Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pachauri in hot water

Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the International Panel on Climate Change or the IPCC is presiding over some of the toughest scandals to hit climate change and global warming research.

First, came ClimateGate. Hackers hacked into email servers of the Cliamte Research Unit (CRU) of the IPCC and got hold of several Megs of email communications between scientists. When the contents of these emails were examined, it came to light that, among other serious issues, some of the temperature measurements that were used as major indicators in the claims of Phil Jones, a climate researcher with the University of East Anglia, that global warming was real, were seriously flawed, i.e. fudged.

Next, came Glacier Gate, in which a benchmark study on glacier melting in 2007 conducted by the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and whose director is Mr. Pachauri, that predicted that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, was found to be seriously "flawed" as well.

Most recently, came Amazon Gate, in which new evidence was discovered that the IPCC's claim that large portions of the Amazon rain forests are in serious trouble because of global warming was also based on faulty and non-peer reviewed information.

The damage done by these scandals has already discredited the world's leading climate research organization and by extension, the whole notion that climate change and global warming is real and is happening. That last effect is the one that is the most disturbing, forcing ordinary people to lose faith in the scientific work behind climate change and allowing climate change skeptics to regain their foothold in the debate on whether global warming is real or not. As discussed in the above piece by Christopher Booker, the notion that IPCC is and has been conducting global warming research impartially is probably mistaken as well.

Mr. Pachauri is definitely in the hot seat. Calls for him to take responsibilities for the scandals and resign as chair of the IPCC are growing. And while he has been resisting these calls for now, he may not be able to do so for too long. But his options if he were to leave the IPCC are also somewhat limited given that the government of India is also not all that predisposed towards him as they may have been before - especially after that faulty Himalayan glacier melting report.

There's more. In early 2008 he greeted the launching in India of Tata Motors' low cost passenger car called the Nano, with a statement that the launch of the car was giving him nightmares, filled with images of Indian roads clogged with these little pieces of metal and polluting the world to kingdom come. This disregards the benefits of the Nano (low cost vehicle that makes traveling for poor families a lot more safer than is currently possible for them while positioned precariously on a 2 wheeler in both rain or sun, very low emissions compared to gas guzzlers) and the production and distribution limitations on that scenario ever becoming possible. Coming from a person of Indian origin, these comments were certainly perplexing to say the least. Or perhaps he said those things to stay on the good side of the environmentalists and the green lobby.

Whatever. Mr. Pachauri is morally responsible for the scandals even if he does not have a direct contribution to the faulty claims and reports issued by the IPCC. The damage done to the credibility of climate studies is going to be very, very hard to repair.

But, if the IPCC is itself not exactly committed to serious, impartial research and is only interested in pursuing its own agenda (however well-intentioned) then it probably does not matter who becomes the new chair after Pachauri.


Ravi said...

I dont necessarily think that the Nano is good for India. India just doesn't have the infrastructure to support it. Imagine replacing even 50% of the scooters/bikes with a Nano in urban areas. I see travel times increasing by a large amount due to traffic congestion.

While the idea is noble and possibly profitable, it is a bit too early.

Sarat said...

@Ravi: Sorry your comment showed up late - forgot I had comment moderation on for recent spam.

I do agree that infrastructure needs are dire in India. But I don't believe too much tho in that the nightmare scenario of every bike being replaced by a Nano makes things worse than they are now (or will be without the Nano). Why would the public want to be stuck in traffic in their Nanos even if everyone owned one? You would think they'd realize that soon enough after the first couple of times.

I would be much happier to see bikes and scooters with families riding precariously disappear off the roads and travel become much more safer for families - as well as force them to use public transport more - or have them drive in their Nanos during non-peak hours.

Besides, I'm not sure there are that many cities in the world where peak time traffic is a less than frustrating experience.