Novel coronavirus necessitated us all to pause and take in what was around us in plain sight all along. Many won’t have liked what they saw as the ‘look at’ me generation co-opted Covid-19 for their Narcissistic ends; others will have been astounded by nature in their gardens and neighbourhoods, while some set off for local beauty spots and trashed them.
History will tell what has been learnt about human behaviour during the pandemic, a scenario not witnessed for centuries but which has highlighted much of what is to be applauded in society, but where its antithesis of selfishness and moral decay continues to grow in a society whose roots in materialism, superficiality, and being impressed with moral degradation are now firmly established.
It is though with the same eyes that have marvelled at nature and landscapes which had not been hiding prior to Covid-19 that has also cast covetous glances of how man can exploit the world around us for personal gain. Indeed, one wonders if the awakening to what is around us will be one of the most significant but ultimately costly consequences of the global health crisis.
There is therefore a prospect of a battle royal between two divided schools of thought: those who already had nature protection at heart will inevitably have their ranks bolstered by new adherents but equally, the individuals and corporations who make it their business to develop coastlines and mountainscapes will be emboldened to justify their respective stances in the name of kick starting shrinking economies.
I believe the initial outpouring of emotion towards protecting the natural world and seeking a simpler existence will eventually peter out, and in all likelihood has already begun to do so. The allure of returning to one’s own motor vehicle is too much for many to resist and understandably so, considering the skewed importance placed upon owning a car and being seen to do so. Perhaps the cruellest irony is the nature that drew a deep breath of relief during our enforced absence is once more having to scuttle for cover from our inelegant and disrespectful stampede into its backyard.
Prior to the world in effect shutting down into a new normality, a decision had already been made by those pushing to connect the Austrian Pitztal and Oetztal valleys to retreat into the shadows, predicated on a damning report on the likely impact on many facets of the environment during and as a consequence of construction. Notwithstanding the dubious concept from a financial perspective of a scheme slated to cost €120 million that relies on a glacier as its ultimate selling point, it seemed as if the project’s backers took perverse satisfaction from the prospect of taking away the innocence of what is perhaps the Tirol’s final high alpine world frontier.
Scaling back the development would in theory make greater sense than sinking such an amount of money into a project which could be without its glacial centrepiece in 30-50 years’ time. I believe though that an initially less ambitious plan would merely serve as a stalking horse to subsequent, more expansive development, with a precedent and principal for development in those circumstances being firmly established. It is therefore a straight shootout between all or nothing, with the former for the time being seemingly off the table but the latter being unthinkable to many Pitztal residents, who already view the valley as being one that has missed the boat from being able to harness its environment for corporate benefit.
It is undeniable that over recent years and even decades the Pitztal will have viewed events in neighbouring valleys and those throughout the Tirol and Salzburgerland with envious eyes. When the likes of the Glemmtal, Kitzbuehel, and the Arlberg clicks its fingers amid quotes of huge investment figures and job creation numbers they are seen from the outside to get what they want, almost without exception, to the detriment of visual amenity and some but notable material deterioration of the landscape. The sight of pylons and cableways have become so synonymous with many alpine backdrops that in their egregiousness they are now viewed as part and parcel as the landscape itself. This warped sense of symbiosis has unpinned what at times seemed to be unchecked conspicuous development, when in reality the pockmarking of mountain sides with lift and winter sports infrastructure is counter intuitive to attracting paying guests to the Alps for its remoteness and pleasing disconnect with the outside world.
Forming a connection between the Oetz and Pitz valleys means far more to the latter, with its fellow traveller really coming along for the ride in an attempt to justify that enough money is always a few dollars more. With the Pitztal’s future prosperity apparently at stake and a tangible reason needed to prevent its citizens leaving the area in search of meaningful employment, the desire for another cableway and the unlocking of further pistes represents on the Soelden side of the mountain just another cherry on an already heavily-laden cake. The motivation of one valley is justified in the sense that everyone else has come to the party to which their invite never arrived, but that the other can only be predicated on greed and not knowing where to stop – even when the landscape has little left to yield to the schemes of man.
The need to reboot an economy all but decimated by Covid-19 will dominate the thoughts of many politicians and developers. As several sectors fall by the wayside or take longer to recover than others a need to re-balance the economy will be promoted and will inevitably give hope to those who were otherwise stymied by planning legislation, lending credence to what was previously given short shrift.
Could the remote, spectacular, but sparsely populated Pitztal receive a Covid-19 ‘bounce’ or will the manifold reasons behind the tens of thousands of objectors to its proposed link with the Oetztal remain at the forefront of local and regional consciousness? Getting what one wants on the strength of the sins of the past cannot be justified, but that is little consolation to those in the Pitztal who will rightly argue that everyone else has benefited from the winter sports gold rush, and why shouldn’t they.
There has though to be an end to development in the Alps, that will otherwise be inevitably pushed to higher altitudes as lower areas go beyond their developmental capacity, and with Climate Change becoming a major player in the area’s economic future. By though seeking to break ground which has hitherto lain untouched by human intervention propels prospectors into the realms of and reliance on retreating glaciers. Whilst the environmental arguments against the project are unchanging and sufficient to hole the plan below the water line, it beggars belief that such an amount can be spent on a project that could become unfeasible and without its primary natural selling point before any meaningful financial return has been garnered.
The Pitztal can and should focus on the remoteness of its valley, and similar to the Vental and Jamtal revel in, not chide against its comparative lack of tourist infrastructure and sophistication. This holistic approach can stimulate modest and sympathetic development but will never serve as a template for those seeking the instant, get-rich-quick route to inner and material prosperity at the expense of their natural surroundings, whom working with will in the end result in working against.
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