What changes in the landscape have experienced mountaineers seen over the years? We asked Rab Carrington to think back and pen his thoughts for this year's Show The Love campaign.
I have been spending the long winter nights this year sorting through my climbing slides from the Seventies, looking through the past to secure it for the future. It is a reflective task and I can’t help but think about the changes I have seen in my years in mountaineering. I gaze on images of the South Face of Yerupaja and wonder if it is still a climbable snow and ice face or if it is now reduced to a chossy rock face. After making the first ascent of the North Face of the Gletscherhorn with Al Rouse, we then had the unenviable slog down the Aletsch Glacier – at the time the longest glacier in Europe. How much shorter1 would our walk have been nowadays?
As an older mountaineer, I have witnessed clear signs of changes in the climate; weather comes and goes but winters are not what they once were. Though born in 1947, I cannot recall the hard winter that occurred 70 years ago, though images easily spring to mind of 20-foot snow drifts and cut-off houses across the UK. In Chamonix, in the 70s, the Mer de Glace flowed serenely down to Montenvers and access to the glacier was easy. I recall in the early 80s Al Rouse skiing down Guest Road in Sheffield and endless weeks of perfect ice climbing conditions in Wales. I apologise for letting nostalgia get the better of me, but it is obvious to any older mountaineer that we are living in an age of global warming and the landscape is changing.
The cold, hard facts
Now I don’t want to confuse my anecdotes with evidence, but I am not the only one to have noticed changes in the mountains. We readily note in the Alps the widening Bergschrunds and the bare rock where once it was ice. Spending time in Snowdonia or the Cairngorms, you get accustomed to rapidly changing weather. And with the evidence of glaciers all around you it is not hard to imagine a time when the climate in Britain was very different to how it is today. It is easy to imagine that all this change is natural, but the consensus is that the changes we are experiencing are faster and more severe than natural processes alone can explain.
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Last month, NASA announced that 2016 was the warmest year on record2 and the ten warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2000. I am sorry to be putting this in front of you once again, but the facts bear repeating. Firstly, the evidence shows that global temperatures have risen3 markedly in recent years. The result of this warming can readily be seen in the Alps where ice melt has caused massive rockfall on the Petit Dru. Secondly, there is evidence that concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have increased over the same time period, from 280ppm to 400ppm a rise of 40%. Finally, the climate science which shows that the observed temperature rises are being driven by our greenhouse gas emissions, over and above other factors4. Further to this, many signatures of a green house gas driven warming are observed, including higher night time temperatures, warming of the atmosphere from the ‘bottom up’ and observably reduced infrared radiation escaping our atmosphere.
In the face of such news it’s easy to feel daunted, like you are being asked to act alone and that no progress is being made. But the truth is that good progress is being made and action is being taken all around the world.
Energy: it all adds up
Over the last decade, our domestic usage of energy has been falling steadily and is down 19% since 20025. This has come about due to more efficiency in the running of our electrical appliances, better insulated homes and modern heating systems. For example, take the simple matter of lighting your house, using energy saving bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs can reduce the energy usage by 75% or as they used to say in my youth; “Mony a mickle maks a muckle6.” Without individuals making these small changes, we would not have seen the reductions in energy use that there have been in recent years.
Electricity production is largely dependent on the burning of fossil fuels and hence a great contributor to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, we should be heartened by the increase in electric energy from renewable. In 2011, 8% of our electrical energy came from renewable, growing to 22% by 20157. This progress is partly driven by the increasing competitiveness of wind and solar power compared to fossil fuel alternatives but it also requires a level of political support.
Show The Love
The BMC first became involved in the Climate Coalition in 2015. Show The Love, organised by the Climate Coalition, is an annual celebration of all that we love but could lose to climate change. It is part of an ongoing effort to protect the people, places and life we love from climate change by encouraging world leaders and the UK Government to shift to clean and secure energy within a generation.
Unfortunately for walkers and climbers who value their freedom and getting to remote corners of the country, the next paragraph doesn’t make easy reading: exhaust fumes from our cars are a big contributor to the green house gases in our atmosphere. I’m afraid I couldn’t recommend that you do things which I am not prepared to do myself. I will still be seeking out those remote climbing areas we all love, however, from now on, I will keep a closer eye on the mpg on the display panel. Also, I will be thinking more carefully about sharing transport when I go climbing. Maybe, in this risk adverse world, it is an opportunity to return to that old skill of hitch-hiking. A final thought on this matter; “Is there a car share app for climbers?”
So, in a nut shell, my New Year resolutions for 2017 and onwards are three fold:
Make my house as Energy Efficient as possible.
Embrace Renewable Energy sources even though it may change our landscape.
Make my travelling as efficient as possible.
These are small things that we as individuals can do. It is up to the politicians to ensure that industries are supported so that they can develop the technologies which will bring about non-fossil fuel cars, carbon capture, improved batteries and grid systems and all the other things which we haven’t yet thought of.
 The Aletsch Glacier has retreated 3km in the last 140 years and this is accelerating.
 NASA & NOAA data goes back to 1880; other data suggests that the Earth hasn’t been this warm for 115,000 years
 In the last 150 years average global temperature has risen by 1deg C. This is half way to the 2 deg increase where climate changes will be dangerous
 “Many little things add up to a lot.”
 Sustainable Energy; without hot air by David JC MacKay. This is a must read book on the topic. His early death is a sad loss to all who value this civilisation. Also available FOC at www.withouthotair.com
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