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Maddie Mareno


AP Language

13 December 2017

Climate Change in Switzerland

Alpine glaciers covered with reflective sheets, artificial snow blasting from machines,

and frequently occurring rockslides -- where is this all coming from? The reality of climate

change has been accepted by most. Temperatures across Switzerland have increased an average

of 1°C between 1864 and 2010. And while this rise may appear slight or insignificant,

temperatures are predicted to grow an equal or greater amount by the end of the 21st century

(“Climate Change: Environmental”). These small increases will bear considerable consequences.

Climate change will damage the Swiss economy, specifically in the tourist sector, and combating

the difficulties and changes that result from it will prove costly.

Switzerland’s snowy mountains, and the skiing lodges that they are home to, are a staple

of the country’s identity. Tourism previously accounted for 2.8% of Switzerland’s GDP in 2009

and provided 4.1% of its jobs in the same year (“Tourism”). The industry is clearly crucial to the

Swiss economy; skiing, the leading draw for travel in Switzerland, brings in 30 billion Swiss

francs annually (Rathi). Rising temperatures threaten the historically snow-covered Swiss land.

The Climate Change Post has documented that since 1970, the duration of snow cover in

Switzerland has decreased by 8.9 days on average, per decade. Snowfall is beginning later and

ending earlier (“Climate Change Switzerland”). For a country that depends on a snow-covered

ground in order to provide income, this is problematic. Less snow days promises more days with

vacant resorts and lifts. Fortunately the Alpine region in Switzerland will face fewer problems
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with the reliability of snow than most. Due to their higher altitudes, the mountains in Switzerland

maintain colder conditions than those in neighboring countries and, therefore, have a better

likelihood of receiving snow (“Tourism”). This presents a potential short run benefit to warming

temperatures, but, in the long run, the probability of natural snow is decreasing. Machines that

produce artificial snow have already been tested in Switzerland and have proven effective--but

their effectiveness come with a price. Access to an affordable, abundant water source is required

and the machines are only valuable if temperatures are near or below freezing (Rathi). With

temperatures guaranteed to continue rising, Switzerland cannot rely on artificial snow as a long

term fix.

Climate change will not only affect the skiing industry above ground, it will also affect it

below the surface. Switzerland has a historically well-established layer of permafrost. The

framework of chairlifts and cable cars were originally anchored in the frozen, solid ground

(Foulkes). The rising temperatures cause the permafrost to thaw, jeopardizing the stability of

infrastructures (“Permafrost”). A book outlining the process of securely Building in Permafrost

was released by the Avalanche Institute. Marcia Phillips, an analyst of the temperatures of

permafrost at the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, acknowledged the

possibility of building safely in permafrost but warned about how extremely costly it can be.

Phillips predicted that many resorts will need to be reconstructed or will be abandoned (Foulkes).

What this equates to is a punch in the stomach for the Swiss ski resorts and economy. Skiing

tourists desire safe conditions, forcing resort destinations to shape up or ship out.

The melting permafrost can also lead to other problems. Trees in Switzerland grow root

systems that rely heavily on permafrost for stability; with the ground’s thawing the poorly
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developed root systems become unsteady and cause rock slides. But there is an even larger scale,

more dangerous side to climate change. Swiss researcher, Phillips, has observed the temperatures

within the rocks of mountains increase for the last 10-20 years (Foulkes). This is terribly

problematic because Foulkes explains that the rock that forms the Swiss Alps is “cracked and

fractured between layers of rock- between the layers of rock there are layers of permafrost.” The

rising temperatures cause the ice in these cracks to melt, which is a troublesome as the ice helps

secure and sustain the rock on the Swiss mountains. The ancient permafrost is in danger, and

Phillips, understanding this, commented “it is cracked and unstable up there.” With two thirds of

Switzerland being mountainous, the danger of avalanches and landslides is tremendous

(Foulkes). In preparation for the recent landslide that took place in late August, Bondo, a Swiss

village, constructed a concrete barrier at the foot of the affected mountain. Rocks came crashing

down on a town that took surprise to just how big this landslide was. Scientists now understand

that events of the same magnitude are forthcoming because high altitude mountain regions are

simply warmer than they once were. Massive rocks tumbling down mountains endanger possible

tourists but also homes, businesses, and lives. Concrete barriers can be built for defense,

however, their effectiveness is limited and, again, costs money.

Another component affected by global warming is perhaps the most widely recognized:

the glaciers. Since 1973 the Swiss glaciers have roughly decreased by a third in magnitude

(Misicka). The results of multiple Swiss research groups concluded that “around 90 percent of

Swiss glaciers will disappear by the end of the century.” And by 2035, (18 years in the future) a

minimum of half of present glacier ice in Switzerland will have vanished (“Climate Change:

Environmental”). The melting glaciers threaten the villages that lie beneath them, because an

excess of water is created and, along with that, the possibility of flooding. Many lakes are
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predicted to form by glacier specialist, Wilfried Haeberli. Grindelwald, a Swiss village, has

already experienced the consequences of the thawing glaciers and constructed a drainage tunnel

to control their newly found lake’s water level. Haeberli is advising that more vulnerable villages

begin considering the installation of retention structures (Misicka). Switzerland is known for and

takes pride in its glaciers--which serve as another major tourist attraction. The Swiss landscape

may appear empty in their absence. Fortunately, measures have been taken to attempt to preserve

the glaciers. As mentioned previously, artificial snow has its expenses, but it was tested and

proven effective in protecting a glacier from the sunlight. The test costed $100,000 for one,

single glacier. Another method of saving the glaciers is coating them in reflective material,

however it is recognized as too costly for a mass execution (Rathi). The glaciers are thawing and

if Switzerland wants to postpone their destruction, they will have to pay big time.

The adjusting climate will impair the economy of Switzerland outside of the tourist sector

as well. Regions of Switzerland are growing “warmer and drier” than before. This change in

climate prompts troublesome effects to the developing resources that inhabit the area. After

conducting a study, Swiss scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and

Landscape Research consider the Norway spruce, silver fir and European beech trees to be

particularly threatened by a warmer climate. These trees hold extreme economic value to

Switzerland’s forestry business. Following their study with the three trees, the scientists drew the

solution that seeds from these could be harvested and planted at higher altitudes to protect future

generations from warm climates. They also advise the relocation of current trees, and this, of

course, costs money (“Swiss Forests”).

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Although “Switzerland itself is only responsible for 0.14 percent of global CO2

emissions,” they suffer the consequences of other world powers’ emissions. These emissions are

believed to be the main cause of greenhouse effect. The Swiss government has already launched

a campaign to battle additional development of global warming. They provide companies with

incentives to reduce their emissions by reimbursing taxes if a certain low-emission goal is met.

Switzerland also committed to cut emissions in half by 2030 through joining the Paris

Agreement (“Climate Change: Environmental”). Unless other countries promise to scale down

on their emissions as well, the unfortunate truth is that Switzerland will be greatly harmed

regardless of its own efforts. Global warming isn't something that one country can fix itself. A

global attempt needs to occur or consequences promise to ensue.

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Works Cited

“Climate Change: Environmental and Political Effects in Switzerland.” American Swiss


“Climate Change in Switzerland.”

Foulkes, Imogen. “Switzerland Landslide: Are the Alps Melting?” BBC News, BBC, 25 Aug.


Misicka, Susan. “Shifting Landscape: Lakes Replace Glaciers.” SWI,,

7 Dec. 2014.

“Permafrost in Switzerland.”

Rathi, Akshat. “Switzerland Wants to Save a Glacier from Global Warming by Literally

Throwing Cold Water on It.” Quartz, 1 May 2017.

“Swiss Forests Must Adapt to Cope with Climate Change.” SWI,, 10

Aug. 2017.

“Tourism in Switzerland.”