Is Switzerland Safe From Climate Change?

I have just returned from a two day visit to Zürich to discuss the making of a film focused around the 6 Degrees Centigrade predicted rise of temperature that Switzerland is facing by the end of this century. As Professor Reto Knutti at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science ETH Zürich pointed out, 6C is the upper estimate of predicted temperature rise but with emissions still rising from burning coal, oil and gas worldwide, we are most certainly on the the upper estimate trajectory. This upper limit also does not account for positive feedback loops that could amplify the warming further.

 


 

cPESETA Temperature projections for Europe

 

Predicted Temperature Rise For Europe By End Of Century (Source: The Prudence Project)

How does this affect the Swiss? It’s a question my Zürich friend, Edwin Moser has been concerned about for sometime. Swiss people do not seem too worried about the impacts of climate change. Is this because there is a sense of immunity? Perhaps there is a good case for why Swiss people might not fear climate change as much as those living in Miami, Bangladesh, or Africa, for example. Switzerland sits up high, out of the way of sea-level rise. It has a good history of sitting just out of the reach of conflict with a disciplined approach to external turmoil. Add to that the untold vaults of wealth adding to the confidence of the Swiss that they will survive, whilst others struggle.


If one was to do a climate risk analysis for Switzerland, one might start by looking at the country’s location. What is happening to the glaciers that are the heritage of this alpine nation state? It’s a simple question because when ice heats it melts and turns to water. One big issue for the Swiss is that all the white surface area of snow will be replaced by a dark surface area of land and the loss of reflectivity will cause the heating to increase more than in other countries (the global business as usual mean temperature rise is estimated at 4 degrees centigrade by the IPCC). Six degrees is extreme and should be of a concern to all Swiss as it means a very different future.


One thing is for certain, the winter ski season will no longer exist as there will be very little, or no snow. Even today, hotels that once stood on the edge of the glaciers are now a long way from the snows edge. The glaciers are in decline. I used to Ski outside Zürich with my school as a child on trips from England. We always associated the Swiss with their alpine culture and envied the kids from here, who were literally born onto the slopes. Even in conversations with Swiss friends in later years, it seems obvious that being able to ski and enjoy these wonderful natural beauty spots was a great source of pride and natural identity for the Swiss. But now we have to ask ourselves, for how long?


Of course skiing is an activity that doesn’t itself spell catastrophe for the nation, however, the loss of a whole industry and source of tourism will be felt. Professor Knutti did make the point that the climate models show a greatly increased likelihood of rain. Being a Brit, I can honestly say that extended periods of rain can cause a different kind of obsession with the weather… “anything but rain” syndrome is the best description!


UK Floods in 2014 from ongoing rainUK Floods in 2014 From Exceptional Rain


Perhaps one of the biggest problems to effect Switzerland is the one that is a common concern around the world: climate refugees. The outlook for Europe, and especially southern Europe is extremely dire for the next 20+ years. With temperatures set to rise right across the continent much of the southern areas will become unlivable. As history has proven, when one place becomes unlivable, people up and move. Switzerland is perfectly placed as an attractive haven for people seeking safety and when they turn up in their hundreds of thousands or millions, it would take every citizen to enlist as a border patrol officer to fend them off.


The truth is that there is no immunity to climate change and when a country is landlocked in the heart of a changing continent, any hardship beyond the borders will quickly spread within the borders. As a combination of sea-level rise and temperature rise cause a global collapse of agriculture, it is clear that the current system of food production will no longer function.


These are all issues that face us all in coming decades. Any “end of century” predictions are not scheduled just for then. The steepening ramp up to these conditions has already began. This is worrying because climate impacts are not meant to have started yet. We are currently faced with severe global food shortages within the next few years due to drought impacts all around the world. People are having to think about moving. All the other factors such as the collapse of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are just the nails in the coffin.


These are bleak scenarios and they are very real. Many scientists are now not prepared to talk about “solutions” to climate change. It is certain that we have some or all of these effects in the pipeline. How severe they become is down to all of us. If we respond to this crisis now and with an iron determination then we can become resilient and put in place measures that will guarantee our food supplies, our energy needs, shelter and transport.


When we talk about these issues in a national or global context, we tend to think that our governments only have the power to make the changes. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The power to act must always come from the people and therefore the people must become “active”. There is a great deal of stigmatism around the word “activism” because it tends to imply some sort of conflict, or it conjures images of clashes with authority. However, when the need is so great that we decide we must take action, then that moment of decision is the moment when one become's an activist. Activism can start with simply thinking and assessing the risks for yourself. It can be as little as having a discussion with others about what they think and feel about it. In other cases it can be looking to join a bigger discussion online or in your city.


Ex-NASA Head Scientist Dr James Hansen & Author / Climate Scientist, Dr Michael Mann Discuss Activism


This brings me back to my visit to Zürich last week. I was very pleased to tag along with Edwin Moser as he met with his colleague Oliver to plan the Climate manifestation scheduled for this Saturday in Zürich. This meeting of concerned people about taking action on climate is in solidarity with the climate march being held in New York on Sunday and with others such as the one I am attending in London. Later that day we visited a bar in central Zürich to meet with Nicola Marcacci Rossi and his small gathering who meet every week to just discuss climate issues (Here is the meet-up web site). It was an intimate but very nice setting with a good cross-section of people concerned enough to come out and just talk. This is a form of “activism”that we can all partake in and is peaceful, insightful and intellectual. Learning something, no matter how great or small is just as valuable as knowing that other people are concerned too.


Edwin Moser Promoting The Climate Meeting Scheduled For September 20th In Zurich (www.fossil-free.ch)


The next day I caught up again with Yadolah Dodge to discuss our filming project around this 6 Degrees subject. It seemed quite strange to be sat in such a gentle relaxed city talking about a film being made to highlight a danger that is coming up on us fast whilst the sun shone and people strode the streets near the Opera House and alongside the lake.


I was pleased to meet up with Zürich based climate scientist, Dr Thomas Phillips. Thomas I met with Edwin originally in Istanbul at the Climate Reality Conference held by Al Gore in June 2013. It was whilst the police were attacking protesters with tear gas that we found ourselves at the front of the crowd looking for a bar to discuss the Greenland Ice Sheet when all hell broke loose! Thomas’ work is varied but  he has an enormous knowledge of the risk of glacier melt that is worth listening to. I am looking forward to interviewing him on film about this very soon!


After a good chat with Thomas we both walked along the the lake side to Edwin’s weekly barbeque event where about twenty people had met, mostly all unknown to each other, to discuss climate and environmental issues. The event is called “Grilling Without Killing” and with wine flowing, it really was a good fun few hours, meeting people and chatting about all kinds of issues, hearing peoples personal anxieties and queries that weighed on their minds. Again, it is this sharing of personal experience and emotion that creates psychological resilience to the struggles that we know are just around the corner.


Through these meetings I really felt that I saw a different side of Swiss people. The normal feeling of “we’re safe” and neutrality was put to the side like a familiar mask and the unfamiliar feelings of anxiety mixed with desire to make a change. The Swiss media probably isn’t that good at talking about critical issues like climate change. It’s the same in Britain. This means we have to find our own ways of discussing and then demonstrating how we feel. In Switzerland there is a real opportunity to demonstrate that the people are serious about climate change and to call on the government and financial institutions to start investing in what is needed to make the big changes towards a better future for each citizen and succeeding generations.... and also, wouldn’t it be nice if something magic happened that meant we could go on skiing? Never lose hope, but don’t be afraid; act!


Reference Links:


20th/9th/14 Zurich - https://www.facebook.com/events/1551135041787304/


New organisation in switzerland: http://fossil-free.ch/de/


Zurich Climate Meet-up - http://www.zurichclimatechange.ch/2014/09/16/protocol-of-16-09-2014-meetup/



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