Sunday, January 24, 2010

Save earth from human nature

Save earth from human nature
By M J Akbar

The ever evolving definition of hell needs a Delhi update. Hell is being trapped in a steel tube ensnared in the evil fog of an airport tarmac. Hell is helplessness as deceptive nature winks through the seeming window in a darkness flecked by swirling waves of heavy, oppressive air and then shuts it with an impenetrable, dense, grey screen as your aeroplane begins to taxi optimistically towards opportunity. Where the hell has global warming gone?

Should it be considered entirely appropriate, or wickedly fortuitous, that the world has witnessed its coldest winter in a long while just after the much-vaunted gathering of the high, low, mighty and weak at the Copenhagen conference on global warming? The conference itself produced a molehill of unimplementable phrases out of a mountain of hype; the charter could not tie China to Togo or America to Tonga despite the presence of an extraordinary collection of worthies who tried their level best to disguise their failure behind the fanfare of promotion. The dramatics started much before the meet: the Maldives held a Cabinet meeting on its ocean-bed and Nepal on Mount Everest.

Not to be outdone, our own acrobatic and hirsute minister for environment, Jairam Ramesh, flipped a breathtaking triple somersault. But no resolution was actually adopted by the 192 nations present and five countries would not even deign to pretend they agreed. No one gave any commitment on reduction of carbon emissions that could be held to account because it was not required. Big boys sniffed at the kids, who hollered for more pocket money. China would not even permit nations like Germany, who had come with commitments, to record their percentages lest it become a precedent that it would be compelled to follow. In the classic manner of those who have little to offer, it sought, and got, agreement to talk another time, as if a conference in Delhi was going to ever be the success that Copenhagen had been unable to deliver. The reason was never stated, but is now becoming apparent: there is a growing suspicion that climate theology has been constructed out of shaky testament.

Hypocrisy might be the least of our travails by the time details fully unravel. We might be staring at a PR process over the last few years during which bombast and academic fraud with multiple epicentres, one of them Delhi, has been richly rewarded with grants, respectability and what used to be the highest of accolades, the Nobel Prize for Peace.

What is the difference between a band and a bandwagon? The first turns into the second when the trumpets begin to play false notes, and the world applauds it as revolutionary music.

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was won jointly by Al Gore, father of climate change, and a United Nations body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The latter created a worldwide brouhaha by announcing that it was ‘most likely’ that Himalayan glaciers were in retreat and would disappear by 2035. It was the perfect horizon: too far for anyone making the prediction to be alive in that year, and close enough to frighten the wits out of alarmists. ‘Most likely’ means, in such parlance, a 95% probability. The evidence for such a dramatic conclusion came, it now transpires, from a single interview given by an Indian glacier specialist (a former vice chancellor of universities now working for the government of Sikkim) 10 years ago to the New Scientist. TERI gave him a reasonably comfortable retirement benefit at its comfortable Delhi premises and its director, now in his avatar as Cardinal Green of Pope Gore, went on to share the limelight in Oslo. The scientist was comforted by a Padma Shri — not bad, but not quite a Nobel Prize. The New York Times has now reported that this scientist (let us leave him nameless) claims he was ‘misquoted’ in that original interview. As misquotes go, this must surely be the most glistening jewel in the baggage train of a bandwagon.

No one stops a roll on its way to reward, so we should not be too surprised that this particular scientist did not notice he had been misquoted while the Nobel was being doled out. What is astonishing is the absence of any due diligence by the Nobel committee. Sceptics have suggested that the Peace award to US President Barack Obama was egg on Oslo’s face; well, this was a whole hatchery. Maybe Nobel has simply run out of candidates for the Peace Prize. Peace is not the favourite pastime of our times, and is too relative. Nobel should rename the award: Sanctimonious Prize? Brand Value Prize? Holy Cow Prize?

The dark fog of nature can never compete with the oily smog of human nature.

- Save Earth from human nature

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