Is Rajendra Pachauri making things worse?

Andy Revkin thinks so. In a recent Dot Earth post, he writes that the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should either stop straying from a “just the facts” communications strategy or step down.

The offense, in Revkin’s mind, is Pachauri’s participation in a not-all-that-funny attempt at a joke begun by Richard Branson at a public discussion hosted by California Gov. Jerry Brown. Following up on Branson’s joke about offering climate deniers one-way tickets to leave the planet, Pachauri said:

.. those who are becoming obstacles in implementing what is rational should be made the responsibility of Sir Richard to give this one-way ticket to outer space. Of course space would be unfortunate to get some of these fellows.

And that kind of talk, Revkin says, is beyond the pale.

One could discount this as jocular banter, of course. And it pales beside some of the extremely vicious rhetoric that has developed elsewhere in the climate debate. But the full tape, outside the joking, actually makes things worse, to my mind. It vividly illustrates the blurring that I see undercutting the credibility of the climate panel just when it is needed most — as the organization gets into high gear on its fifth assessment of climate change, which will roll out in 2013 and 2014.

Comments have ranged from “oh please” dismissals that this is making a mountain out of a molehill to “tip of the iceberg” laments from those who have nothing good at all to say about Pachauri. And for better or worse (well, for worse, really), Pachauri is a lightning rod for criticism of the IPCC in many circles.

So which is it? Should Pachauri really be forbidden from making jokes? We’re talking about a guy who has been on the receiving end of years of what Revkin calls “vicious rhetoric,” much it challenging his integrity and most of it entirely undeserved, as far as I can tell. Can he be forgiven for showing little humanity every now and then? Or is the standard of public comportment for leaders of such organizations, those charged with providing the information required to save civilization, so high that not even a hint of feet of clay is permitted?

I don’t think there’s an obvious answer here. But I would point out that Pachauri long ago abandoned any pretense that he is an entirely disinterested, objective source of scientific information to our world’s policy leaders. He has never shown any reluctance to share the stage, as a colleague and ally, of policy advocates. For example, he tends to show up at training sessions for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, alongside the likes of scientist-turned-advocate David Suzuki. For Revkin to argue that the one-way-ticket joke marks some kind of line over which Pachauri should not have wandered strikes me as bit odd.

So the question is, has Pachauri been undermining the case of climate change action for years? If so, should he have been replaced years ago?

One thing lost from the debate is the job description of IPCC chief. Is it more than just a public face for the panel? Aren’t there some other skills, beyond communicating just the facts in a dispassionate manner (which is all Revkin seems concerned about) required of the position? Given the extraordinary challenge of herding thousands of scientists through the unprecedented process of compiling the assessment reports, and then overseeing the review of those assessments by 190-some political agents, maybe there are some other criteria that we can apply to a performance review of poor embattled Pachauri.

I am not saying he deserves to keep the job, nor am I arguing he should leave. But I am arguing that judging him based solely on his ability to avoid offending those who refuse to even accept the basic science at issue is perhaps a bit naive.

FTL neutrinos and climate change deniers (or why I call the latter PSEUDOskeptics)

Among the very best of the science-oriented blogs I try to read regularly is Tom Levenson’s Inverse Square Blog. Tom, who teaches science journalism at MIT, isn’t a climatologist, but whenever he writes about climate science or politics, it’s usually worth a look.

Apparently, the folks at Scientific American agree, and they recently invited Tom to contribute a guest post to the magazine’s blog site. It’s primarily about the recent kerfuffle over the possibility that neutrinos might be able to travel faster than light, and a bit on the lengthy side, but he does manage to work climate in there, so let’s skip to that bit and run with his central theme, which is:

understanding what we do know, and then engaging the challenge of a new result in that context.

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Take that, climate-deniers!

Climatologist Michael Mann is fed up. Actually, he’s been fed up a long time, given that he’s been the subject of mean-spirited investigations and slander for years now. We probably need more of this kind of rebuttal:

These are just lies, regurgitation of dishonest smears that have been manufactured by fossil fuel industry-funded climate change deniers, and those who do their bidding by lying to the public about the science.

Mann wrote that in an op-ed for the Vail Daily. It’s not the New York Times, but that’s the point. The climatology community needs to respond every time some ignorant editor agrees to print anything that distorts the facts about anthropogenic climate change and the scientists who devote their lives to studying it. And not just in the big venues read by the chattering classes.

The author of the offending letter that got Mann’s goat is one Martin Hertzberg, who claims to be a scientists, but keeps writing things like “The entire theory that ‘greenhouse gases’ in the atmosphere can reradiate energy back to the Earth and thus cause more heating, has been proven to violate the laws of thermodynamics, and thus to be completely devoid of physical reality.” [Citation, please.]

We can ramble on on these here science-oriented blogs ’til the cows come home (or the chicken come home to roost, or some such metaphor), but the battle needs to be waged on the streets, so to speak. As much as the Internet is vital medium, papers like the Vail Daily (circ. around 15,000) aren’t small potatoes. For millions of Americans, they are where the action is and we shouldn’t ignore them.

Stephen Schneider’s legacy

I am taking a break from blogging. My reasons are personal. I do not know how long the break will last.

In the meantime, I reproduce a note from the editorial board of Climatic Change. It takes the form of a letter to the late, great Stephen Schneider. I hope they provide some inspiration for those who, like me, are finding the task of thinking about climate change every day a little too much to bear.

Dear Steve:

Many people have been offering chronicles of your amazing life, but it will take
an historian to put all of your accomplishments and contributions into their proper
context. When that is done, we are all “virtually certain” that you will be correctly
heralded as one of the giants of science and the paragon of unflagging civic engagement
on a global level.

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Lomborg v Lomborg

Much is being and will be written about Bjorn Lomborg’s volte face on climate change. After a decade of denial — not of the reality of anthropogenic warming, but of the threat it poses to civiliation — the Skeptical Environmentalist now says:

“If we care about the environment and about leaving this planet and its inhabitants with the best possible future, we actually have only one option: we all need to start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming.”

Is this worthy of a blog post? In a perfect world, no. But then, in a perfect world, I would be kayaking, not blogging.
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A Christopher Monckton reality check

April seems to have been “Beat up on Christopher Monckton” month among climate science bloggers. Why all the attention? Part of the reason is even reputable media outlets the likes of The New York Times continue to treat him as the equal of someone with genuine professional expertise in matter climatological. Also relevant is his brief candidacy for public office in the May 6 general election in the U.K. He is now just climate change spokesperson for the UK Independence Party.

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