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High peaks

February 14th 2014

High peaks, low valleys. That’s one way to describe Russia. From Soviet powerhouse to impoverished loser of the Cold War, back to powerhouse with megalomaniac Olympic Winter games. Did you know it is host to the highest mountain in Europe? Mount Elbrus, also known as Mingi Taw or Thousand Mountain, lies in the Western Caucasus in the area of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay–Cherkessia and is 5642 meters high.

During the World Economic Forum in Davos, at the modest height of 1500 meters the highest city in Europe, Oxfam International presented the report ‘Working for the few’. In this report the organisation calculates that the 85 richest people in the world own as much as half the world population. It is a dizzying example of the extreme financial inequality on our planet. It must be the signs of the time: Between the high peaks you find low valleys.

The Netherlands is also part of this development and shows an increasing income inequality. It can go every which way – this also goes for the middle. More and more people with or without a job are dependent on a fickle economy. With flexibility as the magic word our existence is more uncertain than ever.

Even our energy supply (finally) becomes more flexible. One of the challenges for the energy transition is how to cope with the variable demand. The sun isn’t up for 24 hours a day and the wind is variable. The task then becomes how to utilise our increasingly unprofitable coal and gas plants on cloudy days without wind. Another gap: still more people move to the city, leaving behind a shrinking hinterland without the perspective of upward mobility.

Between all those peaks and troughs we’re taking a breather as hard working people in front of the television that shows how great records and dramatic falls follow each other in the temporary metropolis of Sochi.

Just like on the ski pistes in Sochi, the slopes in real life become increasingly steep and dangerous. I wonder if this is a spasm of the dying system or a feature of the new.

The most important question for now is: who’s still skiing? The world is a great place for lovers of extreme sports who have no trouble taking on a black run. I fear for the ordinary folk who find a red run a bit scary already.

I love the expansive views with rivers running down from the mountains into wild torrents through deep chasms – but especially just to look at. Luckily I make a living describing that beautiful view; I personally much prefer to descent by means of a simple blue run.

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