Three years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri was accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N.'s climate science panel. Now the IPCC head is under fire from critics for a catalogue of recent embarrassments: his initial kneejerk defense of the "Climategate" emails (Pachauri first questioned the motives of those who had hacked into the University of East Anglia's email system, then said there was "virtually no possibility" that IPCC findings were impacted), the fight he picked with the Indian environmental minister when the latter questioned certain data on glacier melt within India (Pachauri called the government report's "voodoo science"), and the steamy soft-core novel, Return to Almora, he released last month (somewhere between memoir and fantasy, it features the sexual exploits of a 60-something globetrotting climate expert, and has scandalized an Indian public not accustomed to its masturbating scenes and erotic explicitness).
Few stars have risen and fallen so quickly as Pachauri's, who has gone from being an international climate hero to subject of increasing ridicule at home and abroad. Pachauri, an economist and former railroad engineer from a small town in the Himalayan foothills of north India, assumed his position at the helm of the IPCC in 2002. At the time, he had the enthusiastic backing of the Bush administration, which had grown tired of fielding industry complaints about his predecessor Robert Watson and hoped (wrongly, it turned out) that Pachauri would prove less vocal in his calls for carbon-reduction efforts.
But even as his credentials and honors stacked up -- from the government of France anointing him an "Officier de la legion d'honneur" to GQ India naming him 2009's "Global Indian of the Year" (FP even named him a "top global thinker" last year) -- Pachauri couldn't quite discipline his tongue. Or perhaps he didn't care what impression his verbal zingers left. In 2008, he told the Chicago Tribune: "I tell people I was born a Hindu who believes in reincarnation. It will take me the next six lives to neutralize my carbon footprint. There's no way I can do it in one lifetime."
But he attracted the most attention for barbs directed at his critics, calling those who've questioned IPCC reports "flat-earthers" -- "they are indulging in is skulduggery of the worst kind," he told the Financial Times -- and generally bristling at the prospect of unwanted scrutiny, without providing clear answers to valid questions about his stewardship. ("My conscience is clear," he announced to the New York Times this week.) But while Pachauri's larger-than-life persona and propensity for conducting himself as though beyond reproach catches attention, these characteristics don't in and of themselves defame the organization he heads -- as much as global-warming deniers are happy to seize upon any opportunity to poke holes in climate science in general.