Public discussion of climate change often centers on ways to prevent its most devastating effects. But in many parts of the world, people are already struggling with the impacts of a rapidly warming climate. One such place is the Sundarbans region of India and Bangladesh.
Raka Sen, a doctoral candidate in sociology, traveled there last summer to study firsthand how residents are responding to rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and salination of local water sources.
“My parents are originally from West Bengal, and I’ve always had a huge connection to the place,” says Sen, whose family has returned regularly to the state in eastern India along the Bay of Bengal.
Sen’s connection melded with a growing interest in the sociology of climate change—which looks at how global warming affects human societies—sparked by an undergraduate course at NYU, where she majored in sociology and urban design. After graduating, she worked for an institute called Rebuild By Design, which sponsored a design competition aimed at making the U.S. Northeast more resilient after Hurricane Sandy. At Penn, Sen decided to continue studying extreme weather events but shifted her focus to the Global South.
“The resources that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have to cope with climate change just aren’t available in places like India and Bangladesh,” she says. “I had heard about Cyclone Alia, which hit the Sundarbans in 2009, and I’d watched a documentary called Kolkata 2070. I couldn’t help but feel called to see what was happening over there.”
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