"It's very warm," says the Austrian taxi driver. "Really strange for this time of year."
His comments seem a bit bizarre given that it is around midnight in Vienna and the temperature feels decidedly sub-zero. But the cab driver is adamant that it is far too warm, and he is concerned. "It's not good for the tourists, or the skiing," he observes.
He is not alone in voicing his fears. I am in Vienna this week attending HP's Software Universe conference and alongside talk of HP's new product roadmap the weather is one of the dominant topics of conversations as delegates who had come expecting a seasonal stroll round this beautiful city realise the hat and gloves they packed are proving completely superfluous.
The average temperature for Vienna in December ranges between three degrees and minus one, but for much of the month so far it has been three degrees or so warmer, resulting in no snow and prompting local papers to run headlines declaring "Spring in December". The world famous Christmas market does not look that Christmassy.
Of course the whole of Europe has been facing up to one of the warmest autumns on record, but whereas here in the UK the biggest problem has been poor sales of winter coats and some tragically confused hedgehogs, in the Alps the warm weather is rapidly becoming an issue of massive economic importance.
Ski meets have already been cancelled and some resorts at lower altitudes have delayed opening by several weeks as everyone waits on the snow. Heavy snows could well fall any day, but already business has been lost and the resorts will spend the rest of the winter struggling to make up the shortfall. It hardly needs adding that for relatively small countries such as Austria and Switzerland a sizable chunk of their winter GDP is at risk.
Talking about one bad year to illustrate the impact of climate change always risks ridicule from climate change sceptics. "You're talking about weather, not climate," they argue. "There have always been annual fluctuations." But this is not just one bad year - although this season looks particularly miserable for Austrian ski hire companies – it is part of a wider trend that has seen Alpine ski seasons steadily shorten and glaciers retreat at a rapid rate.
The irony is that as the Alps' winter economy slowly melts away the resorts are trying to halt the inevitable with gas-guzzling snow machines capable of producing man-made "snow". Meanwhile, the more affluent European tourists hop on planes to Canada, the US and New Zealand in search of guaranteed slopes, resulting in yet more of the carbon emissions that have caused this problem in the first place.
So what is the relevance of this little local difficulty to business leaders?
Well besides the fact that the ski industry is a multi-million pound sector it could also be argued that it is the canary in the mine for many other parts of the global economy. Its travails act as a forceful reminder to corporate leaders in all sectors that tackling climate change, or at least incorporating it in their risk calculations, is critical to protecting investments and future profits.
There are many reasons why the past eighteen months have seen a surge in corporate interest in environmental sustainability, not least amongst them the increase in energy costs, the growing authority of the scientific evidence on climate change and the emergence of a generation of customers who factor green issues into purchasing decisions.
But there is another issue at play that for many observers proves so disturbing, and arguably defeatist, that they are unwilling to discuss it too openly. The fact is that potential business impacts from climate change are now so close that they are beginning to effect investment decisions.
For years a ski resort would be the surest of surest bets, a guaranteed money spinner for decades into the future as the global middle class continues its expansion. Is that the case now? Building a new ski run in the Alps now strikes as foolish a capital investment as erecting a retirement complex on the Florida coast. Who is going to spend millions on a new Alpine hotel when within a decade the ski season could have shrunk to a few weeks? Who will invest in a construction project in the Gulf of Mexico when climate scientists insist the number and intensity of hurricanes in the region will intensify?
Insurance firms – the sector of the economy with the most intimate understanding of risk – are already asking these questions and coming to worrying conclusions. Some have even stopped insuring many residences on America's eastern seaboard as they are willing to forego the premiums because the risk of having to shell out for storm damage is so high.
Any large scale capital investment that measures its expected returns over decades rather than a few years must now assess the new and profound risks posed by climate change and make decisions accordingly. As a result many traditionally safe investments suddenly look very shaky.
The silver lining to this rather depressing scenario is that once firms see previously good investments tainted the financial impetus to combat climate change becomes ever more apparent. As one exec at a major IT services firm recently explained: "We've invested really heavily in expanding our presence in India, the last thing we want to see is the country descend into chaos if the Ganges dries up."
Austria's currently green ski slopes may be hugely concerning for the country's economy, but perhaps they will serve to hammer home the message that not only should climate change be a central consideration in any firms' risk assessments but that failure to tackle the problem will also hasten the extinction of vast swathes of the global economy.
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