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Eric Reguly

The fear and farce of climate-change science Add to ...

Tragedy and comedy have entered the climate change stage hand in hand.

The tragic figure is Professor Phil Jones, the 57-year-old scientist at the heart of the climate change e-mail scandal. In an interview with London's Sunday Times newspaper, he said he contemplated suicide just before the start of December's Copenhagen climate change summit, when skeptics were emboldened by the publication of hacked e-mails from the influential climatic research unit he led. "There were death threats," he said. "People said I should go and kill myself. They said they knew where I lived. I did think about it, yes. About suicide."

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The comic figure is Rajendra Pachauri, the 69-year-old chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His fight to save his career over a faulty IPCC report about melting glaciers did not prevent him from publishing a novel - his first - that drips with sex and romance.

With climate change science already under fire, neither of these developments will help shore up credibility.

Mr. Jones, who has temporarily stood down as director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Britain, is still under enormous pressure. He has lost a lot of weight and said he is resorting to sleeping pills and beta blockers to cope with insomnia and anxiety. His failure to release climate change data requested by freedom of information searches was determined to be a breach of freedom of information regulations.

But he say he stands by his unit's research and is no longer suicidal. The love of his five-year-old granddaughter is helping him to keep going. "I wanted to see her grow up," he said.

Dr. Pachauri's book, Return to Almora , is, by his own admission, partly autobiographical, and traces the life of its protagonist, Sanjay Nath, through the bedrooms and classrooms of India and the United States, with lessons on the environment along the way.

At one point, Sanjay finds himself teaching meditation and is distracted by the "heaving breasts" of his students. "You are absolutely superb after meditation," his girlfriend tells him. "Why don't we make love every time immediately after you have meditated."

Celebrities also make appearances in the novel; Oscar-winning actress Shirley MacLaine has dinner with Sanjay. Mr. Pachauri told the Indian Express that he wrote the book on international business flights. "Sometimes I'd be so overwhelmed trying to capture an incident of my life for the book that I would be moved to tears," he told the newspaper.

In 2007, Mr. Pachauri accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, on behalf of the IPCC, for its work on climate change, which concluded that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and that most of the recent warming is "very likely due" to human activity. Left unchecked, the greenhouse gas emissions have the potential to raise average global temperatures by 1.1 to 6.4 C by the end of the century, it said. The report, produced by 800 contributing authors and reviewed by some 2,500 scientists, tipped the balance in favour of the argument that humans were the main contributors to climate change.

The trouble is that some sections of the report have recently come under fire. In November, Mr. Pachauri dismissed as "voodoo science" a report from the Indian government that said the IPCC's date - 2035 - for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers was wrong. As it turned out, the date in the IPCC report was based on a speculative report that had not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The IPCC issued a correction and an apology on Jan. 20. Still, Mr. Pachauri has come under pressure to resign.

Last week, John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, said Mr. Pachauri should have acted as soon as he knew about the error, even if doing so risked embarrassing the IPCC on the eve of the Copenhagen summit. "The IPCC needs to regain credibility," Mr. Sauven told The Times of London. "Is that going to happen with Pachauri [as chairman] I don't think so."

Mr. Pachauri has refused to step down and continues to campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of the Copenhagen summit, which produced no binding commitments on reductions. On Feb. 17, he is due to take part in a panel discussion on climate change and food security at the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome.

But his second career as a potboiler writer seems already well in place. He is reportedly already at work on a sequel to Return to Almora .

Follow on Twitter: @ereguly

 

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