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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 New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times