OCGC Seminar - Mountains of the World: Sustainable Development?


Dr. Jack Ives
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies,
Carleton University  

Thursday, April 6th 
11:30 a.m.

Harrison Hall 
Geological Survey of Canada
601 Booth Street  



My presentation will outline some of the major challenges that had to be faced and required field research in many mountain countries, and sometimes tense political struggles. It was necessary to contest the claims of the World Bank, FAO, UNDP, UNEP. For example, in the late-1970s the World Bank declared that, at the current rate of Himalayan deforestation, by AD 2000 no accessible forest would remain due to uncontrolled population growth and irresponsible tree-felling by “ignorant” mountain farmers. The result would be catastrophic landslides, siltation and flooding across the Ganges plain. Our research proved this alarm insupportable and extremely damaging. A second example centres on Lake Sarez in the High Pamir. The lake had been dammed by an earthquake-induced giant landslide in 1911. By 1990 it contained more water than half that of Lake Geneva. Breach of the landslide dam was projected to be imminent, threatening the lives of countless people all the way to the Aral Sea. This was challenged following an expedition in 1999. A third example relates to climate change. Not only would all the glaciers of the Himalaya melt within a few years, but the great rivers which they feed would become seasonable streams. Thus hundreds of millions downstream would starve due to crop failure. Related to this is the current alarm that glacier melt would be accompanied by massive glacial lake outburst floods, also causing incalculable numbers of deaths. Some of the greatest threats facing the mountain world is the grossly exaggerated alarms declared by authoritative individuals and institutions, further enlarged by the press. Related is the assumption that mountain minority people are environmentally ignorant – perhaps the greatest hazard of all. Our team effort was complete by 2002 with the UN declaration of the International Year of Mountains. I was honoured to represent the Rector of UNU to give one of the keynote addresses at UN headquarters. The opportunity that Jim Harrison provided evolved into the greatest adventure and opportunity of my life. I deeply regretted that his accident in 1990 deprived me of the chance to thank him personally. My talk is illustrated with Hasselblad colour slides of both the mountains where we worked and the mountain people who so enthusiastically welcomed us and helped us to some of our research results.



Jack Ives received his B.A honours first class, Geography, U of Nottingham, 1953; Ph D. McGill U., Geography (geomorphology) 1956; (married Pauline Angela H. Cordingley, 11 September 1954 and emigrated to Canada [Montreal] same month). Director, McGill Subarctic Research Lab., Schefferville, and Assist. Prof., Dept of Geography, McGill U., 1957-1960; Assist. Director and Director, Geographical Branch, Energy, Mines and Resources, Canada, 1960-67. Director, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, U of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA, 1967-1979 and Full Professor, Geography, 1967-1989. Professor of Mountain Geoecology (Chair of Dept of Geography [1989- 1993] and Prof. Division of Environmental Studies, U of Calif., Davis, [1993-1997]). Chair, International Working Group, UNESCO MAB Programme, Project 6 – 1973-1975. Research Coordinator, United Nations University – Project on Mountain Ecology and Sustainable Development, 1978-2000 (involved fieldwork in Himalaya, N. Thailand, Tibet, Tajikistan, Ecuadorian Andes. Chair, Intntl. Geogr. Union, Commission on Mountain Geoecology, 1972-1980 and 1988-1996); present position – Senior Advisor on Mountain Ecology and Sustainable Development. Official delegate to Rio de Janeiro 1992 Earth Summit (UNCED).