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Glacier melting and climate change - the Alps losing face

Categories: Articles:Environment, BLOG | Published: 09/11/2018 | Views: 700

This time, in our blog, our friend, Wolfgang, from Switzerland's Justice and Peace Commission tells of his fears for the Alps as climate change takes hold in Switzerland. 

Switzerland is proud of its glaciers. With their enormous ice masses, they shape the Alps. The Alps without glaciers are hardly imaginable. In Grindelwald there is even a campsite called "Gletscherdorf" (glacier village).

 But one cannot see a glacier from Gletscherdorf anymore - because the ice masses are melting so rapidly.

In the last 40 years, glacier surfaces have shrunk by about a third. If you, like me, like to go into the mountains and take high-alpine tours, the changes are obvious.

It is sad to see that of the formerly almost inexhaustible ice masses that nature has produced, sometimes only a small miserable remnant is left. Where a few years ago there was ice, today the bare rock lies in front of you. Visitors to the Rhonegletscher (Rhone glacier) in the back-most Valais almost have to search for the glacier, so far has it retreated.

The Konkordiahütte, an alpine hut belonging to the Swiss Alpine Club, not far from the world-famous Jungfraujoch, can only be reached from the glacier surface via a ladder about 150 meters long.

The glaciers are melting. That is clear.

Scientists tell us that these are the effects of climate change. As a result, there will be no more glaciers in the Alps towards the end of this century. In addition to the loss of a unique mountain landscape of rock and ice, this creates further problems. When the permafrost thaws in the heights, the rock loosens and increasingly, rock-falls are to be expected. On August 23, 2017, the Piz Cengalo (3369 m above sea level) suffered the biggest landslide in Graubünden. Part of the village of Bondo was destroyed and eight people lost their lives.

Climate change literally sets the mountains in motion. And all this is happening faster than we could have imagined just a few years ago.

The glaciers as water reservoirs will then no longer exist. In dry summers in particular, glacier water is likely to be lacking. In Switzerland, that means not only a problem for the production of electricity from hydroelectric power stations, but also for agriculture. Operators of hydroelectric power plants and agriculturists already have had to adapt to these rapid changes. Switzerland's river and lake landscapes, as well as the fauna/wildlife they contain, are also likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Everything starts to move with the melting of the glaciers. Cold and warm periods have alternated in the history of the earth. But never before has this change taken place so quickly as it has today. Scientists agree that the main reason for this is the rapid increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere caused by the combustion of coal, gas, petrol, kerosene and crude oil.

We must act so that our children too can still experience the Alps characterised by the enormous masses of ice. In Paris, the states promised to limit global warming to 1.5°C. However, the implementation of important measures to this end has been hesitant. In "Laudato sì" Pope Francis pointed out to us that melting glaciers, rising sea levels and hurricanes affect the poor the most. Climate change is thus also becoming a question of global justice.

Wolfgang Bürgstein
Secretary General Justitia et Pax Switzerland

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