Akshat Rathi is a London-based senior reporter for Quartz, covering science, energy, and the environment. He has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Oxford and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai. In 2018, he won Journalist of the Year at the Drum’s Online Media Awards ceremony, was a finalist for the John B. Oakes Award for distinguished environmental journalism, and was shortlisted for British Science Writer of the Year by The Association of British Science Writers.
Previously, he has won fellowships from Columbia University and the City University of New York to enhance his reporting work. His writings have also been published in Nature, the Hindu, the Guardian, Ars Technica, and Chemistry World, among others.
Can you recall the specific moment when you decided to get into reporting — since that is not the conventional path for most people pursuing higher education in the natural sciences?
There wasn’t one moment. I wrote as a hobby on my own blog. During my undergraduate studies in Mumbai, I started a college magazine called The Spirit. When I went to the University of Oxford for graduate studies, I continued to blog and write for student publications, such as Cherwell and Bang. It was when I decided that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a lab that I decided to pursue writing as a career.
How do you ensure that your work is accurate and factual?
I check and double-check everything I write. It can be exhausting to have a compulsion of this kind, but it certainly helps me more than it hurts. There are still publications that go through a fact-checking process, but that’s expensive and readers aren’t really willing to support that kind of expense. So the burden of ensuring the facts fall squarely on the reporter.
According to a new study, third-world countries are not only predicted to bear the brunt of the increase in average temperatures but also to suffer from higher variation; given the facts, how can they adapt to climate change and what steps should they undertake to counter it?
Much of what developing countries need to do to cut emissions will bring other, more immediate benefits. Switching to renewable electricity helps cut the use of coal. Moving to public transport or electric cars reduce smog. Planting more trees helps improve soil quality and restore water levels. Reducing meat consumption helps reduce diseases. Reducing what people buy, re-using what they have, and recycling what they must discard helps keep more money in the wallet. There are so many low-hanging fruits in the climate crisis that there’s really no excuse to not act.
Reports suggest that eating meat has dire consequences for the planet. What are your views on that and do you agree with the scientific community’s consensus that a radical change in food systems is necessary to aid the global efforts towards curtailing climate change?
I’m a traveling vegetarian. In India and in the UK I avoid eating meat. I only eat meat when I travel, so that I can enjoy new cuisines and partake in new cultural learnings. Scientists are right that humans are eating too much meat. But that’s the average. The world can continue to eat meat at much more sustainable levels. Specific consumers of meat, particularly those in rich countries are the ones who will have to make important lifestyle changes. The good news is that choosing a vegetarian alternative is almost always not just healthier, it’s also cheaper.
Where do you see yourself 10 years down the line? Do you intend to continue writing about science, energy and the environment?
I’ve stopped thinking that far ahead in time. My most advanced plans are at most two years out. In that time frame, I will definitely continue to write on science, energy, and the environment. In fact, I have a book contract—so I really can’t get out of it. You and your readers can follow the journey on my newsletter.