It’s ironic that for a World Economic Forum conference which lists global warming – only in the more politically acceptable phrasing of “Extreme Weather Conditions” – as the top 1 and 2 global risks for 2018, respectively, in terms of likelihood and impact…
… that this year’s WEF event in Davos has started off in climatic chaos, only of the global cooling variety, as over 6 feet of fresh snow disrupted the summit and smothered much of the Alps a day before the Forum gets under way.
As local reporters describe the scene, fat, damp snowflakes have been tumbling down for the past six days, burying the town in six feet of snow, three feet of it in the last two days alone. Snow was still falling fast on Monday night, and the steep, pine-dotted slopes were so heavily laden that some neighborhoods here in Davos had to be evacuated for fear of avalanches.
#Davos disrupted as global elite gather amid snowiest ever meeting. Even the town’s helicopter pad was closed because of the snowstorm. https://t.co/ohZegAyqft via @welt #WEF18 pic.twitter.com/ltNWrzG9qv
— Holger Zschaepitz (@Schuldensuehner) January 23, 2018
According to Reuters, a bulletin from the SLF Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos showed a broad band of the mountainous country under Level 5 avalanche danger, the highest on a 1-5 scale.
“Fresh snow and snow drift accumulations are prone to triggering (avalanches). Until late in the night a large number of natural avalanches are to be expected,” it said. Snow slides could be deep and large, it added, posing danger to exposed settlements and transit routes.
The accumulation of snow was the highest since 1999.
In Davos, where Retuers adds that authorities have evacuated two dozen people from homes most at risk, access roads were still open as crews used controlled explosions to reduce the chance of slides. Zermatt – in southwestern Switzerland – remained cut off by road and rail. A helicopter air bridge that had been ferrying people in and out of the popular ski resort was out of action because of bad weather, a town spokeswoman said.
By Sunday night, heavy snow had already blocked the rail line through the Alps from Zurich, and villages along the route were at the highest level of avalanche alert. Swiss Rail began unloading Davos-bound passengers from their express trains, taking them on a half-hour bus trip on back roads around the blockage and then loading them onto a crowded red commuter train that ran the rest of the way into Davos.
Meanwhile, head-high snow drifts quickly piled up along the roads, leaving no place for street plows to push more snow. Sidewalks completely disappeared. Pedestrians slipped and slid in traffic between huge trucks and luxury minivans on streets carpeted with compacted ice several inches thick.
— Holger Zschaepitz (@Schuldensuehner) January 22, 2018
A stumped mayor of Davos, Tarzisius Caviezel, asked rhetorically at a news conference on Monday “What shall we do,” admitting he was at a loss for how to respond. “It’s impossible.”
There was too much snow to find places to put in the narrow, steep-sloped valley, he explained, and no easy way to take it anywhere else.
Amusingly, during this chaotic scene, the fact that throngs of uber-wealthy conference goers and their entourages were trying to push their way toward Davos did not help. A giant purple freight truck wound up in a snow bank on Monday morning across the street from the conference center, temporarily paralyzing the already slow-moving traffic.
— Holger Zschaepitz (@Schuldensuehner) January 22, 2018
“We can do nothing,” Mr. Caviezel said, except wait for better weather to arrive, perhaps some time on Tuesday, and gradually dig out.
But nothing compared to the biggest indignity to be faced by the world’s richest: in the most harrowing experience for the plutocrats who have made the World Economic Forum their favorite winter meeting ground, even the town’s helicopter pad was closed because of the snowstorm. By early afternoon, a quarter-mile trip in one of the ubiquitous black luxury minivans with plush leather seats that shuttle participants around the town took nearly an hour.
Linda P. Fried, the dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, allowed three hours at midday on Monday to travel from her hotel to the uncrowded registration center nearby and then a few blocks to the conference. But because of the gridlock, she was a half-hour late to give her speech. The topic had been the health risks that arise from climate change; ironically it was supposed to empasize global warming.
Then came the comedy:
“I’ve been coming for eight years and this is the worst I’ve seen it,” she said. But she bristled when asked whether some — like perhaps President Trump — might question the incongruity of discussing global warming during a blizzard.
“It isn’t accurate, people just don’t understand, that’s not the metric,” she said.
Right: because while global warming is proof of global warming, so apparently is global cooling. Here’s how the NYT put it: “Climate scientists have long warned that rising emissions of greenhouse gases by humanity may cause weather extremes, and not just heat waves. But it is hard to link any single weather event to climate change.”
As we said: comedy.
Still, not everyone in Davos was a miserable billionaire: some liked the snow: avid skiers.
“I skied here as a kid,” said Anthony Couse, the chief executive for Asia at Jones Lang LaSalle Property Consultants, “and there definitely was not this much snow.”