CIPRA representatives:

Personal tools

  Search filter  


Freedom from Excess

Apr 29, 2014 / CIPRA International
Whether the subject is energy, transport or tourism, at CIPRA the sustainability debate is increasingly focussing on the question: What do we really need to live a good life? With the Alpine Dialogue on Energy Transition, CIPRA is contributing to today's sufficiency debate. In October 2013, CIPRA opened the dialogue with a workshop in Lucerne in central Switzerland.
Image caption:

It was this feeling of casting off a burden and being free. Sitting around the open fire in an old mountain hut with three friends and talking for hours after a difficult climb through the steep crags of the 2761 metre high Strahlbann in Val Calnegia in Canton Ticino. Smoke seeps through gaps between the stones. No electricity, but water from the mountain stream, and a rucksack containing bread, cheese, and cured meat.
Thirty-one-year-old Katharina Conradin sits by the train window rummaging in her bag for her mobile, while delightful hills and mountains pass by. Framed by black horn-rimmed glasses, her dark brown eyes glow with pleasure while she shows photos of the trip. As Executive Director of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland, a member organisation of CIPRA that campaigns for environmentally friendly mountaineering, she is on her way to a workshop she has been invited to chair - the first Alpine Dialogue organised by CIPRA International, of which she is a board member. A brainstorming session involving two dozen committed men and women from all the countries of the Alps, who are to spend two half days discussing "Energy Transition in the Alps", pooling their knowledge and experience, and generating inputs for their daily work and for the next ministerial meeting of the Alpine Convention.

Is there such a thing as everyday happiness?
Oops - there it is again: the mobile ring tone. And the reflex. She looks at the display. "From time to time I need to spend a few days like that, away from civilisation," says Katharina, "if only to overcome the compulsion to check my e-mails all the time." You could call that feeling happiness. The happiness of a simple life in the mountains. But does frugality, in other words sufficiency, also work on an everyday basis, with no loss of quality of life? "In the city I have no open fire, but I might have a stove. And I can get anywhere I want without a car."
Katharina Conradin knows her ecological footprint. It is about 1.8. In other words, if everyone were to consume the same amount of energy and resources as she does, the Earth would have to be 1.8 times bigger than it is. And this is in spite of the fact that Katharina has no car, buys regional produce and has not gone on holiday by plane for years. It is a very low figure for a Central European. So how are we to achieve a sustainable figure for all?

Daily dilemmas
The Lucerne School of Social Work on the shore of Lake Lucerne is the destination for participants from all corners of the Alps and a wide variety of backgrounds. What they have in common is their concern for the energy transition and sufficiency. They include Peter Tramberend, a 44-year-old civil servant at the Federal Office of the Environment in Vienna: "In my department we are frequently confronted with the excessive use of land. Austria is being swamped by the spread of urban areas. The suburbs are sprawling out into the surrounding countryside, with obvious results in terms of commuter traffic and energy consumption." In his private life, too, he tries to strike a balance between ecology and personal preferences - he likes living in the mountains but has to work in Vienna. The solution? Peter and his family live in an apartment in Vienna during the week and spend their weekends at their house in the mountains, an hour's drive from the city. "This means I don't have to commute every day."
Alain Boulogne, 63, looking sun-tanned in his green V-neck pullover, black trousers and slip-on leather shoes, was Mayor of Les Gets, a ski and health resort in Haute Savoie, from 2001 to 2008. Les Gets suffers from a shortage of water, and Alain found himself in a dilemma. More and more tourists meant more and more ski slopes, with extra snow cannons using additional water until the taps ran dry. His response was a three-year moratorium
on building development. He was promptly defeated at the next election. Voters could not forgive him for this apparent anti-growth policy. But the ex-mayor remains convinced: "We have to find new solutions." Since losing the election, he has been working for sustainable development as President of
CIPRA France.

Sufficiency as the third pillar
Two interpreters murmur into the microphones needed to feed their simultaneous English and German translations into the headsets used by some of the participants. The walls are hung with posters addressing the energy situation in the various countries of the Alps. Through the windows, the waters of the lake and the opposite shore gleam in the silky golden autumn sun. Katharina Conradin welcomes everyone to CIPRA's first Alpine Dialogue and hands over to Hanspeter Guggenbühl for his keynote speech.
The 64-year-old energy expert writes for various Swiss newspapers. He has a mane of silver hair, striking features, and rides a bicycle. "Over the last few years, I've shaved two minutes off my time for the Stelvio Pass!" His message is that the energy transition is necessary but requires a different approach. Subsidies for renewable energy are leading to increased electricity consumption, while electricity savings remain unattractive. "What's the point of subsidies for energy-efficient construction if land use increases at the same time? Do public buildings have to be illuminated all night?" The increasing consumption of resources is cancelling out the efficiency improvements and calling the energy transition into question. This is what's known as the rebound effect. His conclusion is that, in addition to renewable energy and efficiency, a third pillar is required for the energy transition: sufficiency - perhaps in the form of an incentive tax based on energy consumption so as to make energy savings more attractive.
Following a discussion, the subject is pursued further in a number of workshops. Claire Simon, Executive Director of CIPRA International, chairs a workshop on sufficiency, beginning with a brief historical introduction to the concept: Diogenes in his tub made it into a lifestyle, while the 19th century economist Thomas Malthus chose a more drastic formulation in his "Essay on the Principle of Population": Where the number of people grows faster than the ability to produce food to feed them, famine will restore the balance between supply and demand. The Club of Rome offered the same message in more modern terms. "At CIPRA, these discussions - whatever the subject - keep bringing us back to the same question: what do we really need?"

Forests of wind turbines
At the back of room sits Rudi Erlacher, complete with jacket, moustache and laptop, quickly clarifying any factual queries with online assistance. He is Executive Director of the German mountain protection organisation "Verein zum Schutz der Bergwelt" and CIPRA Germany's representative in Lucerne. He is also a physicist, as reflected in the strict logic of his arguments: "As nature protection organisations, we have to draw attention to the negative side of the energy transition - the fact that it's blighting the landscape. The belief in the infinite potential of renewable energy sources fails to take account of people's longing for unspoiled countryside." He is particularly concerned about plans for the south of Germany, where four pumped-storage power plants are to be constructed on the fringe of the Bavarian Alps and 8,000 wind turbines installed in Baden-Württemberg by 2015. "One wind turbine for every four square kilometres of land!"
The Alps as the green battery of Europe? Increased building development in the countryside is also a cause for concern in a workshop on how the Alps are contributing to the energy transition. "The Alps cannot export any more energy to neighbouring regions; their capacity is exhausted," says one attendee. And former CIPRA President Mario Broggi is quoted once again: "The Alpine landscape is not renewable!"
A man in a denim shirt and relaxed posture occasionally appears sceptical and says, "Restraint is hard to sell!" The first step must be to develop a concept of the quality of life that has less to do with consumption. This could be a task for an NGO like CIPRA according to Francesco Dellagiacoma, who is Head of Forestry for the provincial authority in Trento and a longstanding friend of CIPRA. Living in passive houses is not only ecological, he says, but also more pleasant than living in conventional houses, and that is something we can build on. "We could use more of our own timber instead of importing cheap wood from the Far East and exporting carbon emissions to ship it."

Scoring with good ideas
Katharina Conradin continues to collect suggestions for sufficiency strategies. "What ideas can you communicate to your regions?" Towards the end of the second day, the pin-board is covered with coloured cards. Katharina reads out the proposals. A high priority is given to the creation of a database for best practice projects from all spheres of life. For example, in some regions new ski areas may only be developed if old ski lifts are dismantled at the same time. A similar compensatory approach has been developed in Vienna in the form of an eco-points system for land use. Planning permission for new buildings on open land will only be granted in future if buildings are demolished to create an open space elsewhere. Another proposal is to finance a campaign to buy up all the advertising space and time in the media on a particular day so as to draw attention to our dependence on consumption. And Katharina's suggestion: "Do not be a preacher but a living example and measure your own ecological footprint."
Two days of brainstorming are over. The future of the Alpine Dialogue will show which of the ideas that have been aired will be implemented by the participants in their local arenas and how the politicians will react. For the present, the workshop has left behind a highly symbolic photo. A bridge on the lake offers an appropriate setting, complete with autumn leaves and seagulls. The leaf blower used by a municipal employee makes enough noise to drown out the squawking of the birds. The two-stroke motor has a job to do - blowing leaves that have fallen from trees along the shore to one side of the car park where they can be swept up. There's laughter in the group, and someone says, "So much for sufficiency!"

Tilman Wörtz (text) and Heinz Heiss (photos)
Zeitenspiegel Reportagen

Controversial Energy Transition
The Alpine Dialogue on Energy Transition, which was launched in Lucerne/CH in October 2013, is one of several contributions made by CIPRA to an ecologically compatible energy transition. Together with a number of member organisations, CIPRA Germany has drawn up a position paper on an ecologically compatible energy transition in the Bavarian Alps. With the Alpine Power trek and the Fire in the Alps campaign, CIPRA Switzerland drew attention last summer to the threats posed to the mountain environment by climate change and the energy transition. And CIPRA representatives continue to present both findings and demands to Alpine Convention bodies such as the Energy Platform.
The event was organized as part of the climalp and Alpstar projects, with financial support from the Federal Office for
Spatial Development, the canton of St. Gallen, Liechtenstein, the EU, the Karl Mayer Foundation and Fondation Assistence.

Source: CIPRA's annual report 2013,