Introducing the CLIMATE NUREMBERG HUMOR SECTION
Welcome to our new Humor section,‡ which highlights some of the wittiest, drollest remarks from climate’s razor-sharpest thinkers.
CN’s Asia correspondent Kay Fabe—desperate to be treated as more than just a pretty face in the newsroom, apparently—has just filed the perfect story to kick the genre off.
‘Science needs you,’
Pachauri tells world’s 29-year-old women
KAY FABE DELHI, IN.
Thanks to social media, which is my way of saying Twitter, hilarious comments made by Dr Rajendra Pachauri yesterday went so virulent, so fast, that some are already calling him the fresh prince of stand-up science.
The world has long admired Pachauri, not just for “ending the debate over whether climate change matters” as Foreign Policy put it in November 2009, but for his personal qualities: cleanliness, articulateness, a religious devotion to science and a healthy distrust of skepticism.
What we’ve never fully appreciated, though—even in hard-core pachyphile circles—is the climate guru’s wicked sense of humor. Now, in the wake of a virtuoso observational riff that literally had the audience a-twitter, will the Nobel laureate’s contribution to comedy finally get the attention it deserves?
Dr Pachauri was the main speaker at a gala fundraiser for Women In The Laboratory—a group representing millions of women in Asia’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] sector—held yesterday in Delhi.
The polymath earned widespread chuckling and applause with a facetiously self-effacing opener:
“It’s strange that a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women.
“Three things happen when girls are in the lab: they have generous breasts; you fall in love with them; and they cry when you can’t stop cupping them in the conference room.”
“You know the problem with letting girls work in a scientific environment? They burst into tears as soon as you even suggest you can’t take your hands off their breasts,” he joked, to an audience made up mainly of Indian women and Ivan Oransky. “Am I right?”
Frank, uninhibited feedback is the lifeblood of scientific research, he explained.
“But sometimes you wonder if it’s worth the drama. I’m often tempted to delete an SMS or WhatsApp message rather than incur the contempt and revulsion of a shapely young subordinate…
“Which couldn’t possibly be good for the science,” noted Pachauri, Nature‘s 2007 Newsmaker of the Year.
“There are days when you just want to let go [of her breasts], walk away [from her breasts] and treat her like the rest of her flat-chested coevals. You can’t, obviously—that wouldn’t be honest. It’s just denial.”
Pachauri, who recently turned 75, knows a thing or two about women in science. He first met the love of his life at The Energy Resources Institute [TERI], the Delhi-based research campus he directed for 33 years. Sadly, it didn’t work out—like 40% of modern relationships, he says, it ended in the [sex crimes] courts—but he still hasn’t given up on finding The One.
“She’s out there somewhere, in a junior research rôle in one of the systems sciences, I know it: a goddess deployed to earth for the benefit of wretched old me. And I’ll break the news to her even if I have to be escorted out of every Habitat Dome, Climate Excellence Tetrahedron and Innovation Frustum in the developing world,” he quipped.
Other science loves have come and gone for Pachauri. In the end they usually have to find work elsewhere, after a persistent failure to reciprocate his limerence.
“Joking aside, this is a real issue” for women, said Pachauri, removing his glasses for added sincerity.
“This shit destroys careers,” he continued (referring to love).
He says what we’re all thinking
Refusing to let political correctness set the boundaries of his comedy, Pachauri then broached the open secret that most women are too logical and dispassionate to work on the climate change issue.
“The trouble with girls [in climate research] is that rationality will always dominate their emotions. Never in this life will I hear the words, ‘I love you,’” he said to general laughter and nodding.
“One employee even compared my love for her to the escalating demands made by Pakistan on India—first Kashmir, then Himachal Pradesh! At the end of a long day is it so alien to their nature to sit on the sofa next to me and hold my hand, and maybe even give me a hug?”
It was funny because it was true.
“I’m not even asking for a kiss,” he assured the audience. “Yet. Maybe a quick pash, but not a full-on French snogathon.
“Unless the girl’s up for it. But there’s absolutely no pressure to take things further. She can always meet my parents later. Or now. Or later; it’s all good.”
Dr Pachauri—now on fire—skewered the female tendency to understand everything in mechanistic, physical terms.
For women in STEM, he remarked, “love is purely something that sprouts and culminates in bed! They are only aroused by a nice looking young guy they can take home with them. But love isn’t something produced by design, and it is certainly not a glandular phenomenon that one unleashes for a physical act with someone who looks sexy.”
Not that all women are the same, of course! Female staff—Pachauri joked—come in three different types, or age brackets.
“First there are the junior researchers, who still have [romantic] potential; these are the employees I call ‘entry-level,’” he said with a salacious wink.
“Then there are the thirty-somethings,” he shuddered. “At that point, there’s no danger of sentimental entanglements [with me] any more; they’re practically old enough to be my daughter!
“The third and final archetype is the crone. Some of these women are old enough to be my wife,” he said, alluding to respected Delhi physician Saroj Pachauri, M.D. “The very suggestion of impropriety [towards an employee in this age group] repulses me,” he said, making a retching sound.
It was hardly lost on Dr Pachauri’s audience that—despite all the potential downsides of hiring them—he himself has long been a top employer of women.
The ratio of females to males in STEM remains low despite initiatives around the world to promote technical education for young girls. Women hold only 25% of American STEM jobs, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the disparity is even starker in developing countries.
Furthermore, women who do pursue vocations in STEM face strong cultural expectations to be dowdy, unattractive and not particularly feminine. Even after half a century of women’s lib, the cliché of the technical woman as mustachioed virago is alive and well.
It’s one thing to deplore such stereotypes but Rajendra Pachauri has actually been doing something about them—for decades—using his influence as director-general of TERI to recruit a whole generation of voluptuous hotties into the world of climate research.
In the India Habitat Centre in downtown Delhi, where TERI has its main campus, the famous Fifth Floor Girls are just as closely identified with Pachauri’s legacy as (say) Gaddafi’s all-female bodyguard are synonymous with the late dictator.
Pachauri rejects the need for quotas and targets, however, describing his hiring process as largely instinctual.
“When the right candidate walks in the door, I know straight away. ‘Within me is a voice that whispers she is mine,‘” he explained, quoting from a poem he once dedicated to an employee.
“But seriously…” said Pachauri, marking an end to the comedy portion of the evening and getting to the meat of his remarks.
“…science needs women,” he boomed, waiting for a renewed outburst of clapping to taper off, “to do the countless vegetative chores for which scientists don’t have time or patience.
“That’s why I’m so proud to support initiatives like Women In The Laboratory.
“Historically, science may be done by men, but so is history. And all too often we just ignore the contribution of 51% of the population—effectively erasing women from the history of human discovery.
“Science needs women—to do the jobs scientists won’t do.”
“Which is idiotic! Where would science be without the cleaners, lab assistants, tutors’ aides, typing pool, equipment models, demonstrators, tea ladies, lunch ladies, slide alphabetizers, sick-bay nurses, inventory Nazis and door bitches who keep the home fires burning in the great centres of inquiry while the scientists pursue loftier game?”
Expanding on the neolithic, Pachauri asked: “If scientists are hunters and women are gatherers, how can you appreciate the efforts of one without the other?
“Science needs women… to do the jobs scientists won’t,” he said, paraphrasing his reputed patron George W. Bush to clamorous applause.
“We glorify our scientists every day, and rightly so, but the work women do for science matters every bit as much—literally. So we should obviously set aside one day a year to recognize them.”
This is what Dr Pachauri famously did during his tenure at The Energy Resources Institute, where he made ‘SecreTERI’s Day‘ an institution for three decades. It was said to be a special time of year* when every girl in the building, from engineer’s assistant to scientific spell-checker, got a personal reminder that her presence was noticed by the man generally considered the world’s highest authority on climate science: some simple but elegant gift, be it a small necklace, a small pair of panties or—for the very best performers—a small poem scented with Pachauri’s own hand cream.
“Does annual SecreTERI’s Day go on without me? I like to imagine so,” he mused. “Even when the magic is gone, people need traditions.”
A model workplace
Pachauri then offered some other insights into the success story of TERI as one of the most female-friendly science campuses in India (if not the entire climate world).
Respect for personal space, he argued, is paramount—especially in a country where women still put up with daily sexualization and objectification from men who barely worship them.
“As a 21st-century employer I would never invade the comfort zone of a subordinate I didn’t love sincerely and supremely,” said Pachauri, drawing a bright distinction between his philosophy and that of a “rotten, unbathed Brit just seeking sex.”
He hasted to add, “I don’t just mean love her breasts. I would have to venerate and adore every part of a researcher, from left to right, before I’d so much as consider caressing them in the office.
“Even when I ‘grab her body’—as I think a particularly unromantic girl once phrased it—by placing my left hand over the employee’s right breast,” he asked rhetorically, “would I ever make the slightest attempt to hold it in my hand, or to fondle her there [in the campus library]?”
(No. That would be wrong.)
If there was one secret to fostering a workplace environment of safe, sensitive harassment, he suggested, it was probably old-fashioned self-respect.
“I guess I’m just not a promiscuous person.”
Dr Pachauri closed on the same note of droll self-deprecation with which he had begun.
“I’m impressed by the economic development of India. And women in the laboratory have played an important rôle in it. [Women] should go into science despite all the obstacles… and despite monsters like me LOL!”
Guests, supporters and patrons of Women in the Laboratory then enjoyed their dessert, mingled and gossiped.
As champagne went to heads and checkbooks came out, classy, unobtrusive entertainment continued in the background courtesy of Dr Pachauri’s inimitable spoken-word stylings. The climate visionary and renowned poet—his bowtie now hanging loose, lecturing fedora at a rakish tilt—was accompanied at the mike by a jazz cellist. Pachauri even took requests, and it wasn’t long before he was favoring the crowd with EASI (Evil And Sinful Idiot), the fictional epic in which he imagines himself as a “despicable human being” who “fully deserves” his “fate as an unloved and uncelebrated rotter.”
Rave reviews… mostly
They say the best comedy is the kind that pleases everyone, uniting audiences in an otherwise balkanized world.
By that measure Dr Pachauri’s material yesterday was fairly successful, triggering few formal complaints from an otherwise richly-amused ballroom. Second-hand accounts of his routine are winning new fans online by the minute.
Even the Canadian opinionist Mark Steyn, who’s not exactly known for his feminism or environmentalism, seems to be impressed. The latest SteynOnline blog post gives props where props are due to Pachauri’s comedic—as well as his management—prowess:
Pachauri stepped down after three decades at the helm of TERI, where the many employees he touched will always remember his hands-on leadership. But it seems the Bill Clinton of climate science is fast becoming the Bill Cosby of climate science.
Mary Beard, a prominent feminist and Cambridge Professor of Classics, also got in to the fun, bawdy spirit of Pachauri’s address, telling me that she would “like to smack his bottom” and “give him a piece of my mind.”
Not everyone in the feminist movement, though, is in the mood for risqué banter. A handful of women’s advocates I spoke to said there was nothing amusing in yesterday’s comments.
Among them are Nathalie Pettorelli†, co-founder of Soapbox Science, an initiative that works to make women in science more visible in the UK. Dr Pettorelli was appalled when I described Pachauri’s speech.
“We need to stop tolerating that whole view of women. I don’t want the next generation here to wonder if it’s acceptable or not—they should just not have to hear it”.
Connie St Louis†, a science reporter and Senior Lecturer in Journalism at UCL, was similarly incredulous. She asked me (with minor edits for grammar and lucidity):
“He said what? Really, does this Nobel laureate think we are still living in Victorian times?”
Naomi Oreskes†, a bestselling science fiction novelist and woman, couldn’t decide “which is more insulting, the misogyny or the gerontophobia.”
As a “witty, ironic” protest against ageosexism, Dr Oreskes said she intends to start the hashtag #DecreasinglySexy on behalf of elderly women who—like her—think they’ve never looked better.
“I don’t even bother with makeup,” she boasted, “because there’s no decline to hide.”
‡If you’re like the average well-balanced person, recent events have left you frantic, anhedonic and enuretic. I’m surprised you even got out of bed this afternoon.
Our new Humor category is not about cheering you up.
It’s about giving you a breather, a respite from twenty-seven years of sedulous scientific horror—by crossing to a lighthearted or quirky news item from time to time—so you can return to the siege recalibrated, revirginated and resensitized to the full unspeakability of global warming.
This is a leap of faith, obviously: humor and climate news have never appeared on the same website before. But if this experiment in nuremblogging succeeds then we, the bergeoisie, have a real shot at beating science fatigue. Together.
*Initially held to coincide with International Women’s Day, SecreTERI’s Day has subsequently drifted by several months. “We probably should have based it on the solar calendar rather than the menstrual one,” Pachauri admits in hindsight.
†Correction: After our story went to press, Dr Pettorelli, Dr Oreskes and Ms St Louis emailed reporter Kay Fabe to “wholeheartedly retract” their condemnation of Dr Pachauri’s speech.
“We thought we were talking about someone else,” they wrote.
Climate Nuremberg apologizes for the misunderstanding.