Reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal's Tuesday story on the latest climate change controversy, "U.N. Climate Panel and Chief Face Credibility Siege," had a prominent front-page placement appropriate to the gravity of the subject: The embarrassing withdrawal of the alarmist claim, made in the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007
report, that glaciers in the Himalayas were in danger of
melting away by 2035.
But Rosenthal's actual report didn't seem to find much controversy at all, downplaying the blow suffered to the reputation of the IPCC, whose reports are an influential and expensive factor in government policy and regulatory circles. Rosenthal hinted the journalists digging into the controversy are politicized (as if climate change supporters don't have a vested interest), divided "climate skeptics" from "mainstream scientists, and suggested the way to scientific "sainthood" included being a vegetarian and hanging around with Al Gore:
Just over two years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri seemed destined for a scientist's version of sainthood: A vegetarian economist-engineer who leads the United Nations' climate change panel, he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel, sharing the honor with former Vice President Al Gore.
But Dr. Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, called for Dr. Pachauri's resignation last week.
Critics, writing in Britain's Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm - a claim he denies.
They have also unearthed and publicized problems with the intergovernmental panel's landmark 2007 report on climate change, which concluded that the planet was warming and that humans were likely to blame.
The report, they contend, misrepresents the state of scientific knowledge about diverse topics - including the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers and the rise in severe storms - in a way that exaggerates the evidence for climate change.
Indeed, the only melting seems to be the reputation of Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But Rosenthal insisted that Pachauri was mostly unscathed, calling the accusations "half-truths."
Several of the recent accusations have proved to be half-truths: While Dr. Pachauri does act as a paid consultant and adviser to many companies, he makes no money from these activities, he said. The payments go to the Energy and Resources Institute, the prestigious nonprofit research center based in Delhi that he founded in 1982 and still leads, where the money finances charitable projects like Lighting a Billion Lives, which provides solar lanterns in rural India.
"My conscience is clear," Dr. Pachauri said in a lengthy telephone interview.
Rosenthal apparently didn't get a chance during her "lengthy telephone interview" to challenge Pachauri for accusing India's leading glaciologist Vijay Raina of "voodoo science" for his report showing the claim made by Pachauri colleague Syed Hassain - that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 - was without merit. Turns out Raina was right - the claim was based not on hard science but a distorted quote by Hasnain from a 1999 edition of an Indian environmental magazine. The IPCC expressed "regret" for the error and withdrew the claim.
Rosenthal's general tone? "Move along, nothing to see here":
The panel, in reviewing complaints about possible errors in its report, has so far found that one was justified and another was "baseless." The general consensus among mainstream scientists is that the errors are in any case minor and do not undermine the report's conclusions.
Still, the escalating controversy has led even many of them to conclude that the Nobel-winning panel needs improved scientific standards as well as a policy about what kinds of other work its officers may pursue.
Rosenthal didn't spell out the embarrassing scientific errors until paragraph 25, while casting some journalists as "right-leaning" accusers:
The accusations of errors in the panel's report - most originating from two right-leaning British papers, The Sunday Telegraph and The Times of London - have sullied the group's reputation. They follow a controversy that erupted late last year over e-mail messages and documents released without authorization from a climate research center in Britain.
In one case, the report included a sentence that said the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. The sentence was based on a decade-old interview with a glaciologist in a popular magazine; the scientist now says he was misquoted. The panel recently expressed "regret" for the error.
Rosenthal has taken an apocalyptic approach to glacier melt in previous coverage, like this December 2009 piece on glaciers in the Andes mountain range in South America:
A World Bank report concluded last year that climate change would eliminate many glaciers in the Andes within 20 years, threatening the existence of nearly 100 million people.