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?
PB: The task at hand is complicated since not only as journalists we may have to report the ever evolving and some times little understood science, but we also need to inform our audiences on the highly polarized politics of climate change. It is a minefield out there and tiptoeing through the maze is not going to be easy for most journalists. I certainly don’t see a spectacular crescendo building up like it did in the run up to the Copenhagen Conference. Measured, well articulated, meaningful, rounded coverage is what one hopes to see. Emotional outbursts and alarmist outpourings are certainly not going to help the world reach a just and equitable accord on the issue of climate change.
Historically, the U.S. may have been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but the future really lies in what the two global giants India and China do to contain their emissions. Both are embracing nuclear energy in a big way ever since climate change has forced a renaissance of this moribund industry. Is this a jump from the frying pan to the fire? Both countries are also looking to adopt renewable energy pathways, India taking the solar route and China—where I was last week—seeking solutions from wind energy, having just commissioned its first off-shore wind farm near Shanghai.