The climate change debate has entered dangerous territory. Till a few months ago, the world, except for a few skeptics rooting for multinationals, accepted that climate change was for real and manmade. In other words, the leading scientific community of environmentalists and other experts, and millions of save-the-world activists believed in the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory.
But all hell broke loose last November when some people hacked into the computers at the Climate Research Unit in the University of East Anglia to say some scientists had favored data that supported the case for global warming to increase their grant proposals. Environmentalists across the world were accused of holding humankind hostage in the name of climate change. AGW is a fraud dreamed up by scheming greens, some said.
Then came the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announcement that it "regrets the poor application of well-established procedures" in a claim that Himalayan glaciers could melt away in 25 years. The statement did not come from a peer-reviewed scientific paper, as it should have been, the IPCC said. This was followed by another "revelation" that IPCC had misrepresented an unpublished report by Robert Muir-Wood that "erroneously" linked climate change with increases in natural disasters.
Three months, three controversies - or as IPCC baiters would say - three shattering blows to "environmental extremists". The IPCC is not to be believed any longer, screamed born-again skeptics and so-called environmental economists. It should not have been taken seriously in the first place, said others. The IPCC is a bunch of neurotic scientists out to deprive the developing world of its share of the riches, declared political commentators. The William Nordhauses and Bjorn Lomborgs must be having a hearty laugh. The Milton Friedmans must be feeling triumphant.
Now, because of the screaming headlines and more empty rhetoric of the caucus serving the rich world's interests, even people who were genuinely concerned over the health of the Earth and its children have either become turncoats or are straddling the fence of skepticism.
Laymen (like me) always feel a sadistic sense of joy when a scientist or scientific theory is called into question. The reaction is one of "hadn't I told you so". In a way, such doubts remind us of the fallibility of great souls and greater minds. There are those who have raised their hackles because they think the IPCC has favored the rich world. There are campaigns to smear the face of the IPCC, R.K. Pachauri.
And most seriously, the political fallout of the development could split the developing world, which till now - except for a brief interval in Copenhagen - has been united.
On Friday, the Indian prime minister backed Pachauri and IPCC's work wholeheartedly. So did Quebec Premier Jean Charest. But while Charest was speaking at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit in the Indian capital, trade union members, human rights activists and workers were protesting against him and the Canadian government, demanding they stop exporting hazardous asbestos to India.
This is more than a reflection of the rich world's character: Pay lip service to a cause and divide and rule its followers. It is this ploy of the rich countries that the developing world has to be careful of. By reading more than needed into what has been presented as "mistakes" of the IPCC we seem to be missing the woods for the trees.
The rich world will never accept the findings of climate change till there is money to be made out of it. See what Bolivian President Evo Morales has to say: "While the United States and the European Union allocate $41,000 billion to save bankers from a financial crisis that they themselves have caused, programs on climate change get 313 times less, that is to say only $13 billion." But even profit can be infinite, the world cannot. And that is exactly what Bhutanese Premier Jigmey Yoser Thinley said at the Delhi summit: "Those who have taken delight in the criticism of the IPCC report missed the point. They take the comfort in the minor details while forgetting the larger issues ... It's a finite world and we are extracting out of it to a point that we are destroying the planet."