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Two-thirds of Hindu Kush-Himalaya ice sheet may disappear in 80 years, says IPCC (theguardian.com)
115 points by elorant 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments

The IPCC has historically released "worst case scenarios" that line up with the worst case that all of the people in the room can agree with. Because of this, "worst case" often ends up being "likely outcome" while worst case is exponentially worse.

We've been seeing events happen more and more with quotes from scientists saying "This wasn't expected to happen for another 50 years" [according to the IPCC reports].

Additionally, the IPCC notoriously makes their predictions algorithmically based purely on existing observations and doesn't take feedback loops into account. Those feedback loops are nearly guaranteed, but since they haven't been triggered yet, the extent of the feedback is hard to predict and thus is ignored.

It's because of these things that I tend to think that the IPCC reports are milquetoast. Even though they shock the public, they're actually doing a disservice by making people think they have more time than they actually have.

Plus, even if it was correct, most people will see this headline and think that we have 80 years to fix the problem and not realize that the bulk of the melting will take place before the 80 years is up.

My non-scientific rule-of-thumb with IPCC reports is to take the time and divide it by 10 as the lower boundary and by 5 as the upper boundary. This is to take into account the "1 in a 1000 year events" that seem to occur every few years now.

I personally expect the Kush-Himalaya ice sheet melt to be complete between 8 and 16 years from now because of a drastic and "unforeseen" weather event that accelerates it one year, like a stalled heat "blob" that camps over it for a season or a season of above-freezing rain that carves up the ice and carries it as melt-water downriver.

"Additionally, the IPCC notoriously makes their predictions algorithmically based purely on existing observations and doesn't take feedback loops into account."

This is not even close to true. The UAH and RSS global temperature sets have shown rock solid rates of change of around ~.13C/decade for 40 years. Yet the IPCC predicts much higher rates of change in the near future (the only possible way to get to >+2C/century).

You can't just wave your hands and say the IPCC hasn't considered all the possible outcomes better than you. What you're doing is FUD, what they're doing is science.

Well, how many humans live at the altitude measured by UAH and RSS?

Sort of. Modeling and predictions are just part of science. The IPCC never throws out bad models, they just average all the models together.

It's nothing like that awful. Like I couldn't just come up with a model tomorrow and have it approved and averaged - there are absolutely standards to be met. And the IPCC reports go into great detail on the differences in the models and why they predict different outcomes.

A model is a hypothesis. It doesn't matter how much work goes into an incorrect hypothesis. If it doesn't align with reality, then it must be thrown out. The scientific method demands this. But the IPCC continues to use an average of dozens of models.

Can you point out which models which have been shown to be provably false are still being averaged? I think the answer is far more complicated than you're making it.

Here is a good read on IPCC conservatism http://climateextremes.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Wha...

The sea level chart on page 31 is quite interesting.

When I was in university and had access to scientific papers, I would often read papers on AGW. I remember reading several times that IPCC models were conservative and the msot bullish models in their assessment reports hadn't predicted the rate at which the north pole is melting.

Currently the Arctic is sitting at about 2007 levels: https://neptune.gsfc.nasa.gov/csb/index.php?section=234

Comparing two random years is one way to look at it. Another is to look at the trend: https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/arctic-sea-ice/

All the trends start in the 70s, which was the coldest decade of the 20th century. That doesn't say much at all.

Doesn't seem to be that way according to the global temperature tab one click away.


https://youtu.be/8455KEDitpU you should watch this

Does that account for thickness? I could be wrong but I thought that was also a factor in ice extent: some previously permanent ice melted and came back thinner.

Also, 2007 had a much smaller extent than the recent average. Only 2012 was worse.

Looks like it's below the 2007 curve for the most part. It also seems like the 10 year averages seem to have a clearer trend than yearly averages.

For countries like the United States, sea level rise is basically a real estate problem. Either shoreline communities will need expensive infrastructure improvements to rise faster than the water or will have to abandon the lowest lying areas and retreat.

If you want to experience a New Orleans Mardi Gras, you have only a few decades left, but there are plenty of other places in the U.S. where Louisianans could find a home.

The biggest brunt of climate change will be borne by low-lying countries. Most of Bangladesh is at elevations in danger of flooding in the next century. Where will those 164 million people flee? Will the refugees be accepted or will there be walls and wars?

I generally agree with this, but one with addition/clarification: it's likely that climate change is driving the extreme conditions that the United States, and the world, are seeing far from the coast, such as historic flooding in the midwest and historic fires in the west.

It's also quite possible that the rate at which such extreme weather events are getting worse is increasing.

Sea level rise is brutal, and will cause enormous impacts to many millions of people. Weather weirding stands a good chance of bringing epic damage to many millions more.

>> For countries like the United States, sea level rise is basically a real estate problem

Barack Obama doesn't seem to be worried about sea level rise: https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/190822-barack-...

Neither is Al Gore: https://moodyeyeview.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/montecito-h...

Leo DiCaprio isn't too worried either: https://mansionglobal.com/articles/leonardo-dicaprio-buys-ma...

So yeah, if it's a real estate problem, these guys might have a problem. As to the rest of us, I think we'll start worrying as soon as these canaries in the coal mines, so to speak, start unloading their beachfront mansions for pennies on the dollar.

> will there be walls

Bangladesh is very much already surrounded by a literal wall. They will not be accepted in India, as India has consistently made clear.

The ports of New Orleans and South Louisiana will be preserved whatever the cost, it’s the surrounding parishes outside the floodgates that are toast

Perhaps the rise in cost of real estate will persuade the Bangladeshis to have fewer children? The effect can happen within one generation.

Is there any example of an IPCC prediction that actually turned out to be accurate?

Honestly curious because when I look at insurance market it's clear nobody is taking threats to sea level remotely seriously so that's one group that ignores IPCC

> when I look at insurance market it's clear nobody is taking threats to sea level remotely seriously

The typical insurance contract is max a few years till payments can be adjusted to the new risk landscape.

For home insurance sure. Not for major investments though

The IPCC’s fourth assessment report in 2007 contained the erroneous prediction that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. This statement turned out to have been based on anecdote rather than scientific evidence and, perhaps out of embarrassment, the third pole has been given less attention in subsequent IPCC reports

Trust me, I'm with the IPCC

Yeah, from reading the linked New Scientist article that sounds like an almighty cock-up. One scientist speculated in a media interview that all of the glaciers in certain parts of the Himalayas could disappear by 2035, and this somehow not only made it into the IPCC's report but got blown up into a claim that all of the glaciers in the Himalayas were very likely to disappear by 2035. Then the chairman of the IPCC accused the Indian government of practicing "voodoo science" for questioning this.

Haha wow!

For anybody curious about context on this, and the IPCC's response: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jan/20/ipcc-him...

> In a statement (pdf), the IPCC said the paragraph "refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly."

> It added: "The IPCC regrets the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance." But the statement calls for no action beyond stating a need for absolute adherence to IPCC quality control processes. "We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance," the statement said.

I'm wondering if there are any estimates/simulations on which countries or geographical regions would be the least impacted (or perhaps even benefit) from global warming.

It's very defeatist, but maybe it would make sense to consider emigration before everyone else does so.

Surviving rising water levels is trivial of course - just walk away from the beach.

But its not about the weather changes per se; its about the global human conflict when food gets scarce and hungry people have guns. You have to survive that first.

Food production will also suffer. And some areas will become uninhabitable. It could be a significant percentage of land mass eventually.

I assume that it has a lot to do with the availability of fresh water and temperatures that stay within a range that is still suitable to crop farming. That part should be feasible to predict. I agree however that the resulting global conflict will be impossible to predict.

> Surviving rising water levels is trivial of course - just walk away from the beach.

I don’t want to take away from your other point but this is not so trivial for the hundreds of millions living in low lying countries like Bangladesh.

Right. Walk away from the beach: to inland places that are likely being impacted by increasingly extreme weather events.

So maybe Americans are not so crazy for having so many guns? /s

No sarcasm needed. What do you think will happen when fresh water resources get tight?

What India is doing with the NRC in Assam is probably proactively violating international treaties on refugees, etc

Euphemism for 'war machines'. I expect bombs will keep most of humanity from ever feeling hunger.

That seems unlikely given the economics of warfare, only a small subset has the resources to actually fund a long drawn out war.

In the other extreme I guess a all out nuclear strike on population centres in China and India might have a chance to kill a slight majority of humanity, but I wouldn't bet on it. Conventional weapons offer no real effect here I think.

Here're some decent maps:





- Canada, Russia, and Northeast Africa (Egypt/Libya) actually see positive impacts. For Canada and Russia global warming could be a huge boon, opening up large areas of uninhabitable permafrost to settlement and bringing in trade through arctic ocean sea routes.

- The US does pretty well, but with large regional variations. The Pacific Northwest and Northeast become more desirable, with fewer rainy days. NorCal does okay but faces increased forest fires. The Southwest (LA/Vegas/Phoenix) faces water shortages. The Southeast becomes a miserable place to live.

- Europe (particularly Southern Europe) is in trouble. Crop yields and rainfall drop in the South; the North is vulnerable to changes in the gulf stream.

- Africa, India, Australia, and island nations get fucked.

So basically, the worst effects fall on the global poor, while major geopolitical powers see mostly neutral (U.S, China) or positive (Russia) effects. Within those neutral countries, the benefits fall largely on rich heavily-populated areas, while the downsides fall on marginalized rural poor. No wonder we haven't seen much movement on fixing climate change.

Canada is a big surprise winner that could catapult it to geopolitical prominence. Right now it's the U.S's friendly northern neighbor; in 2100 it could rival the U.S. in power.

Here's a map. It's wildly optimistic and simplistic. It doesn't illustrate the regions rendered uninhabitable by radioactive fallout. It also doesn't illustrate the massive, apocalyptic global conflict that preceded it. I wouldn't wait too long, because we've already seen a global trend towards making immigration more difficult.

In short, head for high ground far from the equator. Maybe look for places with reasonably strong militaries as well.


I'm in an underdeveloped country already, I'd pay for such a solution and then for the visa at the destination country.

I fear I'll be beaten to the punch and my unborn kids will have to figure it out for themselves, though.

Wonder how much the sea level will rise because of this.

Bad time to have bought beachfront property that’s for sure.

30-year mortgages are still being underwritten for beachfront properties.


What elevation is it at? If he plans to sell it within 10 or 20 years it will probably not yet be worthless.


Yeah, I live 220 feet above sea level and wonder if I need to start looking for a new place to live.

There's no fucking way sea level rises above 200 feet. Worst case scenarios are about seven to 10 feet.

If the Greenland ice sheet melted, it would raise sea levels by 23 feet. If the greenland, himalayss, and antarctic ice sheets all melted it would raise sea levels by 216 feet. That seems crazy, but every week there is a new story about how astonished scientists are at how fast the ice is melting. The earth has been ice free in the past, without human help. Presumably it will be ice free again in the future, perhaps the near future.

The 200 number is projected in the span of millennia. For the foreseeable future the number is far more conservative.

I hope you're right. My gut feeling though is that the sea level is going to rise much much more rapidly than we might believe is possible. I have a feeling that Florida and most coastal communities will be abandoned in my lifetime.

With 200 feet sea rise all coastal cities around the world would disappear. I live in Greece and my house is just 84 feet above sea level. With a 200 feet rise two thirds of Athens would submerge. All islands will go under. At least half the population here lives in cities near the sea. Sure, there's a lot of land to move inland but the cost to do so would be substantial. I don't even want to think about it.

I hate to be that guy, but the himilayas aren't a pole. There can be only two

Calling Everest the "third pole" dates back about 100 years to the golden age of exploration in the early 20th Century.

The North and South Poles received their first visits from humans in the early 1900's, and the hardest remaining spot to reach on Earth--the summit of Everest--was colloquially named "the third pole" since the challenges to reaching it were in some ways similar to reaching the geographic poles. See for example:

> The attempted ascent was – notwithstanding other aims – an expression of the pioneering thinking that was common in the British Empire. As the British were unsuccessful as the first to reach the North and South Poles they tried to go to the so-called "third pole" – to "conquer" Mount Everest.


The term has today been adapted for discussions of climate change because of the commonality of ice. It's a poor fit IMO since the impacts of melting ice at the North Pole, South Pole, and Himalayas are all significantly different from one another: the North Pole primarily impacts wildlife and navigation, the South Pole global sea level rise, and the Himalayas fresh water availability in South Asia.

Yeah I was also wondering whats happening here. The article states that the region stores ~15% of the earth's water in ice, so it has similar consequences as the poles melting, but its completely distinct from magnetic poles

Or rotational poles

Hate to be that guy but metaphors and allusions are okay?

Also it would be nice if The Guardian could state that this is an article about the Himalaya somewhere in the title or the abstract.

It's used as a metaphor to signify the vast quantities of ice deposited on the Himalayas.

"may" in the title, so it really means "will not".

Yeah, and the author may actually acquire some common sense in 80 years, but probably will not.

If this happens, it will trigger a humanitarian crisis of almost unbelievable proportions. I likely won't be around to see it, but my three year old might. Forgive the rhetorical question, but what if she has children??

What a horribly sad thought for 6am on a Monday morning.

It's almost like by having fewer children, we might ameliorate the problem!

Taken in the macro, reproduction is an important part of policy. And you’re 100% correct - we have more than enough humans.

But when I look at the micro, at the amazing little person who is still asleep in her bed, it’s hard not to look at a subject emotionally.

Its far from clear even in the macro setting. Without changes in mortality rate this will lead to a shift in the age distribution of the population -- that can have consequences for the economy.

If humanity is struggling to stay alive is the economy even relevant anymore?

The economy fuels technological advance, and technological advance is the only thing that can fix the problem. (It may not, but it's the only thing that can. Social engineering will not.)

This is a widely held misconception. Humans tend to expand into every niche and use up all available resources. Tragedy of the commons is an almost certainty without some kind of government intervention (social engineering). So we're projected to just keep using more and more and more energy, regardless of where it comes from, or how cheap/renewable it becomes:



On top of that, even if the US and Europe get their acts together, the rest of the world is going to keep speeding faster and faster to catch up to our standard of living and waste at least as much energy as we do.

As it stands today, there is no solution. We're looking at ecological collapse in all areas when approaching human lifetime timescales.

I think that a solution (if there is one) will come from the current gen x generation (too poor), baby boomer generation (too greedy) and greatest generation (too much in denial) dying out and being replaced by younger, hungrier people who can change their minds and adapt when new information is presented.

In other words, the answer probably isn't technology, it's education and movements. We quit using leaded gasoline and CFC refrigerants, so maybe we can quit using coal and single-use plastic, for example. Then it will come time to quit using the heavy hitting stuff like non-recycled automobiles/housing and factory farmed food. But nobody will do that unless the cost is comparable for similar substitutes.

Which is why I think we'll all fail together and accept mundanity in a world where 90+% of species are extinct and all habitable land is under private ownership for exploitation. Basically global authoritarianism under late-stage capitalism.

Quitting leaded gasoline had much to do with the lead fouling up catalytic converters. People do not buy converters that go bust in few days --in otherwords, bad for business. That said catalytic converters came into the picture because of rising pollution , so prrhaps there is hope, not entirely sure.

We aren't planning to control global population. We aren't anywhere near the changes required to make a difference to climate change. The powers that be are still promoting mass migration in order to increase the size of the global economy and further enrich themselves. The global system still is still founded on the idea of never-ending, compounded GDP growth.

Solution? Either some of the aforementioned changes, else Geoengineering, else a drastic unplanned attentuation in global population.

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