MUNICH — In many places in the northern Alps, the winter sports season is already over before Easter. Some view the mild winter as a kind of foretaste of climate change, but experts warn against reading too much into any single year’s weather.
“What was extreme is that the weather this winter on the whole northern half of the globe lasted as long as it did,” says Peter Höppe, head of geo-risk research at Munich Re, one of the world’s major reinsurers. “But the whole pattern of this winter, with the extreme cold temperatures in North America and the warmer temperatures and storms in Europe, is not an indication of climate change.”
A new UN climate report five years in the making offers a sobering glimpse of what is to come, especially if nations don’t act to mitigate greenhouse gases. In the opinion of many researchers, climate change doesn’t just mean milder weather but mainly more extreme conditions such as storms, floods and droughts. “The problem with climate change is that things happen that haven’t happened before, so they lie outside our realm of experience,” says Frank Paul of the University of Zurich’s Geographic Institute.
In the Alps, average temperatures will rise by a few degrees by 2100. Just how much depends on the model used to make the calculations, and to what extent protective measures are taken. In any case, the manifestations are expected to be green pastures instead of ski slopes, rain instead of snow, along with falling rock and disappearing glaciers.
A Swiss “CH2014” impact report aimed at predicting what can be expected from climate change shows the result of a simulation with 50 glaciers: Their ice masses will have virtually disappeared by the end of the century. Many other Alpine regions are also expected to be glacier-free by that time.
Switzerland would thus lose its position as Europe’s water reservoir. “There are major dependencies that we don’t see,” says Paul. Glacier water fills water reservoirs that function as buffers for the European electricity network. “If that buffer capacity is lost, power outages become more likely.”
As glaciers are now melting, new lakes are being created. These could well add up to 500 in Switzerland alone by the end of the century.
Thousands of kilometers towards the east, people in the Himalayas are confronted with the same problem, only there far bigger glaciers are melting and threatening to flood whole villages.
But there are also threatening situations in the Alps. At the Grindelwald glacier, a lake filled up a few years ago, requiring the government to spend millions to reduce water levels. And extremely hot weather conditions in the summer of 2003 increased the incidence of falling rock and landslides.
On the Matterhorn, at an altitude of at 3,400 meters, falling rock required mountain climbers to be brought to safety by helicopter. Even if many researchers don’t see the summer of 2003 as a foretaste of climate change, it still left an impression of the impact climate change could eventually have.
Among the dangers: Ice that holds rocks together melts. In the permafrost — the permanently frozen ground — temperatures rise. Ski lift installations built on what was ice-hard ground start to slide, and tears rip through construction. There is ever greater danger of falling rock, pastures start slipping and sliding, and so on.
What had been attractive climbing sites could become off-limits, and tourism could be negatively impacted.
The silver lining
But Switzerland’s “CH2014” impact report reaches the conclusion that climate change would have more than just an adverse impact on tourism. If no far-reaching climate protection measures are taken, by 2085 in Switzerland the number of summer days when the temperature reaches 25°C will double.
“This development could turn out to be a window of opportunity for the tourism and leisure markets,” the report says. And indeed environmental protectionists have for a long time been recommending that resorts focus on developing summer tourism instead of buying equipment like new snow cannons.
Less frost also means longer vegetation periods, and so could also possibly offer opportunities to the farming community.
Compared with other areas of the world, the rich countries of the Alpine region could come off relatively well despite climate change. Says Peter Höppe of Munich Re, “I don’t see any catastrophes befalling the Alps.”
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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