White gold

Despite their decline, it is worth celebrating the great glaciers of the Alps instead of mourning them. There are glaciers all along the arc of the Alps from France to Slovenia, including the Mer de Glace in France, the Stubai in Austria and dozens of smaller ones. They provide the headwaters of many big European rivers, but in addition the snow and ice of the Alps means leisure for millions of people. The mountains are perfectly placed at the centre of Europe, a short journey from many major cities. Despite many areas of the Alps being designated as national parks, the amount of use they get is almost as threatening to them as climate change.

The number of people who want to visit the Alps means that the snow and ice is worth money. Oil may be black gold to Texans, but Austrians call snow white gold with equally good reason. In one slightly astounding manoeuvre, the Austrians are experimenting with a range of materials that can be used as overcoats for the Stubai Glacier, to keep it fit for skiing. The idea is to spread a thin layer of very white material on the snow when the Sun is at its hottest, to reflect away the most intense heat. It may preserve both the snow and the incomes of the ingenious locals, but is not a general solution to the problem.