With 40 fewer days of snow cover than 60 years ago, the alpine regions of Austria are not only losing the very element on which its leviathan winter sports sector relies upon, but also the use of melted snow that impacts river flow, hydroelectric capabilities, and the ability of farmers to harvest precipitation to water livestock and crops.
There is some trade off from the effects of Climate Change on levels of rain and snowfall, and in particular rising temperatures that accelerate glacial shrinkage that filters into alpine tributaries. Whilst this may offset an actual loss in rainfall for non-winter sports purposes, glaciers are of course finite and aside from anomalies found within Slovenia’s Julian and Italian Maritime Alps, when they are gone, they are gone. Other than somewhat perverse short-term ‘benefits’ of glacial melt water mitigating a reduction of natural rainfall and snow, the loss of so-called permanent ice fields is as much as an environmental tragedy as it is a scandal.
Despite a demonstrably measured sharp reduction of snow cover and the water it produces, many ski areas in Austria and throughout much of the Alps continue to intensify its application, being net consumers of a resource taken for granted but increasingly used inappropriately. An over-reliance on winter’s golden goose sees water reservoired in unsightly man-made storage ponds that are now as synonymous with mountain resorts as the cableways which cut a swathe through the landscape. In attempts to preserve a depleted resource for dubious purposes such as artificial snow making, this in turn denies more responsible uses of water and tacitly states that the winter sports sector has primacy over just about all other aspects of local, and economic life.
It is obvious to me that as snow cover has significantly diminished most noticeably at altitudes below 1,500 metres , that diversification away from winter sports must be accelerated in these areas. There can be no justification for water being stored up all year round, in plain sight, for winter-use only as farmers watch on helplessly during summer heat and occasional drought conditions. How municipalities intend to variegate their respective tourist offerings should not be at the expense of aesthetic sensibilities by way of constructing regional versions of generic ‘freizeit parks’, but just saying no to everything without offering more sustainable alternatives that harmonize with their surroundings is not a solution in itself.
There are few greater examples of Climate Change than in areas where a certain type of meteorological outcome dictates prosperity. As inexorable shifts in weather patterns amount to both increased volatility and paucity, relying on the climate to sustain certain economic activities is simply no longer viable. Instead of being allowed to desperately seek alternative ways to replicate natural conditions, a process itself that uses appalling amounts of water and energy, it is now time to put an end to such practices and listen to what the climate, and science, are saying.