From The Melting
Slopes Of Everest
By Cahal Milmo &
06 July 2007
years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men
to scale Everest, their sons have said the mountain is now so ravaged
by climate change that they would no longer recognise it.
On the eve of the Live Earth
concerts this weekend, Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing yesterday issued
a timely warning that global warming is rapidly changing the face of
the world's highest mountain and threatening the survival of billions
of people who rely on its glaciers for drinking water.
The base camp where Sir Edmund
and Norgay began their ascent is 40 metres lower than it was in 1953.
The glacier on which it stands, and those around it, are melting at
such a rate that scientists believe the mountain, whose Nepalese name,
Qomolangma, means Mother of the World, could be barren rock by 2050.
Up to 40,000 Sherpas who
live at the base of the Himalayas face devastation if vast new lakes
formed by the melted ice burst and send a torrent of millions of tons
of water down the slopes.
Mr Hillary, who has himself
twice reached Everest's summit, said: "Climate change is happening.
This is a fact. Base camp used to sit at 5,320 metres. This year it
was at 5,280 metres because the ice is melting from the top and side.
Base camp is sinking each year. For Sherpas living on Mount Everest
this is something they can see every day but they can't do anything
about it on their own."
The warning came as a survey
revealed that most Britons remain unconvinced about the extent of climate
change and that terrorism, crime, graffiti and even dog mess are more
pressing issues for the UK. The Ipsos-Mori poll found that 56 per cent
of people believe scientists are still debating whether human activity
is contributing to climate change. In reality, there is virtual consensus
that it is.
Just over half of people,
51 per cent, believe climate change will have little or no effect and
more than one-third admitted they were taking no action to reduce their
Speaking before the seven
Live Earth concerts, which organisers hope will be a catalyst for action
on global warming, Jamling Tenzing, who has also climbed Everest, said
the mountain was serving as an early warning of the extent to which
it is already changing the planet.
The glacier where Sir Edmund
and Norgay pitched their base camp before eventually reaching the summit
at 29,000ft on 29 May 1953 has retreated three miles in the past 20
years. Scientists believe that all glaciers in the Himalayas, which
are between half a mile and more than three miles in length, will be
reduced to small patches of ice within 50 years if trends continue.
Mr Tenzing said: "The
glaciers have receded a great deal since my father's time. There are
many things he wouldn't recognise today. The glacier on which base camp
sits has melted to such a degree that it is now at a lower altitude.
I think the whole face of the mountains is changing."
The glacial retreat presents
a double peril for those who live in the Himalayas and the populations
of India and China, where the water flowing from the mountains accounts
for 40 per cent of the world's fresh water.
The rapid increase in the
rate of glaciers melting - from 42 metres a year in the 40 years to
2001 to 74 metres a year in 2006 - has resulted in the formation of
huge lakes in the space of a few years.
A United Nations study of
the 9,000 glacial lakes in the Himalayas found that more than 200 are
at risk of "outburst floods", unleashing thousands of cubic
metres of water per second into an area where 40,000 people live. In
1985, Lake Dig Tsho in the Everest region released 10 million cubic
metres of water in three hours. It caused a 10-metre-high wall of water
which swept away a power station, bridges, farmland, houses, livestock
and people up to 55 miles downstream. Scientists estimate that the most
dangerous lakes today are up to 20 times bigger. One of those, Imja
Tsho, did not exist 50 years ago and lies directly above the homes of
The worst-case scenario according
to Nepalese scientists is a cascade effect whereby one overflowing lake
empties into another, starting a chain reaction which would kill thousands
and wipe out agriculture for generations.
Peter Hillary said: "I've
seen the result of glacial lakes bursting their banks and it's just
catastrophic. It's like an atomic bomb has gone off. Everywhere is rubble.
The floods of the past are unfortunately nothing compared with the size
of what we are currently threatened with."
In the longer term, scientists
believe the depletion of the glaciers will drastically reduce the flow
of water into the nine major rivers fed by the Himalayan glaciers.
Defra recruits critic of
An outspoken critic of President
George Bush's approach to combating global warming has been appointed
to advise the British Government on climate change.
Bob Watson was voted out
of his job chairing the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC) five years ago after incurring the wrath of
the Bush administration. He will take over as chief scientific adviser
at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
in September. The appointment was approved by Gordon Brown.
His recruitment, a week after
Mr Brown took over as Prime Minister, will be seen as further evidence
the Government is trying to distance itself from Mr Bush. Last week,
he caused consternation at the White House when he appointed Sir Mark
Malloch Brown, a strong critic of US foreign policy, as minister for
Africa, Asia and the United Nations.
Dr Watson, a British-born
expert on atmospheric pollution, advised former US President Bill Clinton
on the environment and worked at the World Bank before becoming the
IPCC's chairman. The US began manoeuvring to remove him shortly after
President Bush's inauguration in 2001. A year later, he was replaced
by Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian scientist.
Environmental groups uncovered
a memo from the US oil corporation ExxonMobil, a major contributor to
Mr Bush's election campaign, asking the White House to unseat Dr Watson
because he had an "aggressive agenda". At the time, Dr Watson
acknowledged the US government's intervention was an "important
factor" in the campaign to oust him.
A Defra spokeswoman said:
"He was the unanimous choice out of all the candidates."
© 2007 Independent News
and Media Limited
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