Switzerland & the Changing Face of the Alps
Updated: Aug 31, 2021
“As the most intellectually capable species on planet Earth,
how is it possible that we are destroying our only home?”
- Jane Goodall, Primatologist and Anthropologist
It took us awhile to post this. In the wake of all the climate talk that is both frightening and heartbreaking, we feel compelled to say something. As a family that spends a great deal of time in the Swiss Alps, it has become very clear that in our 14 years of residence, the face of the Alps are changing drastically. Any woke person will be able to visually observe those changes. While we do not aim to be alarmists, we do hope to share our experiences and collectively work to educate ourselves and others in the process.
On a recent trip to the Grimsel area, we elected to take our children to the Rhone Glacier for their second visit. We believe travel is part education and there is no better way to educate than by doing. We wanted them to be present for what climate researchers are predicting that “the Alps would be mostly ice free by 2100.” - swissinfo.ch
The Rhone Glacier is one of the most studied glaciers due to its easy access. Part of the experience of this remarkable glacier is the fact that for a few Swiss Francs, one can visit the glacier and walk through part of the glacial ice. As parents, we feel compelled to show our children glaciers as the predictions for their future are dim. We want our children to know these glaciers, to witness their magnitude and to hopefully remember what might sadly be a thing of the past.
As we walked along the designated path, Robert immediately stopped and gasped. I had not yet taken in the glacier, so his behavior was curious to me. “Melinda, look how much it has retreated in just four years.” Together, we were breathless.
As tourists snapped photos, posed for selfies and casually walked through the glacier oblivious to the enormity of the moment, we knew what this meant. The canvases that draped over the glacier were fruitless efforts of scientists trying to protect a rapidly melting ice formation. Our planet is warming, and our glaciers are melting, our seas are rising and extreme weather patterns are upon us.
Switzerland is blessed with roughly 1,800 glaciers, of which at least 500 have been lost due to warming trends in just over the last century. In September of 2019, protestors conducted a living funeral for the Pizol Glacier, which no longer contains enough ice to be classified as a glacier. - World Economic Forum
As glaciers disappear and retreat, the Alps become far more vulnerable to hazards that impact tourism, and those that frequent the mountains and live in close proximity. The threat of rock slides, avalanches and floods are ever present. Glaciers are part of the symbiosis of the ecosystem providing necessary water, cooling and structure for the surrounding terrain. Without them, life would simply not be the same and humans would suffer.
Our trip to the Rhone Glacier in August left us humbled. We felt pangs of sorrow, shock and anger. We emphasized to our children the importance of our visit and as the ice melted directly overhead, and pools of water accumulated near our ankles, we were keenly aware of the fact that it will not be long before that very glacier is no longer safe enough to welcome visitors. We were grateful for our visit feeling privileged to walk among history, touch millennia of life and witness glacial calving as a final departure on a history that has seen more than we could ever imagine.
What we hope for our readers, those we are honored to speak to, and as observers is to understand the magnitude of glacial retreat, which is just one element of the climate change puzzle. In Switzerland we have the opportunity to witness and pay homage to the glaciers that make up much of the landscape. We encourage you to do so. Not as tourists, but as educators, naturalists and observers.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently declared a “Code Red” for climate change, we believe this issue should be placed at the forefront of all the decisions made from this moment forward. How can we inhabit an Earth that is no longer habitable?
We do not wish to close this piece without hope. We believe there are small changes we can make on a daily basis to help this dire situation. We list some below. Please know we are not experts is this field, but we are observers. We do wish to educate ourselves and certainly stand to be educated. If you have information on this topic that you deem helpful, please do share. This should be an ongoing dialogue rooted in action. We understand the heaviness of this piece. Our two children sit in the same room as we type these words. The very children we will hand this planet over to. Our hope is to do right by them and thus we must act now.
“What we do in the next ten years will profoundly impact the next few thousand.”
- Sir David Attenborough
- Broadcaster and Naturalist
Project Timelines by Swiss Artist Fabian Oefner
With the use of drones, Swiss artist Fabian Oefner created a visual, artistic representation of Switzerland’s Rhone and Trift glaciers, which are melting at alarming rates.
Drawdown by Paul Hawken - A powerful book that provides step - by - step action to help reserve climate change.
MasterClass with Jane Goodall
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson - A grave warning about our liberal and dangerous use of chemicals pesticides, fungicide, herbicides, etc. and the negative and catastrophic implications on human and animal health. Not to mention, the deterioration of our soil health and the pollution of our water, air and land. A must read for all humans!
David Attenborough: A Life on our Planet - Netflix
This film is beautifully crafted by a legend broadcaster. From a man who has physically witnessed our changing planet with his own eyes, this is a must watch film for anyone who is concerned about the future of the Earth.
The Biggest Little Farm - A film about capitalizing on a dream and farming in a way that is natural and regenerative. One film captures the hearts of its viewers and proves there are better and healthier ways of farming than chemical agriculture and mono-farming to supply our communities with healthy, local food.
Chasing Ice Documentary Film - A beautifully tragic film that captures ice melt of a changing planet. Extraordinary film that leaves you breathless.
Almighty Tree - "Seeking to design a sustainable future and improve the social, economic and environmental well-being of our communities, Almighty Tree focuses on the enhancement of our woodland heritage, as well as the development of our forests and biodiversity in Switzerland, while raising awareness among the population and businesses by bringing them closer to nature."
*Fresh Air Kids Switzerland is an Eco Partner with Almighty Tree and is dedicated to planting trees in the autumn of 2021. To get involved in this incredible event, please contact us directly.
Summit Foundation - Their goal is simple and powerful. With the help of volunteers, they want to clean - up the Swiss Alps. The organization was established in 2001 and each year they head to the mountains to remove plastic, debris, trash and other harmful materials from the environment. If you have questions about volunteering for this fabulous organization, feel free to let us know. We had the honor of helping clean - up the Grindelwald area in the spring and it was eye - opening!
Pro Natura - Their love of the natural world and the emphasis on biodiversity, make Pro Natura the oldest organization in Switzerland that focuses on preservation. To get involved or to become a member, please visit their website.
Glacier Initiative (Gletscher Iniative): A Swiss climate group calling on Switzerland to phase out their dependence on fossil fuels by the year 2050.
*We personally support all of the organizations listed above because we believe in the work they are doing!
· Humans evolved from the natural world; therefore, it only makes sense to strengthen our relationship with nature. We cannot exist without nature and therefore, should not live out of sync with the planet. We urge all of our readers to create a deep connection to the natural world. That connection will propel us to understand how much we stand to lose if we do not take action. Spend adequate time in nature on a regular basis. Witness the magic that extends before your eyes.
· Read, watch, discuss and educate yourself. Personally, we are finished taking a silent stance on global warming. We must take physical and vocal action. We must demand more of the companies that supply our goods, the farmers who grow our food and companies that distribute it, and the governmental officials who govern on behalf of nations and their people.
· Purchase less and/or purchase used. Be intentional with your purchases.
· Start to grow a garden, however small that may be. By taking part in the growing process, you become part of a miraculous cycle.
· Consider eating a plant-based diet. If you are not able to release the consumption of meat from your diet, try to consume less meat and dairy products. For example, limit meat to one meal per day, or once a week or even once per month. When consuming meat, make sure your meat is organically raised in a humane fashion. No need to support factory farms! For an extra challenge, go vegan one meal a day.
· Limit or eradicate plastic use. We are fully aware of how difficult this may be. Companies such as Green Capim are putting forth tremendous effort in this area.
· Use public transportation when possible. Walk or bike frequently.
· Fly less. While travel is awesome and educational, it is a privilege that is detrimental to the health of the planet.
· Remember, we vote with our money. Support companies and organizations that strive to do the right thing and limit their carbon footprint. Support farmers that pay fair living wages and look for the ”Fair Trade label.”
· Plant trees and align with an organization such as Almighty Tree.
· Learn about glaciers and support scientists who study the future of our glaciers and work hard to preserve their lifespan.
· Compost food waste and drink coffee that is fresh pressed and ditch the capsules!
· Turn off lights when leaving a room.
· Write letters to those people, organizations and companies doing the right thing. Thank them for their efforts.
· Support small and local businesses.
Wash your clothes in cold water.
Support clean water use and implementation. This is essential for human health.