Ludovic Ravanel is a French glacier expert, a scientist, and a mountain guide at the Chamonix Guides Company. His love for glaciers and the passion for nature lies in his DNA, as he grew up in the Chamonix valley and is succeeding several generations of mountain guides, including his father. Today, Ludo’s work as a guide and scientist at EDYTEM (Laboratory of Environments, Dynamics and Mountain Territories) is fully dedicated to understanding the high mountain areas, especially in the context of climate change. For i-vest, we followed Ludo up a steep mountain trail and spoke with him about the consequences of climate change, and how impact investing can still make a difference (yes, there is hope).
Ludo, you are a glaciologist and a geomorphologist. How did you get into this profession?
I always loved the mountains and from a young age on it was clear to me that I wanted to work in this field. To do so, I studied in Chambéry at the Université Savoie-Mont-Blanc in France, first in a master’s program that was related to the evolution of rock walls at high elevation in the Alps. After my graduation I stayed at the university for three more years to complete my PhD. The topic of my thesis was dedicated to the evolution of the rocks and the ice due to global warming.
My first jobs were in Lausanne, and in Zurich. But I grew a bit tired of always being away from my family after a while. I have strong roots in Chamonix, coming from a very old family lineage. So I came back and worked as the director of the Chamonix risk prevention and mountain rescue service for two years. But I really missed doing science. So I took the exam to enter the French CNRS, which is the Center for Research in France – and I succeeded. That’s how I became a researcher and a guide. Today, I live in Chamonix, and work in Chambéry.
So you grew up with the glaciers. How have they changed since you were a kid?
I remember climbing up the glaciers with my dad when I was little. It was the Bossons Glacier. Since the 80s it retreated for 1.2 kilometers, which is not a single case. Today, all the glaciers are retreating.
Ludo is walking the mountain trail with firm, knowledgeable steps. The view on the disappearing Mer de Glace makes the climate change really graspable. We pass different signs that say: “Level of the glacier in 1990”, or before. Despite this, Ludo’s voice always remains clear and his answers factual. He doesn’t show his emotions given the loss of one of his favorite environments. At the same time, the loss of the glaciers also means the loss of a memory for him, as he was already traveling on the glaciers with his father as a child.
You told us earlier, that the Alps might heat up four to eight degrees until the end of the century, and that in 50 years from now we won’t see any ice from the Montenvers. Do you think there’s still hope?
With global warming we are facing a major crisis, coming with many catastrophic events. But we can still work to mitigate it. We have many possibilities to slow down global warming, which will also make the effects less dramatic. We won’t be able to stop the climate crisis. But we might be able to avoid the most important problems, still.
What would be the most important steps to take to go against global warming?
There are many ways to do something for the climate and to reduce emissions compared to where we stand now. First, we have to change our consumption patterns. We must change our mindset and start consuming less, buying less, and also traveling less. When consuming, we need to think about where we buy from. Does it have to be from a factory in China, or can we also buy local?
But we have to change our mindset first. We are more focused on getting money than to protect our planet, which is our home. Everyone is so focused on themselves, but why? For me that doesn’t matter.
“I think that traveling everywhere without knowing where we live is one of the most important problems of this century.”
When talking about money, how can investors influence the world for the better?
Many people don’t know that when it comes to money, we can also do something to fight global warming. When our money sits in a regular bank, it just creates pollution most of the time. Most of the banks still love gas and oil. But it is possible to change the impact of our money: By switching banks and choosing a more responsible one. There are banks that are more responsible, which are not only thinking about returns, but also about how to solve social and environmental problems.
What does being wealthy mean to you?
Here in Chamonix we are all related to the mountains. And I’m happier to be in the mountains and than having many, many things at home. I prefer a simple and healthy life over having everything and traveling everywhere. I think that traveling everywhere without knowing where we live is one of the most important problems of this century. The narrative of our society is that we have to travel, that we have to do many things. But finally, you can find many very interesting things not far from your house and discover your own country.
“The ice is an environmental memory. With losing the glaciers, we lose the memory of the history of the earth.”
What is the most important thing that the glaciers have taught you?
We are learning many things from the glaciers. There is age-old information stored in their ice about climate change, about pollution, about many, many parameters. The ice is an environmental memory. With losing the glaciers, we lose the memory of the history of the earth. In the future, scientists will not be able to extract information about the past from the ice. So the melting of the glaciers is not only an environmental, but also a scientific problem. This will also affect forecasting. Because when you know the evolution of the ice, you can also predict the future to a certain degree.
In the 20th century the average surface temperature rose only about 0.6 degrees Celsius. Now, you are forecasting an incredible rise of four to ten degrees Celsius for this century. What will the world look like if this happens?
Having temperatures here that are six, eight, or ten degrees higher than today will change the situation for the Alpine people completely. But of course not only for them, but for everybody. All the large parts of the earth are linked to the water which is coming from the glaciers.
Today, Switzerland for example is dependent on electricity from the glaciers for example, a major part is hydroelectricity. But then there is also drinking water. This might also be a scarce resource in the future.
This is a scary scenario, indeed.
Take the Rhone that is beginning in Switzerland and finishing at the Mediterranean Sea. Around a third of the amount of water of the river is coming from the glaciers. So imagine now, when we are losing the glaciers plus having summer heatwaves, the Rhone will be only one third of what it is now. This won’t be enough to provide us with fresh water for drinking, for agricultural activities and so on.
So in that way humanity is really dependent on glaciers.
Yeah, you’re right.
Is there any way to bring the ice back? Like to rebuild it?
No, it’s not possible. The most we can do is reduce the pollution.
You have three kids. How do you feel about their future?
I’m afraid that it will be harder and harder for the next generations. We are lucky, though, because we live in a high mountain area and life here will still be possible, even with higher temperatures. I think people will move higher and higher in the future, living in more Alpine areas.
When is your next tour?
Tomorrow. This time I will guide a group of children to the glacier. We will be measuring the evolution of the glacier together and they will be able to understand how fast the dissolution is happening and how fast it will be in the future. Yeah, and I will underline the fact that we need the glaciers. This is the next generation, so you have to be sensitive. You have to be informed about the solution. And I have the feeling that they are able to understand it.
Merci, Ludo, that was really interesting! Keep up your great work.
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