Switzerland, getting warmer

At the end of the 21st century, with the world having continued along its current path, Switzerland is some five degrees warmer than today. Telling us what a warmer future holds in store are a city-dweller, a vegetable farmer, a building contractor and an old- age pensioner. By Roland Fischer, illustration by Brunner&Meyer

(From "Horizons" no. 108 March 2016)​​​

Stories from the future

How will people live 20, 50 or 100 years from now, when Switzerland is warmer? When we ask experts to peer into a distant future, they hold back with their prognoses. But we can still tell stories about how people might be living. These texts ignore issues such as possible societal change or new technologies. And as is usual with science fiction, stories tell us as much about the present as they do about the future. But this is how our experiment should be understood. It's to make us think harder about how to plan for the future – which is something we should be doing today.

Our thanks go to ProClim and to the four experts who dared to look into their crystal ball for us: Martin Hoelzle (mountain landscapes and permafrost), Jürg Fuhrer (agriculture), Eberhard Parlow (urban climate) and Marco Pütz (land planning). In the course of this year, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences will present a report offering a scientific view of Switzerland as it comes to terms with climate change.

Catherine, 37, Grafikerin, Neuenburg:
"If only the electricity didn't keep cutting out"

"I was in Stockholm recently. Up there, a lot of people actually still live in the old part of town! It's next to the sea, which is probably why the heat doesn't build up so much in the narrow streets. I recently read the specialist term for it: the ‘heat-island effect'. It doesn't even sound so unpleasant. But we couldn't stand it for any length of time without air conditioning.

"Back home, the friends of mine who can afford it have almost all moved up into the hills around the city or into the new suburbs that have been climate-optimised. And in the summer, they really only come down to the centre after dark to enjoy the night life. In the old part of town, you just find people like me who simply have to live close to the railway station. Despite having my office at home, I still have to travel to meetings on a regular basis. If only the electricity didn't keep cutting out”.

Jan, 53, vegetable farmer, Murten:
"… all the different weather extremes at the same time …"

"I don't know how I'm supposed to continue. The farm has been in our family now for eight generations. Just work, work, and don't blame the weather – that's what my grandfather always used to say. But those were different times back then in the middle of the 21st century. Climate change still had a positive side for the farmers in the Swiss lake district. The weather was warm, sure, but there was also still enough water.

"Anyway, I'd have given it all up long ago if I didn't have my faithful customers. They keep telling me that local produce is still needed, and that not everything has to be industrialised. It's become really difficult because we have all the different weather extremes at the same time. In the spring it's either too dry or too wet, and the summers are far too hot and dry. You can really only cope if you invest massively in infrastructure and grow more and more of your produce inside, protected from the weather. The banks and corporations would be happy, but it isn't what my grandfather imagined".

Stefanie, 29, building contractor, Davos:
"We're not going to run out of work"

"Let's get one thing clear: I really can't complain. It was always obvious that I'd take over the family business and I've never regretted my decision. I've continued with my father's expansion strategy. We have to have a strong presence in the mountain regions, because that's where our expertise is in demand: Bernasconi Civil Engineering – Landscape Protection and Debris Management.

"The business began on a small scale in Splügen, but today most of our work is in the 'rich' valleys, where there's a lot happening – in the Valsertal, around Davos and Klosters and of course in the Engadine. Building dams, securing hillsides. Or occasionally diverting whole rivers, and then offering solutions for flood water management. And dredging stream beds all the time, clearing away mudslides.

Personally, of course, I think it's a shame that not all towns can afford this infrastructure, and that whole valleys have had to be abandoned. But the permafrost is simply melting away slowly and isn't going to stop. We're not going to run out of work".

Leo, 71, retired building technician, Crans-West:
"I wouldn't have been able to stand it in the city any more"

"It's crazy what's been built here in the last 30 years. But it's been really well integrated into the landscape – such as the new hospital and shopping complex. It's not like the concrete monstrosities of years gone by. I like living up here. It's cool at 1,500 metres and you've got all the benefits of living in a special zone like this. Luckily I inherited money at just the right time, when you think of all the super-rich people who are now drawn to the alpine climate. I wouldn't have been able to stand it in the city any more. But it's odd to talk of a ‘city' when you think that the population of the conurbation of Crans-Montana-Randogne (or ‘Cramoran' as people say these days) recently also reached 15,000.

"I was always fascinated by architecture. And it's crazy how timber construction developed in the second half of the 21st century, after the concrete crisis. I live in one of these elegant high-rise buildings with a pleasant indoor climate. It's a bit too close to the forest, though. Last year, the forest fires almost reached us. And it's also a shame the swimming pool has had to stay empty for the last five years. To be honest, I think that's a bit extreme. After all, the rich people over in Randogne water their lawns even in the heat of high summer".