A Documentary to Save Hockey and the Planet
(Approximately 8 minute read)
In my last post, I wrote about meeting world-renown glaciologist Georg Kaser and the challenges of fighting the gloom of imperfection on climate action. With Jon Alpert and the Last Game documentary team we met with several other local experts to discuss how climate change would impact us.
Into the Mountains
After meeting Georg in Certosa, our next windy mountain road took us to a vineyard way up on the mountain-side. As we pulled up, the sunning cows looked bored and a gathering of chickens hustled and clucked up to the fence to inspect us. Andi Punter, representing Franz Haas Vineyard, explained that warming has forced the vineyard to shift their growing fields up to higher altitude.
Andi’s dog overlooking the new vineyard (upper left), the curious neighbors at the new vineyard (upper right), and Andi and myself checking on the winter vines (bottom)
Andi and the Haas team have been forced to, in some respects, completely reinvent their farming methods. As temperatures in the valley have risen with global temperatures, their grapes have lost their “delicateness,” as Andy liked to poetically describe it. The grapes in the valley are now producing wine with too high of an alcohol percentage due to the changing climate and therefore the Franz Haas team has spent ten years experimenting with new varieties to grow several hundred meters higher along the alpine slopes. In a single sunny mountain-side patch, which the owners spotted from their kitchen window, they began testing the possibility of moving upwards. The experimentation took nearly three years before they were producing wine and they expect temperature trends will force them to climb even higher in the future.
Dr. Michael and I trying our best to “act natural” in front of the cameras
Altitude certainly seemed to be the theme for climate adaptation in this region. After the vineyard, we met with Dr. Michael Matiu, a snow-cover expert who is now doing research at the nearby University of Trento. He took us to a small ski hill – one where local kids usually learn how to ski at the affordable single t-bar lift. It was jarring to see a brown muddy mountainside with a single strip of man-made snow. It created the strange illusion of the snow melting before our eyes. He told us that skiing at lower altitudes was likely a dying sport – he foresees only higher altitude skiing being profitable in the future. Most resorts will be required to ramp up their artificial snow production to keep lifts open in the coming years. More disturbingly, he spoke about how changing snow fall patterns will exacerbate drought and strain hydro-electricity production. Highlighting again the complex interconnectedness of everything around us.
While Michael alluded to some unexpected consequences of changing precipitation patterns, I still had the impression that the province of SudTirol was actually well situated for climate adaptation. The area seems to be gifted with relatively plentiful water resources and at low risk for flooding or fires but our next expert really sent the message home on how interconnected impacts can be.
Marc Zebisch, a leading expert at the local research institute, EURAC, explained how climate change can have cascading impacts, often in unexpected ways. We began with the persistence of the bark beetle, a pest that is decimating the local forests in recent years. On the surface, the pest seems to have nothing to do with climate change, and in fact, Marc was quick to point out that “event-attribution” is always based in probabilities and uncertainty.
It seems that the bark beetle has been able to survive and proliferate lately because of climate-change-fueled warmer winters. Historically, winter frosts would keep pest populations contained. Adding to the plight of the forests, researchers have been exploring how a warming Mediterranean Sea may be contributing to bigger storms in the area. Marc noted that the impact of these bigger storms was exacerbated by a concurrent strong wind storm, which has not been linked to climate change. The combination of bigger storms and an unusual wind storm, left the soil destabilized and the forest vulnerable. While a healthy forest might be able to fend off an attacking pest, like the bark beetle, this ecosystem was squeezed from both sides: weakened by the storms and facing a bolstered pest.
The story with a local bee-keeper reiterated this type of vulnerability. His hives were dying from the combination of climate-change-charged pests, warming winters, and ever increasing pesticide use. With warming winters, the bees are waking up from hibernation too early and as a result they run out of food before the plants are ready to be pollinated. The scary knock-on effect of dwindling bee populations? Difficulties growing food. Local bees are responsible for pollinating the bustling apple industry, which supplies apples to most of Europe.
A local bee-keeper showing me his hives
Marc also talked about some of his other research. The cascading impacts hurting the forests are also likely to happen in a broader political and social way. Climate disasters drive migration and often, unfortunately, create refugee surges. This among other disputes of who should foot the bill for climate action are likely to devolve collaboration among nations. Because Europe and the western world has historically been the primary contributors to these outcomes, Marc felt we had massive responsibility to stop creating addition problems. So the documentary team and I wondered, what is the province doing?
Joining the ranks of big cities the world over, the province of Bolzano Alto-Adige has a climate plan. The documentary team and I met with the Provincial President/Governor, Arno Kompatscher, to discuss. The provincial plan demonstrates just how complicated systemic climate action is, even for a small region like this one.
The most interesting part of this conversation was talking about how to make climate action digestible for citizens. How to suggest behavioral change without disenfranchising or driving people away. We talked a bit about the ripple effect of personal changes.
Arno Kompatscher, Provincial Governor, and Klaus Egger, Special Advisor of Sustainability, after discussions in the Presidential Palace in Bolzano
I talked about some of the challenges of seeming weird while making personal changes. For example, I do things like reuse my plastic sock tape and bringing three water bottles on long road trips to avoid plastic. Some of these things pay off. When my teammates are done teasing me, they often adopt some of those changes. Mr. Kompatscher was walking-the-walk by no longer flying to Rome for business trips, instead opting for a hydrogen powered official car (the merits of using hydrogen for small vehicles are still up for debate, many argue EVs are the much more sustainable choice).
He had the impressive well-spoken charism of a seasoned politician but underneath he spoke to how difficult it is to prioritize sustainability among differing priorities and among the different sectors within his leadership. From personal transportation and freight transport, to energy, heating, buildings, waste management, and food choices – there is a lot to think about and his constituents have other priorities. Big industries, from tourism, to agriculture to manufacturing, have concerns that can often be at odds with action on reducing emissions. I look forward to seeing how the government balances moving on climate action in consideration of these challenges. They are expected to release a new revised action plan this summer.
The documentary project was a great experience. From working with Jon and Naomi to meeting all of the local experts, I learned a lot. Now with time to reflect, there were some things the project may have missed the point on. For example, on a trip I wasn’t able to attend, Jon explored how dairy production is expected to be impacted. Cows produce less milk under hot conditions. However, dairy itself is responsible for very high levels of GHG emissions both from land-use and methane-filled cow-burps. With this in mind, maybe looking at how industry wont be able to produce as much milk is the wrong point of view and we should instead consider consuming fewer dairy products (or in taxing those products to accurately reflect their impact).
Director Jon making friends
And of course, having a supporter of the project fly via private jet to join the film crew at various locations is dubious, at best. I’ve only recently become privy to the immense carbon impact all of our flights are responsible for and find it shocking that a well-intentioned climate-concerned person can take these flights to support a climate project. A four-hour private jet flight emits as much carbon as the average person does in a year. It’s a no-brainer for me to tax these flights until they no longer make sense.
But perhaps, the same could be said about playing hockey. I think that’s exactly why we need to look at our own spheres of influence and evaluate our impacts with a revised lens. Taking the bus to the ski hill this winter and thinking twice before flying are two things I’ve implemented. And there is also just talking about the issue. Education is a huge component of making systemic changes – people won’t be okay with changes they don’t understand.
At the end of the day, I think we need to start reevaluating what our moral obligations are in tackling this massive problem. I hope this documentary project just does that – get hockey players thinking about our role in this crisis.
I’m Jacquie and I’m an American hockey player living in Bolzano, Italy. I write about hockey, sustainability, and food.
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