This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Journalists spent years falsely calling the IPCC chairman a Nobel laureate and the world’s ‘top climate scientist.’
Because Pachauri was also a public figure, his passing is being discussed by news outlets around the world. Some reports do a better job than others of contextualizing his life and legacy.
As the author of an exposé of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the organization Pachauri led between 2002 and 2015, I’ve closely examined his career. He is the central figure in another book I wrote, Into the Dustbin: Rajendra Pachauri, the Climate Report & the Nobel Peace Prize. It documents how, over a three-year period, my early concerns about Pachauri’s leadership turned to shocked disbelief.
Leaders set the tone and the example. If a leader is immersed in conflicts-of-interest, if he perpetually misleads and misinforms, the reputation of the entire organization is torpedoed.
The more I learned about this man, the less seriously I took the IPCC. If climate change were actually a threat to human existence, such an important organization would never have been left in the hands of such a flawed individual.
Over the years, many journalists wrote many false things about Pachauri. He is a textbook case of fake news, of how the media doesn’t bother with the most rudimentary fact-checking if it agrees with you. Sympathizing with Pachauri’s climate activism, reporters failed to challenge his patently false proclamations that the IPCC relied solely on peer-reviewed literature when writing its reports.
Pachauri got away with that particular lie for years. He only stopped telling it after I, with the assistance of 43 volunteers from 12 countries, examined all 18,531 of the references in the 2007 IPCC report.
We determined that 5,587 of those references were not to peer-reviewed literature, but to press releases, newspaper and magazine articles, discussion papers, working papers, and material published by green activists.
But the mainstream media was only interested in enhancing Pachauri’s stature, in making him seem more impressive than he actually was. Where Pachauri was concerned, most journalists chose to mislead the public. Again and again. To this day, this fake news permeates the Internet. Here, therefore, are two quick facts:
1. Rajendra Pachauri was never a climate scientist. His academic training was in economics and engineering. This means he was never the world’s ‘top climate scientist,’ even though Science, the BBC, and the New York Times say that he was.
2. Rajendra Pachauri was never a Nobel laureate. The IPCC – as an organization – won half the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Pachauri was merely the figurehead who accepted that prize at the Nobel ceremony. When Norway’s leftist prime minister issued a press release falsely calling Pachauri a ‘Nobel laureate,’ the media again didn’t fact check. Instead, it promulgated fake news. Incessantly.
It’s worth wondering why, during all those years, not one science academy bothered to set the record straight regarding any of these matters. Lots of science officials knew. They chose to keep quiet.
Pachauri sometimes said things worthy of respect. Here’s me, acknowledging this five years ago:
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.”
If you’re interested in a big-picture overview of Pachauri’s career, here are three places to start:
> my 2013 commentary, What Would a Bad Job Look Like?
> an interview I gave to the Indian publication, Sify.com, in 2015
> Tony Thomas’ commentary, published two days ago. Small note: Pachauri’s novel, Return to Almora, is about a meditation guru/entrepreneur rather than a climate scientist. See my remarks on that book here.
Pachauri resigned from the IPCC in early 2015 after a female employee complained to police about persistent, non-consensual groping and kissing on his part. She was 29 at the time, he was in his seventies.
She supplied police with copious, cringe-worthy e-mails and text messages, spanning 16 months. Pachauri claimed they were all fabricated by hackers intent on damaging his climate work.