Last summer, I wrote an article for this magazine in which I argued that the glaciers of Kashmir presented a potential flashpoint for climate-related conflict. Pakistan depends on the disputed territory's water for nearly all of its agricultural irrigation. As the ice melted from the Himalayas, the region's rivers would alter their flow and India's nuclear-armed neighbor would come under increasing pressure to press its claims.
The crisis, I wrote, was imminent. In a 2007 report assessing the scientific consensus on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that if temperatures continued to rise at their current rates, the glaciers would be all but gone by 2035. That date turns out to be wrong. The news of the glaciers' demise has been greatly exaggerated.
The United Nations' Nobel Peace prize-winning panel is chartered with being an authoritative, neutral voice on climate change. But it plucked the date for the glaciers' disappearance from a 2005 report by the environmental advocacy group WWF, which in turn had taken the figure from a 1999 magazine article attributing the claim to an Indian glacier expert, who now denies he ever said such a thing. The scientist in charge of the section of the report where the claim appeared, Murari Lal, told London's Daily Mail that he had included the figure to "impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action."
Lal, a climatologist and director of the India-based Climate, Energy and Sustainable Development Analysis Centre, says he was misquoted. "We entirely trusted the findings reported in the WWF 2005 Report and the underlying references as scientifically sound and relevant," he told me in an email. But his decision has had an impact, if not the one the Daily Mail alleges he was looking for. Foreign Policy wasn't the only place the badly sourced date was published. It was widely cited in the press and in policy documents. I also used it in my book Forecast: The Surprising -- and Immediate -- Consequences of Climate Change. Nonetheless, it's a good bet that the claim about the glaciers has generated more column inches in the past few weeks than in the 10 years since it first appeared.
The bungling has been seized upon by opponents of action on climate change as an example of bias among those studying the warming of the Earth. They have a point. The controversy follows a scandal over hacked emails that showed climate researchers adopting a bunker mentality and perhaps even conspiring to delete material related to a Freedom of Information Act request. Rajendra K. Pachauri, the outspoken head of the IPCC, has also come under attack for taking consultancy fees, which he funnels to his environmental nonprofit.