Vijay Kumar Raina is amused. The 76-year old retired geologist who lives in Sector 17, Panchkula in Haryana has been blitzkrieged by the media, government, world scientist community and the average citizen since December 2009. Why? Because he blew the lid off the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC), headed by the charismatic R.K. Pachauri, claims that the Himalayan glaciers will be extinct by 2035.
Raina’s life has taken a complete turnaround in the last six months. Like most retirees, Raina had followed a routine: Early morning walks, discussing politics, attending to his plants and working religiously on his book devoted to ‘tracing the work done on Indian glaciers’.
He was on the receiving end of jibes from Pachauri who dismissed his claims as school-boy science. Now Pachauri has been keeping a low profile, his reputation at stake. However, neighbours call on Raina non-stop.
There is no time to work on his book. But Raina laughs off the publicity. “The last one month has been absolutely maddening. Morning to evening, I am either talking to the press or answering questions on email and I haven’t been able to even touch my book. [But] so far I am concerned, the case is closed,” he says.
What case? In its 4th Assessment Report released in 2007, the IPCC said, ‘the Himalayan glaciers were receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if it continued, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high.’ This was the same year that the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
Now it has emerged that none of it was true. IPCC, which employs top scientists in the world didn’t do its homework and made unsubstantiated, alarmist claims. The organisation is on the defensive and its credibility is diminishing by the day.
How It Unravelled
The whole chain of events started on another ordinary day in Raina’s life when he received a phone call.
Raina, along with his wife Mohini, 73, was driving to a bakery shop specialising in Kashmiri sweets in Sector 23, Chandigarh when his mobile phone rang.
“I get this call from some gentleman by the name of Dr. Subramaniam from the Ministry of Environment who says that ‘the honourable minister wants you to attend a meeting on Himalayan glaciers’. I hung up saying that I am driving and will talk to you later,” says Raina. Once back home, he called the number.
“I told him that I am a retired man and I don’t know where I come into the picture,” adds Raina. He wasn’t sure he would go. But after much coaxing by his wife and the promise of the trip being sponsored by the ministry of environment & forests (MoEF), he finally agreed.
On July 10, 2009, Raina went to the Paryavaran Bhawan, headquarters of the MoEF in Delhi. He wasn’t alone.There were around forty other scientists at the meeting. The Space Application Centre (SAC) had prepared areport on a few Himalayan glaciers based on satellite imagery which had been funded by the MoEF. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh wanted to know the view of all the scientists gathered in the room on thefindings of SAC.
“There was an open discussion where everybody was given the opportunity to air their viewsand most of the people didn’t agree with their findings,” says Raina.
The dissenting lot believes that while the Survey of India has prepared accurate maps for the rest of the country, its maps for Himalayan glaciers are incorrect. Raina recalls the time he was the director general of the glaciology division at Geological Survey of India (GSI) in the 1980s. The maps were based on aerial photography done in November because of clear skies. Now measurements are taken during September but because of monsoon clouds aerial photography is not possible.
However simple this may sound, it makes a lot of difference to the authenticity of the data collected. By November, the first snowfall has already taken place because of which it is very difficult to identify the outline of the glaciers. That’s why many glaciers outlined in the maps show much larger outlines than actually present. So, when the SAC compared the current size of glaciers using satellite imagery with the1962 maps they obviously found a lot of shrinkage.
“We told the minister that we do not agree what SAC says. At least that is our experience of the glaciers we have gone to,” adds Raina.