Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

The Bad Novel and the New Climate Report

The IPCC chairman’s 2010 work of fiction and the credibility of the IPCC’s 2013-2014 climate report are now inextricably linked.
Pachauri_by_Klinkigt

I’ve just published a book that argues that Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is a disgrace. If we were facing a genuine planetary emergency, someone dramatically different would be leading that organization.

My book includes a five-part review of Pachauri’s 2010 novel, Return to Almora. If I was the sort of nasty journalist who takes cheap, superficial shots at people with whom I disagree, I wouldn’t have waited 3.5 years to read that book. If my primary goal was ridiculing Pachauri – rather than subjecting him and his role to serious analysis – I’d have spent the past few years making endless snide references to that embarrassing-beyond-belief tome.

Does Pachauri’s work of fiction really matter? Yes, it does. No CEO of an important corporation would have kept his job under similar circumstances. A modicum of good judgment is required for such a role, but neither the content of Pachauri’s novel – nor the fact that it was published under his own name (rather than a nom de plume) while he remained at the helm of the IPCC – demonstrates good judgment.

Anyone who reads Return to Almora will be left with one thought above all else: being circumspect is a foreign concept to Pachauri. He lets it all hang out.

But don’t take my word for it. Fellow blogger Hilary Ostrov has called my attention to a spectacularly scathing book review by Walter Russell Mead published in August 2010. At that time, the InterAcademy Council committee was wrapping up its investigation of the IPCC. Little had been heard from Pachauri in a few months, and Mead evidently expected him to be shuffled off the stage.

But that didn’t happen. Which means that Pachauri’s work of fiction and the credibility of the IPCC’s 2013-2014 climate report are, now and forever, inextricably linked.

Mead says he himself read Return to Almora in order “to learn about the man that the global environment movement placed at the forefront of the science of climate change.” What he found was “a fictionalized autobiography” in which the main character, Sanjay Nath, is

a narcissistic ninny and fop who is the most embarrassing when he is the most sincere. No new age cliche can be too silly for him, no piece of parapsychological quackery too ludicrous for him to embrace…The intellectual vapidity and narcissistic self satisfaction of the book is unsurpassable. Politics, science, religion: characters spout the most shopworn cliches in the apparent belief that they are uttering profound truths. [bold added]

That accords with my own analysis. Regarding the sexual content of Pachauri’s novel (see here and here), these are Mead’s remarks:

A family friendly website like this one is not the proper place to describe Pachauri’s portrait of Sanjay’s sex life. It is not a pretty picture; parts of the book 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.

Moving right along, Mead says,

there are few main characters as vain, as blind, as ludicrous and as lacking in self-awareness as Pachauri’s protagonist. The question is whether Pachauri understands what a fool he’s created: is Pachauri in on the joke or is he part of the joke? Is he mercilessly and cleverly exposing the absurdities and obsessions of a certain type of unreflective smoothie, or is he…as clueless as Sanjay? [bold added]

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that Pachauri is, in fact, the joke. Which is why this novel matters to the climate discussion. It gives us good reason to conclude that the man in charge of the world’s most important climate body is an idiot.

Once again, here’s Mead:

Some reviewers have spoken of Sanjay as an idealized version of Pachauri: this is Rajendra Pachauri as he would like to be and Rajendra Pachauri’s Sanjay is his portrait of a hero.

This is a truly chilling thought – that the global environmental movement might have accepted someone whose ideas and culture are this vapid and banal into its leadership. Putting on a tin hat and telling a guru on a one-to-ten scale how close to the divine you feel is, literally, voodoo science and neither Sanjay nor the narrator seem to grasp the difference between tinfoil hats and the real thing. [bold added]

The entire review appears here. In parting, I quote Mead one last time:

The lack of any intellectual rigor or evidence of rational thought in this book is remarkable. Sanjay doesn’t think, really; he swims. When persons of good credentials and backgrounds appear, he accepts their ideas into his worldview. Criticism and rigorous thinking are just not in his repertoire. [bold added]

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(And yes, even someone as incisive as Mead failed to question – as did I and many other journalists, initially – the fiction that Pachauri is the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. See this 2012 IPCC statement.)

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