Sunday, August 10, 2008

Grindelwald - Climate Change.

Back from holidays in Switzerland, where we attempted to see - and touch - the upper Grindelwald glacier (Oberer Gletscher, in German). A sad disappointment, since most of it appears to have melted and crumbled-away. 20 years ago, we mused, we actually sat on it - a risky proposition given its present precarious nature, even if you could actually get to it after climbing 890 wooden stairs up the side of the mountain! Global warming is blamed but a more precise term is climate change, meaning that the dynamics of the Earth heat-engine have been tuned such that different amounts of heat are supplied to particular regions of the Earth, rather than the contentious overall increase in heat to the globe per se.

The Unterer Gletscher (Lower Glacier; its glacial twin) is no more impressive, even after braving a good high-alpine hike to see what is left of it. Part of the problem here is rock-fall from the eastern flank of the Eiger mountain, which disgorged some few million tonnes of detritus a year ago, taking part of the glacier with it. Glacial-melt is however culpable for the intrusion of water into the rock, whose layers are prised apart by the expansion caused when it freezes. There are more cracks in this mountain symbol (and last resting place of 40 climbers) of Switzerland and hence speculations as to its integrity - rather like UBS!

Climate change appears indisputable, and there is certainly less snow in the high Alpine regions, meaning that to preserve the ski-tourism industry, "snow-cannons" are an implicit feature of the Piste and so forth, which fire water into the cold atmosphere, causing it to cool and freeze, and precipitate as synthetic snow, in the lack of its regular natural counterpart.

I also noted that the plane over to Zurich from London City Airport (one financial centre to another!) was loaded with 3,200 litres of fuel, to take around 60 of us passengers a distance of around 1,000 kilometers. The plane all-told weighed just over 40 tonnes (no longer owned by Swiss-Air but Lufthansa). In their laudable and canny style, the Swiss have instructed their pilots to conserve fuel by raising the wing-flaps earlier than they did, thus reducing air-resistance. They also pressurized the cabin less (so my ears told me) which also cuts back the amount of fuel used. The captain has to make this calculation at the start of the flight, in tallying his fuel requirement for the journey.

I'm not entirely sure of my carbon-footprint for the rest of the year, although there are putative trips to Slovakia and to Armenia, obviously in good causes, which I hope will be overall beneficial to the environment, in the final round. Good too to see that a barrel of oil is down to $115 but I still reckon $150 by the end of the year, especially as the winter augers-in more heating-oil to be used, particularly in the U.S., and in Italy who use as much oil to make electricity as we do in the U.K. from nuclear, as a proportion of national total.

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