Spiritual Civilization: Personal Stories: Uday Khemka

Lord Buddha in the book the Dhammapadasays, “We are what we think. All the world arises with our thoughts.” For me that line has been intriguing in the area that I’ve been connected to personally. My own journey was in the area of working with street and slum kids and volunteerism in India where I come from, and understanding that that country is not a poor country, but a country with a lot of poor people. And there were tremendous resources and couldn’t we connect it all up and work in multiple development domains. I did that for a decade, until I had my Al Gore moment. Some people do and some people don’t, but for me when I first came across the reality of climate change and said, “No, I think this is true.” I know there are many who still don’t believe it. But if you do believe it, it’s fundamental. It transforms your ability to see the world.

In my country, India, Bangladesh is our neighbor. Thirty million people live below the water level. In India itself there are 200 to 300 million people in coastal areas who will be affected by a rise in sea level. Similarly, de-glaciation is going to affect the water security of at least one and a half billion people in India and China. There will be a huge impact if these glaciers totally disappear. And, finally, the monsoon – if it shifts by a degree or two, the food security of 1.2 billion people in India is gone. So when you look at these realities you say, “My God, everything I’m doing is going to get washed away.” I spent a decade focusing on that. Then a very good friend, Hal Harvey said to me, “Uday, there’s a little climate equation – it’s the number of people on the planet, times the amount each one of us is consuming, times the amount of energy in each unit of consumption, times the amount of carbon in each unit of energy. It’s called the climate equation.”

Most of us who are working from our heads to engage in this issue are focusing on the last two, carbon intensity and energy intensity. And that’s what I did for a decade. But I came to a moment of crisis during the Copenhagen summit when I realized it just wouldn’t be enough because of the mess we’ve made. Just 1,000,000,000 people following this mode of civilization have created this complete collapse in natural ecosystems of which climate change is only one aspect. That ontological mode is coming to India and to China. Today the average Chinese person only consumes 1/13th of the average American, the average Indian 1/26th.

Just between these two countries capitalism and consumerism is going to at least three and a half billion people. By mid-century, the world will have a population of 9- 10 billion,and more and more people are going into this mode. “Can we make a difference only by thinking technocratically?” was the question I asked myself at that time. Or is there a bigger civilizational challenge? I came to the conclusion that, for me at least, no, there was something far deeper, far more important, and that was the issue of consciousness itself, the issue of who we were and what created human happiness. Human happiness, beyond a certain point, is not about material consumption. If you lose someone you love, you realize that, of course, it’s from within.

Biography (via SUN Group)

Mr. Uday Khemka is Vice-Chairman of the SUN Group of companies and has more than 24 years of investment, investment banking and entrepreneurial experience in varied emerging markets with a particular focus on India and the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Prior to SUN, Uday Khemka worked with Credit Suisse First Boston and Morgan Stanley in London and New York and then established and lead Morgan Stanley’s investment banking operation in India. Uday has been deeply involved in the Group’s principal investments in the food and beverage, oil and gas, mining and real estate sectors and is a Director of SUN Gold. He has also led SUN’s investment management activities and the creation of focused fund franchises in SUN’s core markets, including joint ventures with Apollo Real Estate Advisors (AREA), Sequoia Capital and others.

Uday is on the Board of Governors of the Indian School Of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad, the Board of The Synergos Institute in New York and has been elected a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Educated at Eton College, he received his undergraduate and Masters degrees at Cambridge University and received an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School (Baker Scholar).