How a Behavioral Scientist is Becoming a Powerful Voice on Climate Change.

Dr. Sweta Chakraborty - Policy & Communications Fellow at The Center For Climate and Security


You’re always being told that you need to have a role model but I didn’t really have that as a kid. As a South Asian American woman that grew up in a white suburban community, I always stood out as the non-white child. I saw nobody that looked like me on television or anyone similar throughout grade school. I was more American then I was Indian so I would try and find examples of someone like me in American media. Although there were no Asian American women I could look up to, the narrative of a successful, educated woman resonated with me. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted a professionally fulfilling career. Our household was a typical Asian one in the sense that there was way too much schooling and I had a choice between being a doctor, engineer or lawyer. I told my parents I would pursue the path of medicine but ended up going down the behavioral science route instead. I got my bachelor’s degree in Decision Science (a branch of Behavioral Science)  from Carnegie Mellon.

At the time, Decision Science was a relatively new field (I was actually one of the first people to graduate with that degree), and I remember being confused after college. The most difficult thing for me was not knowing the application of Cognitive Behavioral Science. There was no obvious career trajectory for me, and I had no mentor to help me understand what I could do with my degree. Besides that, trying to explain to people the value of a behavioral scientist was difficult. I ended up continuing my studies and completed my Ph.D. in Risk Management from Kings College in London. I now work as a  Policy and Communications Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security - a Washington DC-based non-partisan think tank that looks at the nexus of climate and security work.  Our goal is to move push policies that are going to be effective for combating climate change.

My role at The Center for Climate and Security think tank is to tell stories of climate change in a way that makes it relevant to everyone. Being a behavioral scientist, I understand that learning about climate change can be so overwhelming that it can turn people off. I am constantly trying to find creative ways to motivate people to play a role in addressing this complex global challenge. I believe it to be a matter of national security and spend a lot of time raising awareness around climate change to various government agencies (like the DOJ). The way I see it, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in climate change or not because it will ultimately effect your health and well being. Our planet is warming up rapidly and it’s mandatory for everybody to contribute to solving the problem. We must step back and see how we can apply our skills to improving the state of the planet. I host the ‘Climate and Security’ podcast where I talk to leading security, military, and foreign affairs experts about our responsibility to a rapidly changing environment. I hope I can use my platform to persuade individuals to play a role in helping our planet.