This fall, the Columbia Climate School welcomes a new class of students into the M.A. in Climate and Society program. The 12-month interdisciplinary program trains students to understand and address the impacts of climate change and climate variability on society and the environment.
The incoming Class of 2023 includes 80 students with diverse backgrounds and career paths, impressive skillsets, and big plans to help people and the environment.
State of the Planet will be featuring interviews with several of these extraordinary students over the coming weeks. In the Q&A below, you can meet Aesha Datta, a climate journalist who wants to deepen her knowledge about climate change in order to be a better communicator.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in studying climate?
I have been a journalist for nearly 13 years, most of which I have spent as an environmental/climate journalist. In my latest stint, I was spearheading the climate vertical for one of India’s leading subscription-driven platforms, ET Prime, as the assistant editor of environment, where I was responsible for all the climate reportage appearing on the platform. I was focused on developing a kind of climate reportage that depends not only on relaying impacts being faced by those on the frontlines, but further strengthening that with data analysis, communication of the science behind it, and policies that impact climate action. The more I wrote on the subject, the more aware I became of its vastness and everything I did not know. I wanted to study the subject in all its complexities and so I applied for the Fulbright scholarship, which was awarded to me based on the work I had done as a climate journalist.
What drew you to the Climate and Society program specifically?
Upon receiving the Fulbright grant I was lucky to be able to explore a number of climate/environment programs in some of the best universities in the US, including Columbia University. I also had the tremendous privilege of being selected for them. However, the Master’s in Climate and Society program had the one thing I was looking for: an intersectional perspective on climate. It isn’t just about science or just about economics, nor is it only about law and policies. It takes a complex subject that impacts people in very real ways and delves into every aspect of that complexity. My experience as a climate journalist has taught me that the issue needs to be looked into for what it is — a humanitarian crisis.
What are you most excited to learn about while you’re here?
I am most excited, and if I may say so equally terrified, of learning more about climate data and modelling. While I have done some data analysis for my articles on climate, it was derivative of scientific work by researchers in the field. The rigors of climate data modelling will be a critical new skill.
How does the program align with your career goals?
I believe climate communication is a critical cog in the climate action wheel. However, for us journalists to be able to do our jobs well, especially in a field like climate — which can feel unapproachable and dense due to its complexities — we also need to educate ourselves on it. I strongly believe this would make me a better communicator. Also, it would allow me to explore avenues by which I could contribute in other ways, whether that is in the space of advocacy or risk management or others.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The climate conversation is still being led by leaders of the global north. It is clear in the sudden increase in debates around it as global heating finally catches up with these countries. Unfortunately, countries, communities and people most affected by climate impacts, who have been feeling the heat for years now, lack representation in this very powerful dialogue. I am also a representative of one such country: India. We need to have a more nuanced conversation on the geopolitics of climate and climate justice, for which representation from countries like mine is important.