Alumna leads unique climate action initiative

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Bhabna Banerjee, a former Global Leader of Tomorrow Award recipient who graduated from York University in 2020, has come up with a novel way to address the climate crisis: Planet Anomaly, an organization focused on climate storytelling and data visualization.

Bhabna Banerjee

Back in April 2022, Banerjee – a Vancouver-based data journalist and illustrator – was on a return visit to her hometown of Kolkata, India. While there, she observed the profound impact of climate anomalies on the lives of people there. From worsening pollution to water stress caused by floods and the rising cost of essential produce, the effects of climate change were evident in daily life.

“These anomalies,” Banerjee recalled, “had seeped into everyday conversations about new dengue outbreaks during abnormal seasons, changing availability of fish in the nearby seas and rural farmers swarming the city in search of labour after their crops were continuously destroyed by untimely cyclones.”

She was working as a data journalist at the time and knew there were mountains of climate data available that could help people get a sense of the enormity of these occurrences, as well as their potential impact, she said.

“Yet, there were no accessible or reliable sources of news that could provide them with any information or opportunity for preventative action. The educational barriers also made it hard for most to grasp concepts and acknowledge factors that were affecting their environments.”

Enter Planet Anomaly, which aims to bridge the gap between scientific data and public understanding, using design thinking to simplify complex concepts for non-specialist audiences.

“I started Planet Anomaly to build a platform that could explain climate science concepts regardless of people’s educational backgrounds,” explained Banerjee, emphasizing the importance of a balanced approach to climate reporting, one that acknowledges the severity of the crisis while highlighting solutions and opportunities for preventative action.

Her goal, she said, is for the organization to help produce “illustrated journalistic pieces that democratize climate data to empower diverse audiences worldwide to make vital decisions and be resilient about the changing climate.”

Establishing Planet Anomaly was shaped by her interdisciplinary education and experiences at York University. As an undergraduate student, Banerjee pursued her interests in art, science and storytelling, honing her skills in media and visual journalism.

“Throughout my program,” she said, “I found my AMPD [Faculty of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design] peers to be exceptionally talented, collaborative and inspiring, and I had incredible support from the faculty, particularly my final semester adviser Carol Anna McBride, who constantly inspired us students to think we could leverage our creative skills to bring meaningful change once we stepped out into the world.”

Banerjee’s commitment to addressing climate change extends beyond her organization’s work.

Following the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan in Kolkata, she initiated a fundraising campaign to support affected communities, demonstrating her dedication to making a difference in her home country. She has also contributed work on climate change, food insecurity, migration and other social justice issues for the World Economic Forum, as well as for Forbes magazine and other media outlets.

Looking ahead, Banerjee is set to begin a master’s in data journalism at Stanford University in September, where she plans to further explore innovative approaches to climate storytelling. With her unique blend of skills and experiences, she hopes to establish Planet Anomaly as a leading platform for equitable access to climate information and drive meaningful change.

“I’m certain that an advanced degree in journalism would help me develop a better understanding of the nuances of climate storytelling,” Banerjee said.

“I’m excited to continue to innovate with my cohort on how we can fill the existing gaps and better disseminate information and data in the evolving media landscape.”