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NY Times IPCC Alibi Falls Flat

Elisabeth Rosenthal Received No Payment When You Bought The New York Times This Morning

One and a half cheers to the NY Times for the article “Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel,” which admits to some of the scientific and ethical problems facing the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri. But the Times being the Times, while it lays out some of the damning facts, it omits key damaging details (especially regarding the egregiously amateurish nature of the IPCC’s errors regarding the Himalayan glaciers) and otherwise spends the rest of the article trying to explain away Dr. Pachauri’s problems, with hilarious results.

The most hilarious of these is the Times’ effort to instruct you, the reader, on why there’s no financial conflict of interest in payments received by Dr. Pachauri from various businesses with interests in the panel’s work – emphasis mine:

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.

Sounds like those critics are way off base, right? The man gives all the money to charity. So, where does his money come from?

Dr. Pachauri, 69, said the only work income he received was a salary from the Energy and Resources Institute: about $49,000, according to his 2009 Indian tax return, which he provided to The New York Times. The return also lists $16,000 in other income, most of it interest on accounts in Indian banks.

That’s right: his primary source of income is his employment by the same entity that receives the payments! This is like saying that a lawyer makes no money off bringing clients to her firm…which then pays her salary.

In response to the recent criticisms, Dr. Pachauri provided an accounting of some of his outside consulting fees paid to the Energy and Resources Institute. Those include about $140,000 from Deutsche Bank, $25,000 from Credit Suisse, $80,000 from Toyota and $48,750 from Yale. He has recently begun work as a strategic adviser for Pegasus, the investment firm, but has not yet attended a meeting, and no money has yet been paid to the Energy and Resources Institute. He has also provided advice free of charge to groups like the Chicago Climate Exchange.

If you are keeping score at home, that’s $293,750 to the Energy and Resources Institute – enough to fund six years’ salary at ERI for Dr. Pachauri. So much for the notion that there’s no financial interest at stake.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong per se with climate scientists doing business with green technology companies or others with interests in their scientific work. But as I have noted before, neither should scientists who receive such funds be treated as Solomonic icons of disinterest, while they assail their critics as paid shills of industry. It’s healthier to remember that everybody has an angle and a bias – and look deeper at the data, the theories and the integrity and transparency of the process used.

But the Times’ effort to spin this one away is just pathetic.

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