IPCC Chief Says Grassroots Must Lead on Climate Action

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Rajendra Pachauri, the occasionally controversial head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that climate action would have to bubble up from the bottom, rather than coming down from on high.

"I really think the time has come for us to build from bottom to top. There is enough initiative in different countries that all this will bubble up and perhaps lead to an accord," Pachauri told The Atlantic during a break at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting convened by the Department of Energy. "I think the drive really has to come from communities, from the grassroots level, and the public at large."

To Pachauri's detractors, his comments may come as a surprise. The organization he heads is, in some ways, the ultimate instantiation of a trained scientific elite. The world's best climate scientists all work together to synthesize the many fields related to climate science (oceanography, atmospheric chemistry, etc) into reports and projections on what's likely to happen if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise.

The group's 2007 report unequivocally stated that climate change was happening and that it was largely due to anthropogenic sources. Some saw it as a tipping point that could lead to climate action on the national and international levels. Last year, Pachauri and other scientists pushed for a more ambitious decarbonization of the economy.

But no international accord has come together, and climate legislation remains stalled in Congress. Maybe that's why Pachauri is sounding the grassroots note: twisting the arms of national leaders just hasn't worked.

Image: Alexis Madrigal/The Atlantic

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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