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3 December 2009

The NS Interview: Rajendra Pachauri

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

By Sophie Elmhirst

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.

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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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