A global-warming coverup, quite literally

A global-warming coverup, quite literally

Bill Wineke

Here’s the latest on the global warming front:

A ski resort in Andermatt, Switzerland, is putting a reflective foil blanket over the tip of a nearby glacier to keep it from melting this summer.

Its owners say the glacier has been receding by about 16 feet per year and has sunk about 60 feet in the past 15 years. If it melts further, skiers won’t be able to reach ski runs at the beginning of the winter season.

Alpine glaciers in general are losing about 1 percent of their mass each year and will virtually disappear by the end of the century if they keep doing so at the current rate. If the climate warms, they may be gone within 50 years, researchers say.

So, the ski resorts are rising to the challenge.

“We think it will be common practice to cover parts of glaciers,” Urs Elminger, a spokesman for the cable-car company behind the glacier blanket, told Reuters news service.

Well, it’s one response to global warming. Until reading that account earlier this week, I would never have guessed we might one day see the Alps wrapped, Christo-like, in summer blankets.


But, then, I never thought my children would see the disappearance of glaciers (I doubt I’ll be around in even 50 years), either.

For years, we’ve been arguing about whether global warming even exists and, if it does, whether the actions of mankind have caused the phenomenon.

Mostly, the argument has been between political groups. There is very little disagreement among scientists; they all believe global warming is a fact. The main scientific disagreement seems to be not about the reality of global warming but about its impact.

What I hadn’t expected is that the issue would come to a head on the ski slopes of Switzerland.

As it turns out, melting glaciers are a problem in many places. The current issue of Mother Jones magazine points out that the glacier where Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa, Tenzing, started the ascent of Mount Everest is now a three-mile hike from the base camp.

Even as the politicians dither, private industry seems to have made up its mind: Global warming is a reality.

General Electric announced Monday it will double - to $1.5 billion a year - the amount it spends on research and development for cleaner technologies. Ford says it’s going to build greener cars (we’ll believe it when we see it), and now Switzerland is wrapping its glacier.

Global warming might even make the controversial plan to drill in the ANWAR wildlife preserve less controversial and less likely.

The oil exploration season on Alaska’s North Slope has decreased from 200 days a year to 100 days a year because the permafrost is melting. If the permafrost disappears from ANWAR, the land becomes less pristine and, presumably, less controversial. If, on the other hand, the exploration equipment sinks to its axles in newly warmed mud, drillers will think twice before going in.

Well, we’ll see about all that. For now, let’s just celebrate the ingenuity of the Swiss, who solve the glacier-melting problem with glacier-protecting blankets.

If the Swiss can do it, anyone can. I predict residents of low- lying islands that will be swamped by rising sea levels will soon start a campaign to arm each home with a bailing bucket.

Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal at http://www.madison.com/wsj/home/features/index.php?ntid=39784&ntpid=3 and reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.