Stockholm (NordSIP) – As the nights draw in and the temperature finally drops to something closer to normal autumnal levels, one might start looking forward to all that winter has to offer to cheer us up. While here in Laundromat country that probably just means darker days and noticeably colder rain, many residents of the wealthier European countries will begin looking forward to a winter sports holiday. Unfortunately, I am afraid that this week skiing is very much being taken to the Laundromat.
Today 19 October 2023 saw the launch of a petition aimed at the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) President Johan Eliasch. It was triggered by the sight of large excavators demolishing glacier ice near Zermatt, Switzerland, with the aim of transporting it down the mountain to prepare the slopes for the Alpine Skiing World Cup event scheduled to start on 8 November. This despite the fact that the Theodul glacier in question, along with other Swiss glaciers, has lost half of its volume since 1931. At that rate most Alpine glaciers will disappear by the end of this century, a situation that seriously threatens Europe’s water supply. The Theodul glacier was also in the news this summer, when melting ice revealed the body of a climber that had been missing since 1986.
Roughly a month before the unfortunate mountaineer’s body was discovered, 500 professional winter sportspeople co-signed an open letter to FIS President Eliasch and the FIS Council members calling for the organisation to help protect the future of the global winter sports industry by committing to net-zero targets, implementing an emissions reduction strategy and improving transparency on sustainability matters. Among the athletes’ main concerns are the length of the competitive season, as well as the scheduling that requires multiple instances of intercontinental air travel on the part of athletes and organisers. Zermatt is not even the first event of the season. The Sölden Giant Slalom event in Austria begins as early as 28 October. The current weather in Sölden at time of writing is 12 degrees Celsius, which is far from wintery.
The awful sight of diggers destroying a threatened glacier to build a competitive ski slope this early in the season is a sign that Mr Eliasch might not have read the open letter too closely. The FIS is adamant that it is climate positive, mainly thanks to its FIS Rainforest Initiative. Interestingly, the avoided deforestation projects on which the claim relies are provided by Cool Earth, an organisation founded and co-chaired by Johan Eliasch himself. It has been strongly criticised for providing little or no information on the size of the protected forest areas, the level of deforestation threats that they face, and the amounts invested by the FIS.
This ongoing story is yet another sign that the climate crisis and sustainability concerns are affecting every aspect of modern life. A lack of skiing may well be a “first world problem” but it remains an enormous industry upon which many towns and regions rely economically. Various environmental NGOs have joined ranks with the 500 winter athletes, and there is a tit-for-tat battle brewing between the FIS and Greenpeace. It seems the winter sports governing body is fighting tooth and nail to protect the status quo, just as the fossil fuel industry is doing, albeit on a larger scale. The FIS needs to face up to reality. It can start by calling off the diggers, and then get to work on genuine climate mitigation measures before we all end up fighting over the last small patch of snow.