The Rajendra Pachauri Puzzle

February 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm

The IPCC chairman’s response to The Great Global Warming Swindle sheds light on his pathetic leadership.

During my earliest research into the climate debate, certain discoveries left a lasting impression. One was the response of Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to a 2008 ruling by a UK regulatory body.

His tone was so autocratic, so imperious, I never forgot it. Pachauri’s full, one-paragraph statement appears here. But this is the part that remained with me:

The IPCC is an organization that brings together the best experts from all over the world committed to working on an objective assessment of all aspects of climate change. The relevance and integrity of its work cannot be belittled by misleading or irresponsible reporting. [backup link]

Pachauri apparently regarded his organization as exempt from criticism. It existed on a special plane, floating high above other earthly endeavours. The IPCC should not be belittled. It deserved to be shielded from bad reporting. Only unquestioning adoration was acceptable.

Those remarks made me wonder what century Pachauri had stepped out of. With the passage of time, I now realize that I’d failed to appreciate the cultural context from which Pachauri has emerged.

Compared to Canada, Indian society is highly class-conscious. Moreover, it is a society in which one’s religious caste remains profoundly important.

According to the World Bank, one third of India’s citizens (roughly 380 million souls) continue to live in grinding poverty. The fact that Pachauri was educated in America back in the 1970s demonstrates that he comes from an affluent family.

But his privilege was more extensive than that. Certain surnames are associated with particular Hindu castes. People with the surname Pachauri belong to the very highest caste – known as the Brahmin (see here and here).

According to this 2011 paper “brahmins form only about 5% of the population” of India and are “uniquely privileged.” In the words of the paper’s authors, brahmins

are more likely to have high education, they are more likely to have higher incomes and consumption expenditure and greater social connections…

The “continued dominance of brahmins in Indian society and economy” can, to this day, be demonstrated with hard data (see pages 20, and 45-47).

In other words, Pachauri is a member of India’s tiny economic and religious elite. In that context his imperiousness makes perfect sense. When he’s on his own turf, few people are likely to ever challenge or criticize this man.

But as chairman of the IPCC, Pachauri plays a role on the world stage. Journalists such as myself, who live thousands of miles distant and are the product of far more egalitarian milieus, don’t know the first thing about his social standing or religious caste and consider them irrelevant in any event. In the big, wide world Pachauri’s elite status is no shield whatsoever.

This explains a number of things that have puzzled me. Now that I understand that Pachauri’s life has been lived in a cocoon, I realize that nothing in his previous experience taught him that it isn’t sufficient to claim to be “working on an objective assessment of all aspects of climate change.” In order to be taken seriously, a person actually has to behave as though they are objective.

No one has ever demanded that Pachauri walk the talk before. This is a brand new concept for him. And he has been an extraordinarily slow learner.

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The ruling discussed at the top of this post was issued by Ofcom – which describes itself as the “Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries.”

In early 2007, a British television station aired a documentary called The Great Global Warming Swindle. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of television shows were aired in Britain that year supporting the view that human-generated CO2 emissions have triggered dangerous climate change. One single program expressed a different perspective.

Climate activists responded to that lonely voice in the wilderness by filing more than 200 complaints with Ofcom. In July 2008, Ofcom ruled on these complaints.

Pachauri’s version of events is that Ofcom

vindicated the IPCC’s claim against Channel 4 in spirit and in substance, and upheld most of the formal complaints made by those who respect the IPCC process. [bold added]

Writing at the time, Steve McIntyre characterized the Ofcom decision rather differently. He called it a “humiliating defeat” for the complainants:

Ofcom stated that it had received 265 complaints about the Program, the bulk of them alleging misrepresentations…or a failure of due impartiality…Ofcom did not uphold any of the misrepresentation complaints against Swindle. Not one.

None of the complaints alleging lack of due impartiality in the science portion (sections 1-4) was upheld. Not one. [bold in original]

Additionally, Ofcom ruled on three other complaints which alleged that the filmmakers hadn’t  given the IPCC and others sufficient opportunity to respond to criticism appearing in the film. McIntyre dealt with each of them separately here, here, and here.

Page 43 of the Ofcom ruling says that the regulator:

found that the IPCC had not been provided with a proper opportunity to respond to these allegations. Therefore, the broadcast of the allegations had been unfair. Channel 4 was found in breach of Rule 7.1…

At the time, McIntyre boiled the issues down to their essence:

So what exactly did IPCC win?…Did Ofcom opine on whether IPCC was giving good or bad reports? Nope. It stuck to knitting and rendered carefully reasoned decisions on whether the producers gave adequate notice to someone being criticized, as required under the Broadcasting Code.

Dismissing Pachauri’s declaration that the IPCC had been vindicated, McIntyre wrote:

Ofcom did not “uphold” the review process of the IPCC or the credibility of IPCC publications. Neither did it trash them. It simply did not consider them. Pachauri is totally misrepresenting the decision.

McIntyre also took a dim view of statements made by other IPCC officials, such as John Houghton and Martin Parry:

The Ofcom decision did “not expose the misleading and false information” regarding IPCC nor did it “confirm the integrity of the IPCC reports”…It didn’t make any decision on them one way or another. It simply said that the producers failed to give IPCC enough notice to respond.

…The Ofcom ruling did not “uphold” the “reputation of the IPCC as the source of dependable and high quality information”…It simply said that IPCC didn’t get enough time to respond.

The Great Global Warming Swindle can now be watched in its entirely on YouTube. I’ve encountered several people who say it served as a tipping point for them in matters climactic. It’s no wonder Pachauri considered this film such a threat.

I urge everyone who hasn’t seen it yet to watch it and make up their own minds. It’s an important piece of history.

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