Meet Aesha Datta from the Climate and Society Class of 2023
This fall, Columbia Climate School welcomes a new class of students to the Master’s Program in Climate and Society. The 12-month interdisciplinary program trains students to understand and manage 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 skills, and big plans to help people and the environment.
State of the Planet will feature 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 learn more about climate change in order to be a better communicator.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in studying the climate?
I have been a journalist for almost 13 years, most of them as an environmental/climate journalist. During my last stint, I was spearheading the climate vertical for one of India’s leading subscription-based platforms, ET Prime, as Deputy Environment Editor, where I was responsible of all climate news stories appearing on the platform. I have focused on developing a kind of climate reporting that depends not only on conveying the impacts faced by those on the front lines, but also on reinforcing this with data analysis, communication of the underlying science and policies that impact climate action. The more I wrote on the subject, the more I became aware of its immensity and all that I did not know. I wanted to study the subject in all its complexity and so I applied for the Fulbright scholarship, which was awarded to me on the basis of my work as a climate journalist.
What specifically attracted you to the Climate and Society program?
After receiving the Fulbright scholarship, I was fortunate enough to be able to explore a number of climate/environment programs at some of the top universities in the United States, including Columbia University. I also had the immense privilege of being selected for them. However, the Masters in Climate and Society program had one thing I was looking for: an intersectional perspective on climate. It’s not just about science or economics, it’s not just about law and policy. It takes a complex subject that has a very real impact on people and delves into all aspects of that complexity. My experience as a climate journalist has taught me that the issue must be examined for what it is: a humanitarian crisis.
What are you most looking forward to learning while you’re here?
I am very excited, and if I may say equally terrified, to learn more about climate data and modeling. Although I did some data analysis for my climate articles, it was derived from scientific work by researchers in the field. The rigors of climate data modeling will be a new essential skill.
How does the program align with your career goals?
I believe that climate communication is an essential cog in the wheel of climate action. However, for us journalists to do our job well, especially in an area like climate – which can seem inaccessible and dense due to its complexity – we also need to educate ourselves about it. I firmly believe it would make me a better communicator. Additionally, it would allow me to explore avenues through which I could contribute in other ways, whether in the area of advocacy or risk management or otherwise.
Would you like to add anything else?
The climate conversation is still led by leaders in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s clear in the sudden increase in debate around it as global warming finally catches up to these countries. Unfortunately, the 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 of these countries: India. We need to have a more nuanced conversation about the geopolitics of climate and climate justice, where representation from countries like mine matters.