Why Dr Pachuri should not resign

There has been a great deal of over reaction to a few small errors or mistakes in climate change science. The latest error relates to Himalayan glaciers and has caused journalists to ask whether in the light of these few errors the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should be radically restructured and whether Dr Rajendra Pachuri, who chairs the panel and who first promulgated the concept of sustainability should resign.

I find these suggestions amusing; they are made by journalists who are hardly faultless themselves and who, unlike scientists, refuse to admit errors. These sensitive souls, the journalists, are the largest class of litigators in libel actions in the United Kingdom.

The journalists are complaining that the IPCC misled us all by positing that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. Note the word “could”. In fact the prophecy was that the likelihood of these glaciers melting by 2035 was “high”.

This suggestion was first made in late 2007 and was corrected early in 2010, as soon as the error became known.

On any understanding of climate science it is a small error. It does not detract from the scientific certainty that virtually all glaciers in the world are melting, some more quickly than others, and that those in the Himalayas are melting too. The statement was a prediction and every IPCC statement has emphasised how difficult it is to make predictions about climate change. However it is the kind of “sexy” statements that journalists like, because they sell newspapers and advertising time on television.

We expect high standards from scientists in scientific matters and usually there are very high standards. The system of peer review and analysis of scientific findings tends to make science robust but it does not make it perfect.

The fact that Himalayan glaciers are unlikely to melt by 2035 does not mean that the glaciers are not melting and that their melting is giving rise to local climatic and environmental difficulties.

In Pakistan 60% of the grain harvest depends on the Indus River. The Indus River depends on melting Himalayan glaciers. The glaciers thankfully will not melt by 2035, but perhaps a few hundred years later. That hardly fills me with joy.  Melting of glaciers has disrupted the water flow into the Indus. The water tables below the North China Plain and the Punjab are sinking. In Peru there glaciers are melting rapidly.

The record of climate scientists is imperfect. There are inevitably going to be errors and mistakes, but these tend to be few and far between and do not affect the conclusions that they have reached about anthropogenic climate change. There has been no loss of credibility. Most of their facts are real facts and most of their conclusions are sound.

In contrast, when you read in newspapers that the planet is not warming or that the arctic ice is not melting or that a fifty parts or a hundred parts extra per million of carbon dioxide is too tiny to influence the planet’s climate, or similar claims and you understand that these claims would collapse in the face of the simplest scrutiny (to which they are never subjected) you will know that the “news” about the melting glaciers is much ado about nothing.

The position on climate change is exactly the opposite of much ado about nothing. There is ado about something.

One Response

  1. nice work. thanks

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