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The NS Interview: Rajendra Pachauri

“We need a massive, grass-roots movement to solve climate change” -Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the I

Are you disappointed that Copenhagen will be political, rather than setting binding targets?
I am disappointed. But what is important now is to draw up a plan of action before the next Conference of the Parties takes place in Mexico.

Do you have faith that our political leaders can solve this problem?
You know, I'm coming round to the view that we need a massive, grass-roots movement. That is the only way leaders are going to get up and start doing something.

How do you see small campaign groups working on a scale that can effect change?
It's a question of creating co-ordinated action. That is not going to be easy, but there is adequate awareness in different parts of the world that action is overdue and essential.

What do you see your role as now?
The IPCC has been able to spread a lot of awareness of the scientific realities of climate change in the past two years or so. I am going to intensify my efforts, with perhaps a slight change in the manner in which I carry on my work - I think one might have to talk to different stakeholders. We have been talking largely to governments and academics. Maybe we need to talk more to business and industry, to the media.

There's still a vocal minority of climate change deniers. How do you seek to counter that view?
Well, this is a free society. You'll always have forces of opinion. Historically, every time a new body of knowledge has evolved, there have been large numbers of people who have countered it. But those numbers dwindle very rapidly. So we need to ensure that the campaign for telling the truth continues.

Do you feel the responsibility of leadership in the climate crisis?
Absolutely. All the more because, increasingly, one feels that the world has not really acted as one expected it to.

You've studied and taught in America. What do you think of the country now?
The US has a lot of strengths, but also some glaring weaknesses. I certainly believe that this is the time when the US has to show leadership. Not only is it the most prosperous nation on earth, but Americans also have a responsibility because of their emissions levels, and the fact that they haven't done very much in the past 15 or 20 years. I expect President Obama to get something going. Of course, you also expect Congress to be up to the task.

You referred to Hindu philosophy in your Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Does religion shape your attitude towards your work?
Well, I believe that whatever one does has to be based on consensus, and that one should minimise conflict in all one's actions. And I believe that the universe is one family, and that you have to be sensitive to every corner of the globe and to every section of human society. The globalisation of the economic system only strengthens that reality.

Do you vote?
Yes. I generally vote for a person rather than a party. Parties are extremely important, but we have to improve our political system by supporting the right individuals.

You write poetry. When do you find the time?
I do a lot of flying, so I try to do my writing, my thinking and a lot of my reading in the air. That's about the only luxury I have up there.

What do you read? Who inspires you?
To be quite honest, my reading is at a complete standstill. I've read all the classics, and those are books that reside within my soul, so to speak. But the trouble is that I'm just racing to keep pace with whatever I'm supposed to do. I've been piling up a whole lot of books, in the hope that some day I'll sit down and start reading them, but that day hasn't come yet.

How else do you relax?
I play cricket. My institute has a beautiful ground and excellent cricket teams.

Are you a batsman or a bowler?
I used to be a fast bowler; now I'm just a gentle, military medium. But I can swing the ball in both directions even now, and I do take wickets.

You've said you spend as much time as you can in India, but that it has flaws. What are those?
I think we were a very tolerant society, but I see a section becoming intolerant of different religions and points of view. I also find a complete abandonment of responsibility by the rich. We have become negligent of our social responsibilities to people and communities around us.

Is there anything you regret?
Not really, but I wish I'd been able to start doing some of the things that I'm doing today earlier.

Are we all doomed?
No, I'm very optimistic. I believe we have the inherent wisdom and good sense to change in time. But we have very little time to bring about change, and if we don't change, we will suffer catastrophes in this world.

 

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Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 07 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Boy George

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The French millennials marching behind Marine Le Pen

A Front National rally attracts former socialists with manicured beards, and a lesbian couple. 

“In 85 days, Marine will be President of the French Republic!” The 150-strong crowd cheered at the sound of the words. On stage, the speaker, the vice-president of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, continued: “We will be told that it’s the apocalypse, by the same banks, media, politicians, who were telling the British that Brexit would be an immediate catastrophe.

"Well, they voted, and it’s not! The British are much better off than we are!” The applause grew louder and louder. 

I was in the medieval city of Metz, in a municipal hall near the banks of the Moselle River, a tributary of the Rhine from which the region takes its name. The German border lies 49km east; Luxembourg City is less than an hour’s drive away. This is the "Country of the Three Borders", equidistant from Strasbourg and Frankfurt, and French, German and French again after various wars. Yet for all that local history is deeply rooted in the wider European history, votes for the Front National rank among the highest nationally, and continue to rise at every poll. 

In rural Moselle, “Marine”, as the Front National leader Marine Le Pen is known, has an envoy. In 2014, the well-spoken, elite-educated Philippot, 35, ran for mayor in Forbach, a former miner’s town near the border. He lost to the Socialist candidate but has visited regularly since. Enough for the locals to call him “Florian".

I grew up in a small town, Saint-Avold, halfway between Metz and Forbach. When my grandfather was working in the then-prosperous coal mines, the Moselle region attracted many foreign workers. Many of my fellow schoolmates bore Italian and Polish surnames. But the last mine closed in 2004, and now, some of the immigrants’ grandchildren are voting for the National Front.

Returning, I can't help but wonder: How did my generation, born with the Maastricht treaty, end up turning to the Eurosceptic, hard right FN?

“We’ve seen what the other political parties do – it’s always the same. We must try something else," said Candice Bertrand, 23, She might not be part of the group asking Philippot for selfies, but she had voted FN at every election, and her family agreed. “My mum was a Communist, then voted for [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and now she votes FN. She’s come a long way.”  The way, it seemed, was political distrust.

Minutes earlier, Philippot had pleaded with the audience to talk to their relatives and neighbours. Bertrand had brought her girlfriend, Lola, whom she was trying to convince to vote FN.  Lola wouldn’t give her surname – her strongly left-wing family would “certainly not” like to know she was there. She herself had never voted.

This infuriated Bertrand. “Women have fought for the right to vote!” she declared. Daily chats with Bertrand and her family had warmed up Lola to voting Le Pen in the first round, although not yet in the second. “I’m scared of a major change,” she confided, looking lost. “It’s a bit too extreme.” Both were too young to remember 2002, when a presidential victory for the then-Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, was only a few percentage points away.

Since then, under the leadership of his daughter, Marine, the FN has broken every record. But in this region, the FN’s success isn’t new. In 2002, when liberal France was shocked to see Le Pen reach the second round of the presidential election, the FN was already sailing in Moselle. Le Pen grabbed 23.7 per cent of the Moselle vote in the first round and 21.9 per cent in the second, compared to 16.9 per cent and 17.8 per cent nationally. 

The far-right vote in Moselle remained higher than the national average before skyrocketing in 2012. By then, the younger, softer-looking Marine had taken over the party. In that year, the FN won an astonishing 24.7 per cent of the Moselle vote, and 17.8 per cent nationwide.

For some people of my generation, the FN has already provided opportunities. With his manicured beard and chic suit, Emilien Noé still looks like the Young Socialist he was between 16 and 18 years old. But looks can be deceiving. “I have been disgusted by the internal politics at the Socialist Party, the lack of respect for the low-ranked campaigners," he told me. So instead, he stood as the FN’s youngest national candidate to become mayor in his village, Gosselming, in 2014. “I entered directly into action," he said. (He lost). Now, at just 21, Noé is the FN’s youth coordinator for Eastern France.

Metz, Creative Commons licence credit Morgaine

Next to him stood Kevin Pfeiffer, 27. He told me he used to believe in the Socialist ideal, too - in 2007, as a 17-year-old, he backed Ségolène Royal against Sarkozy. But he is now a FN local councillor and acts as the party's general co-ordinator in the region. Both Noé and Pfeiffer radiated a quiet self-confidence, the sort that such swift rises induces. They shared a deep respect for the young-achiever-in-chief: Philippot. “We’re young and we know we can have perspectives in this party without being a graduate of l’ENA,” said another activist, Olivier Musci, 24. (The elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, or ENA, is considered something of a mandatory finishing school for politicians. It counts Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac among its alumni. Ironically, Philippot is one, too.)

“Florian” likes to say that the FN scores the highest among the young. “Today’s youth have not grown up in a left-right divide”, he told me when I asked why. “The big topics, for them, were Maastricht, 9/11, the Chinese competition, and now Brexit. They have grown up in a political world structured around two poles: globalism versus patriotism.” Notably, half his speech was dedicated to ridiculing the FN's most probably rival, the maverick centrist Emmanuel Macron. “It is a time of the nations. Macron is the opposite of that," Philippot declared. 

At the rally, the blue, red and white flame, the FN’s historic logo, was nowhere to be seen. Even the words “Front National” had deserted the posters, which were instead plastered with “in the name of the people” slogans beneath Marine’s name and large smile. But everyone wears a blue rose at the buttonhole. “It’s the synthesis between the left’s rose and the right’s blue colour”, Pfeiffer said. “The symbol of the impossible becoming possible.” So, neither left nor right? I ask, echoing Macron’s campaign appeal. “Or both left and right”, Pfeiffer answered with a grin.

This nationwide rebranding follows years of efforts to polish the party’s jackass image, forged by decades of xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic declarations by Le Pen Sr. His daughter evicted him from the party in 2015.

Still, Le Pen’s main pledges revolve around the same issue her father obsessed over - immigration. The resources spent on "dealing with migrants" will, Le Pen promises, be redirected to address the concerns of "the French people". Unemployment, which has been hovering at 10 per cent for years, is very much one of them. Moselle's damaged job market is a booster for the FN - between 10 and 12 per cent of young people are unemployed.

Yet the two phenomena cannot always rationally be linked. The female FN supporters I met candidly admitted they drove from France to Luxembourg every day for work and, like many locals, often went shopping in Germany. Yet they hoped to see the candidate of “Frexit” enter the Elysee palace in May. “We've never had problems to work in Luxembourg. Why would that change?” asked Bertrand. (Le Pen's “144 campaign pledges” promise frontier workers “special measures” to cross the border once out of the Schengen area, which sounds very much like the concept of the Schengen area itself.)

Grégoire Laloux, 21, studied history at the University of Metz. He didn't believe in the European Union. “Countries have their own interests. There are people, but no European people,” he said. “Marine is different because she defends patriotism, sovereignty, French greatness and French history.” He compared Le Pen to Richelieu, the cardinal who made Louis XIV's absolute monarchy possible:  “She, too, wants to build a modern state.”

French populists are quick to link the country's current problems to immigration, and these FN supporters were no exception. “With 7m poor and unemployed, we can't accept all the world's misery,” Olivier Musci, 24, a grandchild of Polish and Italian immigrants, told me. “Those we welcome must serve the country and be proud to be here.”

Lola echoed this call for more assimilation. “At our shopping centre, everyone speaks Arabic now," she said. "People have spat on us, thrown pebbles at us because we're lesbians. But I'm in my country and I have the right to do what I want.” When I asked if the people who attacked them were migrants, she was not so sure. “Let's say, they weren't white.”

Trump promised to “Make America Great Again”. To where would Le Pen's France return? Would it be sovereign again? White again? French again? Ruled by absolutism again? She has blurred enough lines to seduce voters her father never could – the young, the gay, the left-wingers. At the end of his speech, under the rebranded banners, Philippot invited the audience to sing La Marseillaise with him. And in one voice they did: “To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march, let impure blood, water our furrows...” The song is the same as the one I knew growing up. But it seemed to me, this time, a more sinister tune.