Switzerland to turn off its landmarks in the interests of energy conservation

The city of Geneva will be proportioning its much-photographed water jet - Lucerne at Christmas will focus on candles only
© CdT/Gabriele Putzu
Paolo Galli
Dina Aletras
10.10.2022 04:00

The mantra of our times: what is not necessary should be turned off. The cost-saving trend after all is certainly by no means a communal fad, but rather, an inevitable step.  So what should a cIty do with it's tourist symbols? 

Frequently they are decked out with bright lights - especially around Christmas time. They act as attractions, as landmarks, throughout our cities. Just think of Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse for festive shopping. What about Geneva's water jet? The latest news just a few days ago was that the French-speaking city wishes to proportion the spray. To power it continuously to its 140-meter height, is just too wasteful.

Then again, it consumes 3 gigawatt hours (GWh) a year, one thousandth of the entire consumption of Canton Geneva. A lot? Sure. But did you know that the Geneva water jet, just to make the point clear, is the second most photographed fountain in the world, after the Trevi Fountain!


Making it an opportunity

This is the question to ask before deciding where to economize. Of course, in the face of an energy shortage, one cannot be so subtle. But aren't tourist attractions essential to a city or region's economy? . Yes, but then again one could answer that question with another question: what if these savings could also become an opportunity to make such symbols even more attractive? Lucerne itself, for example, has decided to forgo the usual Christmas lights. But not completely. That's right, because the city will be illuminated by 500 candle lanterns anyway. It will also apply to the Seebrücke and the Reussbrücke. The atmosphere could be even more magical then. And for the Christmas tree, a human-powered, motor-driven system has been envisioned. In fact, those who want to will be able to sacrifice themselves for the common good and sit on a bicycle that will generate the energy needed to light it. In short, an environmentally friendly and ethical game that could develop further curiosity.


Announcements in no particular order

The awareness-raising aspect is essential at this stage and could also have utility in considering a later phase than the current crisis. Christophe Clivaz, a professor at the Faculty of Geosciences and Environment at the University of Lausanne and an expert precisely on sustainable tourism, also agrees. "Yes, it is also an opportunity to reflect on how we produce our tourism supply and how to reduce its impact on the environment. The current situation could therefore incite tourism stakeholders to save energy next winter, certainly, but also to think in these terms at least in the medium term. The need will not be reduced to this season alone." That is to say, some measures could be perpetuated. "At the end of the day, if we understand that we can conserve energy, and therefore money, it would be absurd to stop doing so, even once we get past this situation. It applies to the hotel sector as well as to the ski lifts, so it's not just a matter of whether or not the spotlight is on our symbols."


A virtuous circle, which for now is pure theory. Although something is moving, Clivaz himself observes. "Several Swiss tourism actors have already announced well-intentioned good will and started to inform about good consumption-saving practices. The sensibility is there, although it is true that the municipalities, the regions, have so far moved in short order." What is lacking, so far, is a truly common vision, beyond the course charted by the Federal Council and the calls that have therefore come from Bern.


The example of the Eiffel Tower

The feeling is also that municipal, when not cantonal, authorities are still not daring to go all the way. A stalemate, moreover, in view of a possible crisis. Tourism, with its symbols, is there in the middle of these dynamics. It is true that in Switzerland we do not have an Eiffel Tower with all its lights, but more modesty. Yes, which then even the Parisian icon will play its part. Paris has in recent weeks confirmed the reduction of its tower's night lighting by just over an hour. "I'm not sure that in Switzerland the lighting of our monuments and symbols is so essential," Clivaz adds. "Not as much as it can be for the Eiffel Tower. I think that tourists don't come to Switzerland for that, especially in the mountains."


Some, however, have announced measures of some weight. The lights on the Rhine Falls for example have been turned off. And in Gstaad, speaking of the mountains, the Christmas lights may only be turned on for a few days. Other measures will follow. From Bellinzona came a decision last Thursday not to light castles after 10 p.m. and to reduce Christmas lighting. Ticino's municipalities for the most part seem to be stalling. The mayors of the canton's most important centers, at the end of their meeting earlier this week, issued a list of intentions, rather than precise dictates, especially in view of the holidays. "The whole economy is affected by these considerations, not just tourism," Clivaz explains. "There are regions, however, that make a living from this activity. In this respect, it is interesting to think about what is essential and how we can return to less wasteful products. We don't need lights everywhere; we don't necessarily need to ski at night."


Lack of political will

Christophe Clivaz, from Valais, besides being a professor at UNIL is a national councilor for the Greens. He is coming from the September session of the Chambers. And, because of this, he is convinced that there is no adequate "political will to tackle the issue of energy saving." That is, behind the shutdown of symbols there would be a lack of substance, flab, futuristic reflections. "There is a focus on how to produce energy sustainably, how to accelerate such dynamics, but less thought is given to saving energy. And to think that it is exactly through savings that, without disrupting our habits, almost without touching them, we would achieve real economic savings." For Clivaz, this should be "the number one measure"-through careful awareness-raising and practical advice almost door-to-door-because it allows savings, precisely, "and does not lead to conflicts between energy production and the preservation of the environment, of biodiversity." Still on the subject of tourism, the professor adds, "it should be remembered that the main attractor, in Switzerland, is not the light games, but precisely the environment."