A Q&A with Rajendra Pachauri: “NC State gave me the means…”

September 30, 2014
By Bill Krueger

Rajendra K. Pachauri, an NC State alumnus who is chairman of the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and CEO of The Energy and Resources Institute, delivered a lecture on campus Monday about the panel’s latest findings on climate change research.

“We know now with a substantial amount of precision how much the earth has warmed, and how much of that is from human activity,” Pachauri said in his talk to students, faculty and alumni at the Talley Student Union.

R K PachauriPachauri stressed the need for action at local and institutional levels. “Whatever we do, we need to be sure we’re not leaving future generations at a disadvantage,” he said. Pachauri cited rising sea levels and the increasing number of extreme weather events across the globe as evidence of the impact of global climate change.

“The good news is that we now have knowledge of the future risks,” he said, “and we can embark on a path to avoid those risks.”

Before the lecture, RedandWhiteForLife.com had a chance to ask Pachauri about his ties to NC State. He earned a master’s in industrial engineering at NC State in 1972 and a doctorate in industrial engineering and economics in 1974. Here’s a portion of the interview:

How often do you get to come back to NC State, and is there a favorite spot of yours? Well, actually, I came back in 2009 after a long break. I didn’t have a chance to come back for a long time before that. Frankly, there’s never enough time for me to go to a favorite spot on campus. I get tied up with several activities and events on campus, and all of my trips have been barely a day long. I’d much rather reach out and address groups of faculty, which is what I’ve been doing. I haven’t had the ability to go sit somewhere under the shade of a tree like I’d like to. But the campus is looking better and better, and there are so many places I’d like to go visit. I recently went to the new [Hunt] library, and that was a wonderful experience.

You co-majored in industrial engineering and economics. How did the different aspects of your education at NC State influence your career? I’ve found it of great value to have a background in both fields, and I’m really grateful to NC State for opening my eyes and allowing me to move into a field that I was not really familiar with in economics. When I started working on issues of energy policy, to have a background with clear familiarity of technology in engineering, as well as economics, has been a big help for me. You need to understand both, really, when you’re dealing with climate change, and when you’re thinking about technological solutions. It’s not merely the technology part, nor is it just the economics of the whole system. You need to look at both to be able to assess the merits of the options you’re evaluating.

When did you realize you were interested in climate change? And did that motivation come at NC State? I think my interest in climate change and my eagerness to get involved in it came a few years after I graduated from NC State. When I was working on energy policy, I realized the environmental implications of energy decisions and the energy cycle were very serious. So, while I was studying that, I came across the whole science of climate change. I studied that in considerable depth, and NC State gave me the means by which I could analyze this very complex issue.

What are some things that you do, and that you recommend other people should do, to reduce energy consumption? A lot of my efforts are more organizational, with the IPCC and my institution in India, so I rarely have opportunities to preach to people, so to speak. But if people ask me specifically how they can reduce greenhouse gases, then of course I’ll give them advice on how to save electricity by turning their lights off, or how to set their thermostats correctly. Using public transportation and walking where it’s feasible are two things we don’t do enough of. Basically, one has to be conscious in one’s life about the impacts actions have on the ecosystems on this planet. It’s a personal choice, really. If you believe in the mission and want to reduce your footprint, I think you’ll find a way to do so.

— Will Watkins


Pachauri was featured in the Winter 2007 issue of NC State alumni magazine. Click here to read our previous interview with Pachauri.


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