The Darkest Hour

Conservation storyteller and alpinist, Luca Fontana, explores the disappearance of glaciers on his most beloved mountains. Shining a light on climate change, he illustrates that there is still hope to make a difference through immediate and collective action.

I am madly in love with the mountains. Everyone that knows me can confirm it. Over the past 10 years, I have captured more than 200,000 photographs depicting some of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world.

Above all, what strikes me about the mountains – the aspect that most greatly warms my heart – is the summer snow lining the icy glaciers. The crisp, fresh air that fills your lungs, as the majestic white peaks approach. The feeling of comfort, contentment and prosperity, that can only be comprehended by those that have inhabited the plains for years. The excitement of attaching your crampons, or ski mountaineering skins, and ascending those high icy expanses and crevasses. And ultimately, reaching the tips of the niveous structures.

 

Mountains, have long been my guide. With their strength and imperturbability, these magnetic, yet daunting structures continuously draw me towards them. In my darkest moments, or when faced with fundamental decisions, I would gaze at Mont Blanc, or Monte Rosa and ask for support, strength and advice. But then, something changed.

IMAGE: Adula Massif. part of Swiss Alps containing Mt. Adula or Rheinwaldhorn. | © Luca Fontana

Vulnerable Structures

I have vivid memories of all the alpine glaciers that I used to admire as a child: La Brenva, Il Belvedere, Il Miage. Hiking these during my twenties, I was fascinated by the power that these iced structures held. They were majestic, strong, stable. Today, ten years later, these magnificent sights are all but a memory. These same glaciers appear weak. They are covered with debris. And the ice has substantially receded. At 3,000 meters, instead of discovering glaciers in the shade, all I see is deafening rock.

I realized that these environmental changes were taking place due to the climate emergency. However, I convinced myself that by working hard to resolve the issue, I would be able to make a change. I believed that my children would see the same glaciers that I had the privilege to experience. And I kept telling myself that this was achievable.

IMAGE: The South-Est ridge of Adula, the highest peak of Ticino, Switzerland. | © Luca Fontana

An Ephemeral Sight

Our mad dash for fossil fuels has led us to live in the hottest time in human history. Temperatures are considerably higher than in the Roman period. The world is substantially warmer than the medieval Climatic Optimus. And yet, the argument that glaciers were much smaller in the Middle Ages still prevails.

While the latter may be true, the fact that overall global temperatures were lower must also be considered. The truth is that the dramatic rise in temperature has sky-rocketed in only a short period of time – within merely a few decades. The glaciers have only just started melting. And yet, numerous landslides have already taken place at the monumental eastern face of Monte Rosa. So-called seracs – columns of glacial ice – are rotting. Rocks break off mountains with thundering echoes, no longer held together by the permafrost.

IMAGE: The Kaskawulsh Glacier nestled within Kluane National Parkin in the Canadian territory of Yukon. | © Luca Fontana

Uneasily, it dawned on me that the glaciers will soon disappear. And that despite all efforts, there is little we can do to about it. In the best-case scenario – if we stopped emitting all forms of greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, etc.) today – the Alpine glaciers would nevertheless inevitably perish. By 2050, perennial snow will only be present at around 4,000 meters. In 2100, a formerly beautiful, icy Mont Blanc will appear as a black shadow of a mountain, with a vague hint of snow at the summit (4,800 meters). Everything else will, sadly, be gone.

Becoming aware of this reality shatters me. With the deep love that binds me to the mountains, I mourn their once magnificent and powerful lives. I have always photographed these sublime peaks. However, I can hardly do it anymore. The current scenario reminds me of a ward housing the terminally ill. All that will be left behind are the moraines – rocky skeletons clinging onto their last breath, destined to fade away.

IMAGE: The three peaks of Mount Fitz Roy, Aguja Poincenot and Cerro Torre at the Laguna de Los Tres. | © Luca Fontana

A Light in the Dark

At one point in time, my friend Giovanni and I compared glaciers to miners’ birds. Like canaries in dark mining tunnels, glaciers depict the well-being of our planet. Witnessing their current state, we have alarmingly come to realize that it is crucial for us to take action now. An overheated planet will soon be uninhabitable. This applies across continents, as well as urban and rural areas alike.

One such place is the Po Valley – a big plateau in Northern Italy. The latter is destined to transform into a desert, as is most of Southern Italy. The mountainous terrain will remain habitable for a limited amount of time, given that it survives the extreme climactic events it will be subjected to, such as floods and tornadoes. However, it will be exposed to increasing migratory pressures, as billions of people flee from unstable regions. This scenario may appear hopeless. Nevertheless, I believe that there is still hope.

IMAGE: A sunset at Denti della Vecchia near Lugano, Switzerland. | © Luca Fontana

Time to Take Action

It is easy to be convinced by corporate giants, such as the Italian petrol company ENI, that so-called “natural gas energy” is the solution to our problem. Natural gas energy is claimed to be a substitution for fossil fuels. Yet, the latter continues to emit CO2, just like petrol or coal. Likewise, covering glaciers with white sheets during the summer simply servers as a band-aid to the issue. Besides, this process also consumes substantial energy and resources, while also emitting CO2.

Numerous solutions proposed by scientists are available as we speak. Rather than investing in new innovations and convoluted research plans to take future action, leveraging current technologies can enable us to act now. Solutions favoring a transition to renewable energy are viable today. And simple changes in our lifestyle can be implemented instantly.

IMAGE: Grandes Jorasses on Mont Blanc massif, between Haute-Savoie in France and Aosta Valley in Italy. | © Luca Fontana

Reshaping Perspectives

Ultimately, we need to reshape our society to make it more efficient and less consumer-oriented. Both in terms of products and in terms of consumer habits. But above all, we need to re-think our values ​​and ideals of what life should be. Many claim that in the current day, our quality of life and our living standards are at the pinnacle of human history. Yet, in my opinion, this applies to only a privileged few who misinterpret the term “well-being”.

What I have witnessed is a world built on post-colonial exploitation. A world collapsing on itself, while humanity blinds itself with the notion of owning a car and securing a well-paid job at a large corporation. We pretend to be traveling continuously. Gorge in fast-fashion to remain current. And own the newest gadget, all the while being perennially dissatisfied with our lives. Nowadays, we are continuously looking for something. Endlessly consuming, without asking ourselves why.

IMAGE: Jirishanca is a 6,094 meter high mountain in the Huayhuash mountain range in west central Peru. | © Luca Fontana

True well-being, on the other hand, relies on being happy with one’s life. Content with the place we are in. Being able to build projects tailored towards humanity, day after day.

It is a question of rewriting the paradigm. Shifting our focus from a delusional society that has compromised the ecosystem in just over 100 years. Living up to a new era, more in balance with nature and less predatory on its resources.

Jirishanca, portrayed in the photograph above, is one of the great mountains that I was fortunate to capture in my last great travels. While I can no longer observe this photograph with joy and lightness, my hope is that the future will be able to elicit these emotions within me. I would like to look at what is to come with at least a little bit of certainty. While we may not be able to save the glaciers, I think that as humanity we still have the power to change. If not for the glaciers, then at least for our own well-being.

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<font style="font-family:quicksand; font-size:15px; font-weight:600; text-transform:uppercase;">Written by</font-style><br><font style="font-family:merriweather; font-size:24px; font-weight:400; text-transform:none;">Luca Fontana</br>

Written by
Luca Fontana

Luca Fontana (Italy, 1989) is a photographer and climate activist. His work is focused on raising awareness on a new way of living wilderness, less consumeristic, more respectful and more in contact with nature. He defines himself an alpine voice.

Based in Italy | www.luca-fontana.com

<font style="font-family:quicksand; font-size:15px; font-weight:600; text-transform:uppercase;">Edited by</font-style><br><font style="font-family:merriweather; font-size:24px; font-weight:400; text-transform:none;">Lana Tannir</br>

Edited by
Lana Tannir

Lana Tannir is the founder and editor-in-chief of Creatives for Conservation. A professional landscape and wildlife filmmaker and photographer, she specializes in nature conservation and animal welfare projects. Through her stories, she strives to promote global change by raising awareness, advancing education and inspiring people to act.

Based in Germany | www.lana-tannir.com.com

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