Which is more important: conservation or fun skating? The court in France made a remarkable ruling on this matter.
The French town of La Clusaz, west of Mont Blanc, lives off winter sports. About two thousand people work on 125 kilometers of the ski slopes. “This is about three hundred families,” said the mayor. Tourists spend a lot of money in shops and hotels. La Clusaz earns 20 million annually from winter sports, so the slopes are sacred. But there is a problem: due to climate change, there is less and less natural snow.
The local authorities have come up with something: artificial snow. This requires water to supply the snow cannons. A plan has been drawn up to build a huge aquarium with an area of 148 thousand square meters in a nature reserve on a nearby mountain. It came at an environmental price: more than 8 hectares of forest, flora and fauna had to be made room. Construction was due to start this month. The cost of 10 million euros was paid by the authorities.
Last month, activists decided to move to the nature reserve. They built huts, carried out campaigns, put up barricades and “occupied” the area. “The water basin will cut down trees and make 58 protected animal and plant species disappear,” Extinction Rebellion activists said.
The work attracts attention. The French media passed through it. Sandrine Rousseau, a Member of Parliament for the French environmental political party De Groenen, visited the “occupied” area. “They want to build sixty Olympic swimming pools here with water, to make artificial snow so the elite can climb on the slides,” she said. “Water is getting scarcer and there is one party here that wants to allocate it to make a profit. This is no longer from this time. The climate must now be centralized.”
Five environmental organizations have initiated summary actions. The judge has ruled now. The construction of the water trough must be suspended. The court has “serious doubts” whether economic interests outweigh the protection of nature. The ruling stated that “the consequences of construction are irreparable.”
Activists are satisfied. “This is a wonderful victory for everyone who wants to defend nature,” said regional politician Fabian Graebert of De Groenen. “We have to think together about how we want to deal with mountains and nature. For us that means anyway: ending subsidies for snow cannons.”
We won, the forest saved
The occupiers in Extinction Rebellion announced that they would now leave the nature reserve. “We won, the forest saved. We don’t want any more projects sacrificing mountains for skiers.”
The judge’s ruling is not a definitive answer yet. The court says construction of the aquarium may not begin “for the time being”. In the meantime, the matter will be considered objectively. How heavy are La Clusaz’s economic arguments? And how important is the appeal to nature?
The final judgment may take several months. Until then, the snowman will have to do without a basin of water. The Greens hope to meet with officials for consultations on sustainable tourism. The mayor of La Clusaz could not be reached for comment.
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