The rapid melt rate of the Himalayan glaciers as predicted by IPCC was a much publicized and iconic example of what climate change could do the global natural ecosystem hence to even question this fact one had to tread very-very cautiously. Lest anybody thinks I am a “climate denialist,” let me say a changing climate is a reality, and to straighten another record - after the highly combative January 29, 2010 interview with Dr. R. K. Pachauri, which I did for Science, he got up and surprised us all by giving me a “bear hug”!
What is most important is that this episode also shows the much valued self correcting nature of scientific inquisition as this major error was swiftly corrected. A blunder that was likely to impact the lives of half a billion people. Imagine the implication of the Indian government making a development plan for the River Ganga to dry up by 2035!
It has been a sizzling winter, where all my skills as a journalist have been tested.
CB: Now that AGU has affirmed your skills as a journalist, do you feel a sense of vindication vis-à-vis the criticism you received from scientists?
PB: To a certain extent it is a vindication, but I have been a journalist for the last two decades and I know there are no last words on immensely complex issues like the one on how high altitude glaciers will or will not respond to a changing climate. Criticism is very welcome; I live in a democracy where plurality of opinions is very much an accepted fact. But let me add, a journalist is mostly only as good as the sources he speaks to; I was fortunate to have cast my net very wide and some of the very best glaciologists opened their hearts out when we reached them. The story is still unfolding and I will be following the Himalayan glacier story for many years to come!
CB: The recent release of the InterAcademy Council review of the IPCC—which faulted the IPCC’s management, but not its fundamental conclusion about global warming—makes your award somewhat auspicious. In light of the council’s findings, where does the press go from here in terms of IPCC coverage?
PB: The InterAcademy Council (IAC) has sought “fundamental” changes in the way the IPCC is managed and, more importantly for us journalists, it has also found it wanting in the way it communicates with the media. If some of those reforms are taken to heart and implemented as desired by the IAC within the time frame of the current assessment, I am sure the “new IPCC” would possibly be a more robust and transparent body. I think the complicated mumbo-jumbo in which the IPCC communicates needs to be simplified. Unfortunately, the press and the IPCC are seemingly set on a path of confrontation, since Pachauri on July 5, 2010 wrote to all the authors of the upcoming fifth assessment report, giving very serious caution by saying that: “My sincere advice would be that you keep a distance from the media …” This was hurriedly diluted when it was put under some scrutiny then on July 15, 2010 Pachauri wrote another letter saying: “This was a poor choice of words on my part and not reflective of IPCC policy. My only intent was to advise new authors not to speak “on behalf of the IPCC …”. This certainly does not instill confidence that a more open policy would be the hallmark of what I call the “new IPCC.”
CB: The next big United Nations climate-change summit, COP16, will take place in Cancun in December. As a foreign correspondent, I’m wondering if you can give us a sort of global perspective on how you expect (or perhaps hope) coverage to play out in the run up to the event? What is the task at hand for journalists?