JANUARY 23, 2010
A Glacier Meltdown
The Himalayas and climate science.
Last November, U.N. climate chief Rajendra Pachauri delivered a blistering rebuke to India’s environment minister for casting doubt on the notion that global warming was causing the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers.
”We have a very clear idea of what is happening,” the chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told the Guardian newspaper. ”I don’t know why the minister is supporting this unsubstantiated research. It is an extremely arrogant statement.”
Then again, when it comes to unsubstantiated research it’s hard to beat the IPCC, whose 2007 report insisted that the glaciers—which feed the rivers that in turn feed much of South Asia—were very likely to nearly disappear by the year 2035. ”The receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers,” it wrote in its supposedly definitive report, ”can be attributed primarily to the [sic] global warming due to increase in anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases.”
It turns out that this widely publicized prediction was taken from a 2005 report from the World Wildlife Fund, which based it on a comment by Indian glacier expert Syed Hasnain from 1999. Mr. Hasnian now says he was ”misquoted.” Even more interesting is that the IPCC was warned in 2006 by leading glaciologist Georg Kaser that the 2035 forecast was baseless. ”This number is not just a little bit wrong, but far out of any order of magnitude,” Mr. Kaser told the Agence France-Presse. ”It is so wrong that it is not even worth discussing.”
On Wednesday, the IPCC got around to acknowledging that the claim was ”poorly substantiated,” though Mr. Pachauri also suggested it amounted to little more than a scientific typo. Yet the error is of a piece with other glib, and now debunked, global warming alarms.
Among them: that 1998 was the warmest year on record in the United States (it was 1934); that sea levels could soon rise by up to 20 feet and put Florida underwater (an 18-inch rise by the year 2100 is the more authoritative estimate); that polar bears are critically endangered by global warming (most polar bear populations appear to be stable or increasing); that—well, we could go on without even mentioning the climategate emails.
For the record, most Himalayan glaciers do seem to be retreating, and they have been ”since the earliest recordings began around the middle of the nineteenth century,” according to a report from India’s ministry of environment and forests. The reasons are complex and still poorly understood, and we’re glad to see responsible scientists acknowledge as much. If more of them could help the IPCC get its facts straight, we might put more stock in its reports.
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