Personal experience of climate change

Blog Action Day 2009Today is Blog Action Day 2009, and the subject for this year is climate change.

I’ve learned a lot about climate change in recent years, but nothing brings home an academic lesson like a little personal experience. I got that when I visited Chamonix at the beginning of August. I particularly enjoy the view from Brevent, on the opposite side of the valley to Mont Blanc itself. From there, on a clear day, you can enjoy an unsurpassed view of Mont Blanc and its surroundings. The panoramic restaurant at Planpraz does some very good desserts. While you sit there soaking up sunshine and calories, you get the best view possible of the Glacier des Bossons, straight across the valley from you.

I have been to Chamonix many times, summer and winter, since about 20 years ago. That’s not a long time really, I’m not exactly old! Nonetheless, as I looked across the valley in August, I realised I could see for myself that the glacier des Bossons has retreated a lot in that time.

Glaciers around the world have been retreating for a long time, I know, and have even caused the border between Switzerland and Italy to change. I don’t know why I was so surprised to realise that I could see it for myself. Here are two photos to prove it, both taken by me, from Brevent. On the left is a view from July 1993, on the right, August 2009. The views aren’t taken from exactly the same place, but you can see common features in them.

In the 2009 photo, you can see the bottom half of the glacier is almost separated from the top part by a clearly visible band of rock, running across the top of the picture. You can see that there is a thick shelf of ice, above the rock, that breaks away as it crosses the line of rock. In the 1993 photo, that band of rock is nowhere visible. Then, the ice was thick enough to cover the rock completely. That gives a fair idea of how much the glacier has melted since I have been visiting Chamonix. I can only imagine how Fernand Pareau feels about it, he’s been watching the glaciers retreat for much longer than I have. In Fernands own words:

Même les glaciers ne veulent plus nous voir, ils reculent!

Even the glaciers don’t want to know us, they back away!

Glacier des Bossons seen from Brevent, Chamonix, July 1993

Glacier des Bossons seen from Brevent, Chamonix, July 1993

Glacier des Bossons seen from Brevent, Chamonix, August 2009

Glacier des Bossons seen from Brevent, Chamonix, August 2009


Glaciers are important for many people. Switzerland depends on its glaciers for drinking water and hydro-electric power (which supplies half of their electricity). With predictions that these glaciers may be gone by 2050, if not sooner, that’s not a good situation to be in. Elsewhere in the world, the story is very similar. The glaciers of the Himalayas may well disappear on the same timescale, which could seriously affect the lives of up to 750 million people who depend on them.

Nor do you have to appeal to something as dramatic as running out of water to suffer the effects of climate change. Insurance companies now factor climate change into their calulations, and you can guess who ends up paying the bill for that! Climate change could melt a hole in your pocket just as easily as it melts the glaciers.

With climate change having the potential to harm so many people, in rich and poor countries alike, it’s not surprising that more and more people want something done about it. From individuals doing what they can to big businesses calling for strong policies from world leaders, people are calling for action at all levels of society. Even most world governments realise change is needed, but without a concerted effort from all of them, tackling climate change will be that much harder.

The UNFCC conference in Copenhagen, in December, is our chance to get some common sense from our politicians. World leaders will have the opportunity there to negotiate a truly historic treaty to tackle climate change. There is no excuse for them to fail. From the viewpoints of economy, national security, food security, and health, as well as for reasons like saving polar bears and rainforests, it makes sense to stop the damage we are doing to our climate.

And yes, it is possible to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but the longer we delay, the harder it will be. Personally, I’ve seen enough of climate change, and would like not to see any more. The 350 organisation has called for people to take part in public activities on October 24th to demonstrate their support for a strong climate treaty. Why not take a look and see if there’s something near you that you can go to, add yourself to the numbers, and see if we can’t encourage our leaders to stay cool-headed in Copenhagen. Otherwise, we’ll all be in hot water eventually.

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