate Action resources and more: https://www.hinduclimateaction.org

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s