January 19, 2010: Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia on the Himalayan Controversy
The champagne bottles are being uncorked. Climate skeptics are in full cry in India, with the Himalayan glacier story criticising the IPCC report hitting the airwaves. The original IPCC report stated that the total area of Himalayan glaciers would likely shrink from 500,000 sq. kms. to 100,000 sq. kms by 2035.
The source for this information has now been questioned and the ripples are being reflected in news papers and channel across the world. India's DNA newspaper's third edit is particularly supportive of climate skeptics: "The question remains on how seriously to take global warming. It is possible that the planet has suffered some environmental damage because of rapid industrialisation and destruction of natural resources. But it also seems possible that there is some truth in the argument that the Earth goes through periodic climatic changes and we are now approaching on of them. This may seem cataclysmic to us now, but humans and other life forms have survived several so far.
The targets of attack are both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of The Energy and Research Institute (TERI). In response Pachauri said: “We are looking at the issue and will be able to comment on the report after examining the facts. The science doesn’t change: Glaciers are melting across the globe and those in the Himalayas are no different,” he said in a telephone interview. “We’re not changing anything till we make an assessment.”
We can now surely expect the dirty tricks departments in the oil industry to add fuel to this latest climate fire. But it would do well for India to wait for the official IPCC response to the 2035 reference, before throwing climate concerns out the window. One way or the other we can expect this new handle that climate skeptics have been handed to be used by developers to push the business-as-usual carbon agenda. After all, this is the lot that wrote the book on (really) bad science, a fact that sits, unchallenged, for all to see, in scores of fictionalised Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Reports accepted and endorsed by India's Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Nevertheless, there could be a positive outcome of this latest battle. Every climate scientist will now pour over past data, claims and evidence to winkle out further inconsistencies or errors. This can only be good for the battle against climate change because a lot of lobbying disguised as science is sitting in the files of all the major governments of the world. These are now likely to be exposed.
The basic human propensity to continue doing what is comfortable, not necessarily what is good for them, suggests that we will have to fight against climate skeptics to the day we die. My worry now is that in India industrial hawks will use the Prime Minister's Office to push thermal plants, mines, roads, deforestation, coastal reclamation and such like with renewed vigour. Industrial hawks have probably been given second breath. The worry for the health of the planet is that this latest Himalayan controversy (coupled with Copenhagen's failure) could well have provided enough of a diversion to allow developers to throw the planet's climate gyro to be pushed totally out of whack.
Interestingly, The Economist (January 9-15, 2010 – before the glacier controversy broke) reported that every 11 years the sun goes through a cycle of brighter shine (according to the British Met office's Decadal Prediction System, or DePreSys). Temperatures it reported are likely therefore to get warmer in 2010 and this could coincide with the cyclical release of stored heat in the tropical Pacific. What impact is this likely to have on climate in the coming months? Are we actually going to see higher temperatures? Will Himalayan glacial melt studies reveal higher than normal readings for 2010? Could we see more storms? In time, the planet will reveal its truths.
People imagine that climate modelling is some kind of sharply accurate thing (which it is not) and when the prediction does not fit reality, they start going: "See! Nothing happened." Yes, as The Economist sagely points out:"Models simulating centuries of warming normally have the occasional decade in which no rise in surface temperatures is observed. his is because heat can be stored in other parts of the system,such as the oceans, for a time, and thus not show up on meteorologists' thermometers."
While the debates rage in the corridors of science and in the drawing rooms of those glued to television, here in India developers are drooling at the thought that billions of dollars for high dams in the Himalaya will not be affected by worries about glacial melt. A lifeline has been thrown at them. But the ice IS melting. Of that there can be no doubt. Exactly WHEN the glaciers might vanish is the issue on hand. But this, to my mind, is academic. Long before the ice actually melts, the impacts will be felt by 500 million people on their agriculture and their lives. I hope our government, particularly our Ministry of Environment and Forests will keep this truth in mind before opening the gates to those who would raid our carbon godown.
Glacier melt date hot air, Pachauri faces the heat
January 18, 2010, New York Times, U.N. Panel’s Glacier Warning Is Criticized as Exaggerated
January 19, 2010, Wall Street Journal, Climate-Change Claim on Glaciers Under Fire
Himalayan Glaciers A State-of-Art Review of Glacial Studies, Glacial Retreat and Climate Change – V.K.Raina, Ex. Deputy Director General, Geological Survey of India
January 19, 2010, Bittu Sahgal's Blog 'Himalayan Controversy'
January 18, 2010, Guardian, U.K. A mistake over Himalayan glacier should not melt our priorities