According to its website, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a “policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive” organization. But it’s difficult to take that claim seriously when its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, continues to lobby hard for one policy in particular.

Today he delivered a speech at the inauguration of a sustainability summit organized by TERI, an entity he leads. Again and again, he referred to his favourite hobbyhorse: reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But emissions reduction is merely one possible response to climate change (adaptation and high-tech fixes are two others; see more here). Nor is it a response that most parents, if they spent five minutes thinking about it, would care to embrace.

Virtually everything human beings do requires energy. At one time wood and animal dung were the primary sources of fuel. Then came coal, oil, and gas. At this moment in history the cheapest, most reliable sources of energy all produce some amount of carbon dioxide when we make use of them. As Bjorn Lomborg once pithily observed, “no one emits CO2 for fun” (backup link here). CO2 is a byproduct of being alive. Indeed, we exhale it with every breath.

Pachauri’s idea of taking care of the planet, therefore, is all about diminishing the human experience. Less emissions = less fuel = less of nearly everything. While most parents hope their kids’ futures will be filled with opportunity, emissions reduction is all about restricted, limited, impoverished lives. As Pachauri himself has made clear, less travel, less meat, and less heat are all part of the package.

Today he cited IPCC findings that:

between 1970 and 2004 [greenhouse gas] emissions had increased by 70%.

What he failed to mention is that, during that same time period, hundreds of millions of people emerged from grinding poverty, living standards improved dramatically, and lifespans lengthened. It stands to reason that if more people are being adequately fed, housed, and medically treated, more energy has to be consumed. Duh.

But rather than celebrating these triumphs Pachauri’s headspace is dark and dire. He insists we’re sinning against nature and that punishment awaits if we don’t renounce our profligate ways. Like a broken record he drones on and on. Emissions this, emissions that.

The man is hopeless. He clearly hasn’t the first clue what it means to be “policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive.”

How is that all those important people attending his sustainability summit – including the Prime Minister of India and the President of Finland – don’t see this?

On the theme of life having improved dramatically for some of the world’s poorest in recent years, see the bottom of page 4 of this 2010 PDF from the Asian Development Bank (numbered as page 2 within the document). It says that, over the past two decades, hundreds of millions of souls have been lifted out of poverty in Asia alone (backup link here).

See also this entertaining video: 200 Countries, 200 Years, [in] 4 Minutes. Swedish professor Hans Rosling makes it clear that, from the 1970s onward, we made immense strides with respect to both global wealth and global health. In my opinion, those gains are so remarkable they’re worth every bit of CO2 humanity produced in the process. 

A backup of Pachauri’s speech is here. More info about his sustainability summit is here.


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