Friday, November 18, 2011

Science, the media and the Himalayan glacier. What's wrong?

This morning's NPR Marketwatch summarized the latest IPCC climate change report. They included the mandatory scornful reference to the first IPCC's "error" on Himalayan glaciers ...

AR4 WGII Chapter 10: Asia - 10.6.2 The Himalayan glaciers:
... Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005)...

Of course since the first IPCC report the world has exceeded the worst case scenarios for carbon emission; despite the first American depression since the 1930s.

So when do today's mainstream climate scientists expect those Himalayan glaciers to vanish?

I thought this would be easy to discover, even though far too much science is still behind paywalls - despite some uncelebrated but huge progress in the waning days of the Bush II.

It wasn't easy at all.

This was the best recent survey I could find, but it's abstract only [1] ...

Himalayan glaciers: The big picture is a montage PNAS Kargel et al

... The gaffe by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change helped to trigger a global political retreat from climate change negotiations, and it may prove to have been one of the more consequential scientific missteps in human history. An equally incorrect claim, on a different timescale, was that large Himalayan glaciers may be responding today to climate shifts 6,000–15,000 y ago (2). However, both mistakes (1, 2) and some solid scientific reporting on Himalayan glacier dynamics (4–10) highlight large gaps in the observational record. In PNAS, Fujita and Nuimura (11) competently reduced the knowledge gap....

I thought with the clues in the abstract I could find new disappearance predictions, perhaps for more specific regions of the Tibetan/Indian glaciers.

I couldn't -- at least not in my 20 minute time budget.

There's something wrong here. Something wrong with science, the media, us, Google, or all of the above. I'm positive there are mainstream predictions, but scientists aren't marketing them -- and the media isn't digging.

We need scientists with more spine, because nobody else has any.

[1] The abstract overstates the significance of the "gaffe". Humanity was, and is, profoundly unready to think about global climate change. We would have found another reason to defer thought.

Update 11/19/2011: After writing up notes to help my son with his 9th grade history, I realized why this particular bit of climate change is so sensitive. The Indus River is fed from the Himalayan snowpack. India is named after that river ...


Martin said...

We should think about climate change. First of all, however, we shold accept it. Climate will always change, whether we like or not, whether we believe we cause part of the climate change or not. Given our limited resources, I consider it more important to focus on adaption instead of phony and often pseudo-religious ways to maintain a stable climate that has never existed and will never exist.

JGF said...

We don't have to actually accept the inevitability of climate change to talk about how to adapt to it. They are separate discussions that can be parallel.

So even people who feel there should be no effort to change CO2 emissions can have common ground with carbon-taxers. We know we're in trouble bad; there's common ground on how to manage it.

I wrote "no effort" not because you necessarily feel that there should be no attempt to slow CO2 emissions, but because "inevitability" in the US is a code-word for "don't try to mitigate CO2 emission" which is a code-phrase for "don't tax CO2 emissions".

Martin said...

I strictly oppose any CO2 taxation since it's mainly yet another way for the financial industry to rip of the other 99% and to create another bubble. In addition, heating and/or air conditioning is essential in many parts of the world and there are many who cannot afford even higher cost of living.

I don't agree either that we're in trouble bad, at least not with regard to the earth's climate. There's too much focus on negative effects of climate change and there's too much ignorance of the advantages of a warmer climate. And I leave the indulgence trade to the church anyway.

JGF said...

Sounds like we might have common ground on adaptation strategies, which does illustrate my primary point.

So even if we disagree (strongly) on the risk/benefit ratio of CO2 driven climate change, and the futility of interventions, we could still find common ground on adaptation.