Marc Landry: Europe’s Battery: The Alps in the Fossil Fuel Age
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Professor Landry discussed how Europe’s Alps are one of the world’s most iconic natural landscapes, but how historians have only recently attempted to write histories centered on the mountains. Though it is not widely recognized, the Alps were one of the most important energy-producing landscapes in twentieth-century Europe. Thanks to their abundant waterpower resources –“white coal” in the contemporary parlance –the Alps were a landscape of lucrative potential energy. I show how Europeans moved mountains and earth to transform the mountains into a natural battery in order to make fickle water behave more like the dominant energy source of the time: coal. A history of the Alpine energy landscape reveals how central these “peripheral” mountains were to the drama of the early twentieth century and suggests certain lessons as the world contemplates a “green” energy future.