Our Burning Planet


Like a boiling frog… snow becomes a scarce treasure in a warming world

Like a boiling frog… snow becomes a scarce treasure in a warming world
A farmhouse in the upper reaches of the Glottertal valley, in Germany’s Black Forest. Snow in the lower reaches of the forest is increasingly rare. (Photo: Angus Begg)

A trip through Germany in winter provided startling evidence that the world is warming up rapidly. The deep snow slopes where skiers used to revel were often dry and empty. It was still beautiful, though.

The BBC reports that England could record its highest temperatures yet this week. The world is getting hot. Storms are increasingly violent, land masses are disappearing. “New research,” wrote University of California Davis climate scientist Francis Moore in the online ScienceAlert in 2019, “demonstrates a terrifying adaptability of 21st-century human beings: in the face of unprecedented climate change, we are normalising the weather temperatures, and not realising how truly bad things have become.”

Skiing evokes many emotions, including wonder. Less mentioned is the wonder of walking and hiking in the snow. (Photo: Angus Begg)

The well-known analogy for this phenomenon is the boiling frog – the notion that a frog immersed in gradually heating water will fail to notice the creeping change in its circumstances, even as it’s being boiled alive.

The northern side of the Glottertal Valley is striped with vineyards, which handle snow well, though today their load is light. The area recorded 15°C in January. (Photo: Angus Begg)

Melting icebergs and glaciers apart, there are few more obvious ways to see and feel the effects of climate change than in a central European winter. A reported mid-winter temperature of 15°C in Germany’s Black Forest on 1 January 2022 spoke volumes. Between the Schwarzwald and the Bavarian Alps, and a little peek into Switzerland, the relative extremes are plainly visible. And ironically, sometimes stunningly beautiful. DM168

Overnight snow in the village of Oberstaufen almost covered the Hochgrat, at 1,834m the highest mountain in the western Allgäu and the most striking peak in the Nagelfluhkette nature park. (Photo: Angus Begg)

Regular snow is becoming increasingly hard to find throughout the Alps. (Photo: Angus Begg)

The same view of the Glottertal Valley as pictured above, this time with a sprinkling of white following an overnight snowfall. (Photo: Angus Begg)

In Oberstaufen, trees and shrubs are pruned in preparation for the spring and summer. Residents say snowfalls are not nearly as heavy as they once were. (Photo: Angus Begg)

Schauinsland in the Black Forest is a popular winter and summer sport destination. But a 20-minute cable-car ride to the summit in mid-winter revealed no snow. (Photo: Angus Begg)

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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