Amid all the bad poetry and creepy texts Dr R K Pachauri reportedly sent a young colleague, there is one sentence that makes you wonder what happens at meetings where groups of people try to decide the future of our planet: "Here I am sitting and chairing an IPCC meeting and surreptitiously sending you messages. I hope that tells you of my feelings for you!" - (Email of Oct 15, 2013; 5.53 pm)
True, the case is in court, and we're repeatedly told that the sexual harassment suit against the TERI chief shouldn't take away from his work as a crusader to save the world from climate change.
But Pachauri headed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body that assesses how shifting weather conditions affect the earth. The IPCC Assessment Reports, informally known as the Climate Bible, are used by pressure groups, corporates and governments to drive agendas and budgets.
As the face of the organization, Pachauri has been under constant scrutiny by analysts, scientists and journalists who have called out IPCC's alarmist claims and dodgy data. Among them is Canadian investigative journalist and blogger Donna Laframboise, author of 'The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert'.
In 2013, Laframboise caused a sensation when she received leaked drafts of sections of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and wrote that NGOs like the World Wide Fund for Nature, Conservation International and Germanwatch had provided comments to push a political agenda.
In an interview with Sarita Ravindranath, Laframboise speaks on IPCC's Himalayan blunder and punctures some of the myths around Pachauri.
You have been tracking the IPCC and its former head R K Pachauri since 2009. What drove you to the story?
I became a close observer of the IPCC almost by accident. In 2009, in advance of the UN's Copenhagen climate summit, the media printed a great deal of nonsense about it being humanity's "last chance to save the planet" (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here).
That set my alarm bells ringing. The analysis seemed shallow, the rhetoric overblown. For the first time, I started paying attention to the climate debate. Respectable media outlets and numerous government officials kept pointing to the IPCC as the ultimate climate authority. All sorts of impressive things were said about the IPCC. It was a gold-standard, authoritative organization comprised of the world's top scientists whose conclusions should therefore be our guide.
But it didn't take long for me to discover that the IPCC's own chairman was traveling the world saying things about his organization that were untrue. Some of its lead authors turn out to have been graduate students still working on their PhDs - not experts at the top of their profession. And Pachauri's oft-repeated claim that IPCC reports rely solely on peer-reviewed, academically published source material was also false. My research found that one in three sources cited by the IPCC did not come from scientific journals. Instead, the IPCC had used newspaper and magazine articles, activist publications, and press releases as evidence.
Why do you think Pachauri is still referred to as a Nobel laureate by well-known publications? In your view, would the description of him as a "leading climate scientist" be correct?
Rajendra Pachauri never was a Nobel laureate. The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to an individual (Al Gore) and to an organization (the IPCC). Pachauri was merely a figurehead, the person who represented the IPCC at the awards ceremony in Oslo. Unfortunately, politicians are involved in the climate debate, and they have their own reasons for saying things that are not true.
The day after Pachauri accepted the Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC, Jens Stoltenberg, then the Prime Minister of Norway, issued a press release that referred to "Nobel Laureate Pachauri" in its headline. Stoltenberg was a Labor (left-wing) politician and a former Environment minister. He knew perfectly well that Pachauri wasn't a Nobel laureate, but he told the world otherwise, thereby launching an urban legend that has since been promulgated far and wide.
Shockingly, not a single science academy has bothered to set the record straight. You'd expect science organizations to be sticklers about who is a real Nobel laureate and who isn't. But they remained silent while the public was urged to pay attention to Pachauri's opinions because he is a Nobel laureate.
Five years after the fact, the IPCC issued a statement making it clear that it is incorrect to refer to IPCC officials as Nobel laureates. But it did so quietly. There was no press release, no genuine attempt to counter years of widespread misinformation. Journalists who write about Pachauri see thousands of online sources calling him a Nobel laureate. It doesn't cross their minds that this might not be true. When I began my own research, I had no reason to doubt such claims. The idea that people would fib about this sounds unbelievable, but that's the climate world.
Pachauri doesn't deserve the "leading climate scientist" label, either. His PhD is in economics and industrial engineering, and he has spent three decades as the administrator of an institute. Prior to his resignation, it was probably correct to describe him as the world's best-known, most famous, highest-profile climate official, but he is not and never has been a climate scientist.
Climate Change is being blamed for everything from the Syrian War to an increase in rape and murder. In your view, how real is the threat from climate change?
Climate change is constant and natural. I live in Canada. A mere 20,000 years ago, 97 per cent of my country was covered with ice. The fact that that ice melted away on its own tells us that Mother Earth has her own rhythms. As a journalist, I have no opinion on whether human activity is having a significant (as opposed to a minor) impact on the world's climate. What I can tell you is that there are many highly credentialed, experienced, reputable scientists who doubt this. I consider it my job to let the public know that those views exist.
It makes sense for all of us, wherever we live, to protect ourselves from the elements: excessive heat, excessive cold, drought, torrential rains, tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, wild fires and so forth. The communities that have the best chance of surviving natural calamities are those with proper sanitation, decent housing, medical facilities, and a robust transportation infrastructure that enables help to arrive swiftly.
Your first book on IPCC is called The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert. Could you explain the title? Did Pachauri or IPCC have anything to say about your book or blog?
When I first heard about the IPCC, it was described in such glowing terms I formed a mental image of a mature, meticulous, serious adult in business attire. But as I learned more, that image morphed into something else: an over-indulged, unkempt, rule-breaking teenage hoodlum full of bravado.
To my knowledge, neither the IPCC nor Pachauri have publicly commented on my two, book-length IPCC exposés. In early 2010, however, with the help of 40 individuals from 12 countries, I examined the entire 2007 IPCC report and publicized the fact that 30 percent of its cited source material was not from academic, peer-reviewed journals. I believe that, from that time forward, Pachauri never again falsely claimed that the IPCC relied only on peer-reviewed sources.
What is your reaction to Pachauri's exit from IPCC? Considering the influence of the organisation, what are the changes you foresee in the field of climate science after this development?
I'm surprised it took Pachauri so long to resign. When Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, was accused of sexual offences in 2011, he resigned four days after the news became public to protect that organization's reputation. Here in Canada, our public broadcaster fired a prominent radio personality last October before the sexual allegations against him even appeared in the press.
The complainant in the Pachauri case relayed her concerns to her workplace on 9 February and went to the police on 13 February. The Indian media reported the story on 18 February. Yet Pachauri didn't resign until 24 February, He is, I believe, still the chancellor of TERI University.
The IPCC calls itself a "scientific body," but it's actually a UN bureaucracy whose job is to write reports that politicians use to craft UN treaties. It is unclear how recent events will influence the field of climate science itself.
IPCC's most famous setback came when one of its reports falsely claimed that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. India's then Environment Minister had called such forecasts "alarmist". How do such speculative reports affect the economy and policies of countries around the world - especially developing countries like India?
It's worth remembering that the publication the IPCC cited as evidence when it made the absurd Himalayan glaciers claim was a WWF report. The IPCC relied not on hard scientific evidence, but on the opinion of green activists. This is a prime example of why the IPCC is not a trustworthy organization. On the one hand, the UN tells us that climate change is the world's most important problem. And then it produces sloppy work like this. Is that how you'd behave if you thought the fate of the planet was at stake? Would you not do everything in your power to make your report bulletproof?
Green activists are opposed to the developing world using coal to produce electricity (see here, here, here, and here) even though the sort of plentiful, reliable, inexpensive power that coal delivers has countless benefits. It attracts industries that provide above-subsistence jobs. It enables clean drinking water, home refrigeration, and technologically-equipped hospitals. It prevents the deaths of large numbers of people from respiratory diseases associated with the burning of dung indoors as fuel. It enables kids to study - and makes communities safer - after dark.
So long as the IPCC thinks it's OK for green activists to help it write its reports, and so long as the UN gives green groups more access than journalists to IPCC meetings, developing countries such as India should not be surprised that the aspirations of their people are not on the top of the IPCC's priority list.
Why does the cosy relationship between advocacy organisations like Greenpeace and the IPCC bother you?
Greenpeace and other NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club are not neutral parties. They have an agenda - an activist worldview. Their employees are paid to promote the idea that we are in the midst of an urgent environmental crisis. That's how they raise money from the public.
A person with an agenda cannot examine scientific findings in a dispassionate, unbiased manner. Their mind is already made up. A consumer activist would be disqualified from serving as a member of a jury if the trial involved a corporation accused of cheating consumers. It wouldn't be fair to have someone with such a strong, pre-existing opinion evaluating the evidence, nor would it look fair.
The IPCC's job is to evaluate already existing research, to decide which research findings should be ignored, which should be trusted, and then to write a report. When the IPCC puts people closely aligned with activist organizations in charge of entire chapters, it exhibits appalling judgment.
How would you describe Pachauri's tenure at the IPCC? What were his biggest successes and failures?
In a 2007 interview Pachauri, in his capacity as IPCC chairman, was asked whether it might be better, from an environmental perspective, for a nation to be run by a Politburo that imposes its will on a country, as is the case in China. The subtext of the question was: Is democracy a threat to the environment? To his enduring credit, Pachauri firmly shut down that line of argument when he replied: "Well, I would say any democracy is 10 times better than what you have in China."
It is doubtful, however, that history will be kind to him. I have described his tenure at the helm of the IPCC as a non-stop train wreck. Richard Tol, a UK-based professor of climate economics, has called him "a walking disaster for environmentalism." Back in 2013, I listed more than a dozen examples of Pachauri's lack of professionalism. That list didn't include his decision to publish a work of decidedly bizarre fiction under his own name while he was still chairman of the IPCC.
In light of recent events, Pachauri's novel, Return to Almora, takes on a new significance. Walter Russell Mead, a US professor of foreign affairs, read it back in 2010 in order to learn about the man "at the forefront of the science of climate change." He judged the central character is this "fictionalized autobiography," to be "a narcissistic ninny...there are few main characters as vain, as blind, as ludicrous and as lacking in self-awareness as Pachauri's protagonist."
Overall, Mead found the novel alarming: "The lack of any intellectual rigor or evidence of rational thought in this book is remarkable."
Another of his observations applies to Pachauri's current situation. Parts of the novel, said Mead, "read like the Memoirs of a Disgusting Old Goat - by the kind of Old Goat that doesn't understand the concept of too much information,"
When all is said and done, this may be R.K. Pachauri's epitaph.