Sunday, January 31, 2010

IPCC Goofs, Himalayan Glaciers Get a 300 Year Reprieve

By Dave Rochlin - originally posted on

Like many, I am deeply, deeply concerned about the impending impact of climate change, a Sword of Damocles that hangs over hundreds of millions of people and thousands of species. But sometimes backing the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is a little like being a supporter of the Chicago Cubs or the Chudley Cannons. Nobel prize or not, the IPCC seems to be their own worst enemy, and determined to test our resolve.

For those of you who are not familiar with the IPCC , it is "the leading body for the assessment of climate change, established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences."

After a series of stolen emails (aka 'climategate') revealed an immaturity more suited to a prepubescent facebook crowd than a team of the world's smartest climate scientists, the IPCC has now revealed that the Himalayan glaciers will in fact not be dissapearing by 2035, as they reported in the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change, and what they really meant to say was that they may be gone by 2350 (whoops!). What's worse, the transposed number was reportedly sourced from a 1999 article in New Scientist, rather than peer reviewed research.

There is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that this is really of little consequence. And mistakes do happen, even for groups of hundreds of scientists working collaboratively. But this still pretty scary: The Himalayas hold the planet's largest body of ice outside the polar caps -- this is no small ice shelf we're talking about. And the world's governments are relying on the IPCC findings to justify putting in place major changes that will affect virtually every aspect of the world's economy.

Historically, I would characterize climate science as an obscure field, populated by wonks and number jockeys who would prefer to quietly build computer models, leaving some ex-jock weatherman to get all the credit on television. Basically the Peter Parker's of the science world. But like Parker with his accidental Spiderman powers, they have suddenly been thrown into the limelight -- unwilling superheroes. As Parker's Uncle Ben said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Climate change is no longer an academic exercise, and it's time for the IPCC to start doing better.

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