Sheikh Yamani once said that the stone age didn’t end for lack of stone and if a new book by Jean-Marc Jancovici, consulting engineer and specialist in energy consumption is correct the ski age will end long before snow runs out. Interviewed by Stéphène Jourdain for the Dauphine Libere Mr Jancovici’s book is called “Le Plein s’il vous plaît!” (fill her up, please - ISBN: 978-2757803011).
Asked about the recent OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) prediction that Europe’s top 670 ski resorts would be reduced to 400 by 2050 Mr Jancovici said that “tourism will suffer long before that, not from a lack of snow but from a general contraction in purchasing power linked to the cost of oil”. What about global warming? “Researchers have demonstrated that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels will increase ground temperatures by 4-5 degrees. However there are still two open questions. The speed of warming and its level and the consequence on local climate. The warming of a couple of degrees last century has not been seen in the last million years. Even during the end of the ice-age 20,000 years ago the warming of 5 degrees was over 5 to 10 thousand years. Before that Grenoble and Annecy were under glaciers and Lyon was like Siberia”.
So what is the future for mid mountain ski resort? “Energy problems will begin to be felt by 2015-20. Half of our economy depends on oil and France imports 90%. The current bill is 4% of GDP. If the price of oil increases as predicted it will represent more like 40% of GDP - imagine the recession. The Alps will see the price of agricultural commodities rising, plant species will change following a modification in rainfall patterns. People will leave the region due to the summer heat. Its hydro-power will be a valuable resource but its not clear whether it will be an advantage given that there will be less snow, more water in the winter and less in the spring.”
Jancovici says he is sceptical about predictions for snow cover for 50 years ahead stating that there will still be enough snow for those rich enough to continue skiing. “The energy consumption of a snow canon is a lot less than that used to transport skiers to resorts or to heat apartments perched at 1500-2000 meters. As far was water consumption is concerned, it is not a major factor. A hydroelectric dam uses much more water. However focussing on the amount of snow tomorrow rather than on how consumers will pay for winter holidays is a red herring”, he warns.