After regularly meeting and interviewing Bollywood celebrities while working as a campus reporter, Rushati Mukherjee found their dream job as full-time producer for BBC Minute India, a 60-second news podcast available on Spotify, after taking part in the British Council’s Future News Worldwide programme in 2020.
Now an advisory board member of the programme, Rushati got the chance to participate in a roundtable discussion with the High Commissioner of the UK to India, Alex Ellis, and interviewed Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, President, International of The New York Times Company, alongside fellow advisory board member Donald Martin, Editor-in-Chief of Newsquest Scotland. And as an official blogger for the Jaipur Literature Festival, Rushati also spends time interviewing some of their favourite authors and poets.
We caught up with Rushati after the launch event for the Global Youth Letter on Climate Action, where they led an expert panel to discuss the findings of global research on young people’s role in climate action.
First off, how was the Global Youth Letter on Climate Action panel session?
Informative and inspiring! The speakers were all passionate and articulate on their areas of expertise, and it was heartening to see hundreds of young people around the world join in. We had a wide-ranging and dynamic discussion about the role of young people in the climate movement beyond COP 26 – so how they can harness social media for climate action and how we can help them be included in climate change policymaking. We also looked at the importance of minority voices, and got through a whole host of audience questions!
It sounds like you covered some key issues in relation to young people and climate change! Why do you think it is important for young people to speak up on such issues?
They are the future! They have the greatest stake in ensuring that the world they want to live in actually comes into being. They can influence the world to change for the better by making their voices heard – through policymaking and other means.
But it’s true that young people face many barriers to getting their voices heard …
Yes, a key problem is that many organisations, especially at local governmental level, haven’t realised they need to listen to young people, and they may be reluctant to enact policies suggested by young people, which can be discouraging. There can also be a lack of knowledge about initiatives set up to drive mass action, such as the Climate Connection programme or 8,000 Rising campaign. I believe the onus is on the organisations to create awareness about these initiatives. And it’s not just about listening to young people; it’s about acting on their suggestions. Action should be the end-point.
But the most paralysing problem is the feeling of helplessness. Climate change is an issue of such urgency on a global scale, it can feel very overwhelming. It’s important to remember that the climate emergency is a problem we need to tackle – not an inevitable march towards our collective doom, as it can feel sometimes!
So how would you encourage more young people to get involved in climate action?
Look up local chapters of larger organisations in your area – international, national and regional groups – and join them. They can educate you on the issues, and teach you how to figure out and propose solutions, take a stand and make your voices heard.
Follow people online who are making a difference, especially local activists and political leaders, but also your international peers; this can be hugely inspiring, and make the situation less isolating and scary. And stay informed on both the problems AND the solutions through resources such as the British Council’s Climate Connection Newsletter, the Climate Tracker website and the New York Times’ Climate Fwd: Newsletter.
What is your own experience of climate change?
My home state in India, West Bengal, is one of the parts of the country most threatened by climate change. We’ve experienced extreme weather patterns, with searing hot summers and unusually prolonged monsoons with severe thunderstorms. Colleagues at the BBC have reported on havoc wreaked by cyclones on our coasts. Our winters are getting shorter and warmer and some of our main crops, such as the Darjeeling tea loved by millions of people all over the world, are being affected.
How would you make climate change more inclusive?
We need to get out there and listen to the experiences of those affected. West Bengal is home to the world’s largest mangrove forests, but these are sinking due to rising sea levels. This already-poor area is also experiencing adverse weather conditions, such as severe cyclones, which are destroying infrastructure. Local fishermen and bee-keepers are losing their livelihoods as they move further inland, essentially becoming climate refugees. So, we need to ensure that these voices are heard on a global platform – young people amongst them, whose lives are being upended. And it’s not just about those with access to social media, who can speak English and use the most recent, in-vogue jargon – it’s about everyone.
As a journalist, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard on key issues. How did you get into journalism?
I always knew I wanted to be one! My mother was a journalist, and I got my first ‘article’ published in a young adults’ magazine when I was 11 years old. Getting accepted on the British Council’s Future News Worldwide programme was a big turning point. It changed my life, and led directly to my first and current job as a Producer at BBC World Service. Now I’m on the advisory board of Future News Worldwide, where I help to shape the programme’s annual conference by suggesting the types of sessions and speakers young people outside of the UK would be interested in. Personally, the three issues I’m most passionate about covering are disinformation, queer issues, and of course, climate change.
What advice would you give to other young people who want to pursue a career in journalism?
Journalism requires a lot of perseverance, especially for those of us in developing countries, and for those of us who have to fight to get our foot in the door. You have to work consistently and keep an eye out constantly for opportunities. It’s easy to get disheartened – but I’d strongly encourage you to keep trying, and keep knocking on all the doors you can find. That’s because usually, the harder it is, the more your voice is needed. Once you pave the way, hopefully it will get easier for others to follow.