OP Rana

Trivialize climate data at our own peril

By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-09 07:37
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The jury is still out on Rajendra K. Pachauri. The embattled head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been cleared of charges that the agency received funds from private companies. But Pachauri has to wait until autumn sheds the toxic leaves that are threatening to poison his IPCC tree.

Pachauri has faced attacks, many of them blatantly racist, from every possible corner of the globe. But let's be clear, if Pachauri deserved the bouquets for IPCC's good work, he has to accept the brickbats for its failures and lapses, too. There can be no excuse for the IPCC's flawed report saying the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. Nor can the manipulation of climate change data, as suggested by leaked e-mails of University of East Anglia scientists, be defended.

But the question is: Why didn't climate skeptics have the insight and counterdata to question the IPCC's findings on Himalayan glaciers and trivial other facts? The fact is that almost all IPCC data is indisputable.

So at stake here is more than climate change data. Pachauri was chosen to lead the IPCC not because he was an Indian but because former US president George W. Bush rooted for him, thinking he would help the developed world's cause.

The world, however, knows Pachauri didn't do that. Instead, he went on to present a report that made the world sit up to the reality of climate change. He became a household name overnight and shared the Nobel Peace Price with former US vice-president Al Gore for his role in trying to save the planet.

This is something that developed countries couldn't accept. Climate skeptics, who mostly come from developed countries, were waiting for an excuse to throttle the IPCC and Pachauri. And Pachauri offered them that on a platter in the shape of the Himalayan glacier report and the leaked e-mails.

That is what happens when an all-important organization like the IPCC doesn't have a permanent head. The IPCC may not be a supervisory or administrative body. But in more ways than one it has the power to shape the future of our planet - the least it could do is point out the problems and suggest the solutions. Such an important body can't do without a permanent head, which Pachauri is not.

Pachauri heads the New Delhi-based TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), too, which landed him in a soup. He has been accused of taking favors from private companies. But KPMG, a professional services company that examined the personal finances of Pachauri, has cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Leaders of countries, whose interests were being compromised because of the measures they had to take to counter climate change, as well as big private companies and climate skeptics were waiting for a chance to pounce on Pachauri. Such has been the impact of the IPCC controversy that even green activists are divided over Pachauri. The Friends of the Earth and World Wide Fund for Nature defend Pachauri, but Greenpeace says he should resign to restore the reputation of the IPCC and the UN.

So what do we do now - pretend that climate change is a myth, as some climate skeptics say, or do something to counter the threat?

Perhaps Pachauri gives the best answer to this. Accusing politicians and prominent climate skeptics of "a new form of persecution" against scientists who work on global warming, he has said that scientific knowledge of climate change is "something we distort and trivialize at our peril".

We have been doing exactly that, as James Lovelock, the man behind the Gaia theory, said recently. The scientist who said the planet behaves like a single organism, claimed humans were "not clever enough" to handle climate change problems. "I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough to handle as complex a situation as climate change," he said. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do anything meaningful."

The controversial scientist warned that only a catastrophic event would persuade humans that the threat of climate change was serious.

The problem is that by the time such a catastrophe strikes it will be too late to act.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com