Three alpine anecdotes on sustainability – experienced on the Youth Alpine Interrail Trip

One: There’s a Portuguese restaurant in the heart of Scuol, a small mountain village in Unterengadin. I wonder about the history of this restaurant in this alpine region where Fado, Port Wine and Queijo complement Ländlermusik, Biera Engiadinaisa and Bündner Alpkäse. Shortly after, I enter “Chantunet da Cudeschs” where I get the answer to the puzzle in my mind. The owner of the little bookstore, it’s the only one within a radius of 50 kilometers, tells me about the migration movement from Portugal to Switzerland starting in the 1980s and increasing again after the introduction of the free movement of persons in Switzerland in 2002. Apparently, today every seventh person living in Engadin is of Portuguese descent. It’s why there’s a Portuguese restaurant in Scuol. We switch topics and the owner tells me about the different idioms of Rumantsch and how the number of speakers of this language is steadily declining. Rumantsch is an integral part of Grisons’ culture and the organization Lia Rumantscha makes a huge effort to promote the language in the canton’s administration, politics, education system and daily life. But today, there are only around 60’000 people that are proficient in the language. Those villages, hidden in valleys and beyond mountain tops, with their immense beauty and rich culture, are suffering from an exodus of people but there are things that can be done: It’s not an illusion to hope that immigrants, including the Portuguese, can contribute to the long-term preservation of the Rumantsch language. This integration of immigrants, wherever they may come from, is an opportunity for the sustainable development, preservation and the advancement of the local language, tourism and other economic activities in this alpine region. It’s the social part of the sustainability triangle.

Two: The view of Morteratschgletscher is stunning. I’m overwhelmed and so are the other hundreds of people that went up there on that day. The employee supervising the cable cart does this trip numerous times a day. I decide he’s the best person to talk to about what is so obvious: The melting of what once used to be a much bigger glacier. During the 15min trip down, I share my curiosity and concerns with him: I ask him about the changes that he has witnessed in the glacier and surroundings, about the reasons of the continuing melting (it’s the anthropogenic climate change, stupid!) and the consequences for the region, for tourism and for the big picture. It’s insightful and sad. But what strikes me most is what this man says when I ask him what we should be doing, in his opinion, in the face of all this: ” What we should do? We should look for a quiet corner and live a calm and happy life.” I agree, in part, a happy life is indeed what we should strive for because even if we wanted, we simply can’t do everything that is necessary at all times. But working on our own education concerning climate change in order to first make more ecological personal decisions and secondly to work towards better political frameworks for the protection of the alpine region (among many others!), is what makes my life a calmer and happier one.

Three: It was a hot summer. When in Engadin, I could see dried up fields and desiccated riverbeds everywhere. Farmers in the alpine region had to deal with water and food shortage for their cows. This summer is only a precursor of what’s about to become our new normal. Adaptation is needed. The less land and water we need for the production of our food, the better. This includes rethinking the greenhouse gas-rich and resource-intensive animal husbandry (responsible for 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions according to FAO), also in the alps. While cows may seem intrinsic for the alpine region, we shouldn’t be limited by appeal to tradition in the ways that are needed to adapt to and combat climate change. Engaging in alternative, climate-friendly economic activities is necessary, everywhere, to complement the sustainability triangle.

Karin Augsburger