SAN JOSE, California — The Earth’s temperature is rising at a dramatic level, which may be impossible to undo, thereby threatening the lives and livelihoods of people across the globe, said renowned climate change expert Arun Majumdar, at Indiaspora’s 10th Anniversary celebrations.

Majumdar’s comments came ahead of COP27, the annual gathering of world leaders committed to addressing climate change. This year’s meeting is being held Nov. 6-18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

MR Rangaswami, Founder of Indiaspora, speaks at the 10th Anniversary celebration at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA on Oct 15. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

During the Obama Administration, Majumdar was appointed to the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. ARPA-E’s goals are to create technologies that have the potential to reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign energy supplies, reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy efficiency. 

Carbon Emissions Must Be Dramatically Reduced

This September, Majumdar was appointed the inaugural Dean of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. Venture capitalist John Doerr has poured $1.1 billion into the nascent venture.

40 gigatons of carbon dioxide are produced by the world each year. But to keep the globe from getting 2 degrees hotter, carbon dioxide emissions must be scaled down to 820 billion tons per year, said Majumdar, at the Indiaspora 10th Anniversary Forum, held here over Oct. 15-16. A wet bulb temperature of 35 degrees Celsius is the maximum temperature humans can endure. If the temperature rises above that, people will die, he said.

The world is already experiencing the ravages of a hotter globe. “Biblical” floods in Pakistan because of glacier melt, extreme heat, and wildfires are happening with increasing frequency, said Majumdar, noting that water supply, food, and agriculture are also affected.

Governments and corporations have collectively made a commitment of $20 trillion to reverse the impact of climate change. But the details are still ongoing. “We are playing Russian roulette with climate change. It’s not a question of if, but when it is going to come to your neighborhood,” stated Majumdar.

Priyanka Pandey, age 16, asks a question on soil, sustainability and climate change at Indiaspora’s 10th Anniversary event at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA on Oct 16. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

There were no easy answers from Majumdar. “We have to think about a circular economy,” he said, mentioning that 75% of the aluminum that we use in cans is actually recycled, unlike with textiles. “If I could use less clothes, I would do it,” he continued, adding that he does not want clothing for gifts but would prefer to donate to charities.

“It is really for the sake of our children, grandchildren, that you got to do this. We do not inherit this earth. We have borrowed it from our children,” said Majumdar.

MR Rangaswami: Building Bridges

Indiaspora Founder MR Rangaswami opened the event, reminiscing about his vision for building Indiaspora a decade ago.

“We recognized that while we were a large presence as IT professionals and doctors in the US, we had no political influence. One of our first aspirations was that — as 1% of the US population — we should be 1% of the US Congress.While Indiaspora as a non profit cannot directly give any money or endorse any candidate, our network has supported several South Asian candidates. And in 2017, within three election cycles, we got 1% presence in Congress.”

Spike In Hate Crimes

“We need to do philanthropy publicly to send out the right message. With the spate of rising hate crimes against our community members, it is important to not be seen as those who have taken jobs away,” said Rangaswami.

He also emphasized the need for the Indian American diaspora to form bridges across other nations to share technological entrepreneurship principles and know-how.

Undocumented Indians

Rangaswami also spoke of members of the community often overlooked at such events. “Indians are the second largest group of undocumented immigrants in the US. We need to reach out and help the community with immigration issues and that is part of our obligation back to society.” he said.

The civil rights organization South Asian Americans Leading Together estimates there are 630,000 undocumented Indians in the US. Almost 1 out of every 6 Indians in the US is undocumented.

Jay Chaudry’s Humble Beginnings

ZScaler’s CEO Jay Chaudhry — the 79th richest person in the U.S. with a net worth of over 8.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine — spoke about his journey to entrepreneurship in his plenary address Oct. 16 titled “Mapping the Leaps.” ZScaler, a cloud-based platform processed about 60 trillion transactions in their last fiscal year.

Jay Chaudhry, CEO of Zscaler, speaks at Indiaspora’s 10th Anniversary event at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA on Oct 16, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Showing the first picture of himself ever taken, in 1988, Chaudhry said: “My parents never got a chance to go to school. So that really motivated me to think: ‘if you want to get out of this tough life, you should study.’ So that’s what I did.”

Books became his best friends. “My high school had a small library with three book cabinets. I ended up reading all the books I could find.”

Advice To Entrepreneurs

The lessons he learned at the Indian Institute of Technology held him throughout all his entrepreneurial efforts. “Good communication, good presentation skills are important in every walk of life.”

His advice to entrepreneurs was succinct: balancing priorities to each individual’s lifestyle and needs. “If you don’t have good health, nothing matters. There’s mental health as a physical health, mental health comes from your family life. And physical health depends on three things, good food, good exercise, and good night’s sleep.”

“If you do your startup, to get rich, quick, you will be disappointed. I never really drove any of this business to make a lot of money. It’s always driven by the fact that you’re doing something to make a difference,” said Chaudhury.

Changing the Face of Democracy: Ro Khanna

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, spoke of the need for the Democratic party to have a clear economic message: a new economic patriotism. “No speech that Barack Obama or President Biden can give can bring our country together in a way that bringing economic jobs to the heartland can do.”

Congressman Ro Khanna speaks at Indiaspora’s 10th Anniversary celebration at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA on Oct 15, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

He stated the need for private sector engagement with communities that have been adversely impacted due to jobs that have gone off shore.

“I want to see how we can continue to partner towards this economic vision and to rebuilding the US workforce,” said Khanna.

In answering a query about Indo-US relations, the congressman stated that the bigger challenge is how to make the relations stronger so that India does not depend on Russia for arms and how it continues to remain an ally for US. “As India emerges as a power, it should judge itself on its own merits and not always in relation to Pakistan,” said Khanna.

Neera Tanden

White House Staff Secretary Neera Tanden speaks at Indiaspora’s 10th Anniversary event at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA on Oct 15, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Neera Tanden, White House staff secretary and senior adviser to President Biden noted the impact of organizations like Indiaspora in shaping the next generation of community leaders.

“It is not an accident that there are so many Indian Americans in the White House now. We have to have a seat on the table and not just one but many seats on the table,” said Tanden, who worked in the Obama Administration, and was key to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. “Politics might seem very polarizing but politics at its best moments is to help people.”

She emphasized the need for people to get involved and stay committed and engaged in supporting candidates, issues and ballot measures of interest through a campaign. “We need people who are organizers. We are in a battle for the soul of the nation and for democracy,” said Tanden.

Mohanbir Sawhney

Dr. Mohanbir Sawhney, Director of the Center for Research in Technology & Innovation at Northwestern University, speaks at Indiaspora’s 10th Anniversary event at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA on Oct. 15. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

Bringing an academician’s perspective to the gathering, Dr. Mohanbir Sawhney, Director of the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation of Northwestern University, discussed the global impact of the Indian Diaspora. “While anecdotally the Indian Diaspora rocks, there is a need to go beyond superficialities,” he said.

“Scientifically defining Global Diaspora Impact, empirically validating the metrics, GDiP index, and benchmarking of the Indian diaspora with other diasporic populations is important,” said Sawhney.

Sree Sripathy joined India Currents as a staff photographer and CatchLight Local Fellow as part of CatchLight's California Local Visual Desk program in June 2022. Reach out with story ideas or comments...

Shalini Kathuria Narang is a Silicon Valley based software professional and freelance journalist. She has written and published extensively for several national and international newspapers, magazines...