Ce texte est une note d’intention en vue d’une communication à la Deuxième Université Internationale d’Hiver, rédigée par Olivier Chatterji, – Université Grenoble-Alpes, UMR LARHRA. Retravaillée, la communication finale sera diffusée à la suite de l’événement, complétée et affinée.
Mountain ecosystems harbour an abundance of natural resources supporting agricultural, industrial or touristic development while playing a critical role in maintaining a flow of natural resources to the lowlands below. With the discovery of White Coal, harnessing mountainsʼ energy became a Klondike Gold Rush for industrialists. Energy and spreading the gospel of modernity and technology was the bedrock for electro-chemical industries that depended heavily on Foreign capital and the Alpsʼ electrification. One such case is the Maurienne valley (Savoy) were six aluminium factories were built between 1892 and 1906 mere kilometres away from each other. The smelting process discovered and perfected in the Alps only a couple of years earlier was at the forefront of the second industrial revolution and still inspires many mythified discourses over the harnessing of hydropower and the pioneer years of the inventors.
Despite fabled discourses on taming nature, industrialists were heavily dependent on its whims for production. The energy provided by waterfalls and rapids ruled over where factories would be built while water availability decided when work could be done. The introduction of new technologies also created new, unfamiliar situations. Pollution from the smelting process destroyed crops, forests and cattle alike while fears over its toxicity were rampant among local communities. Not long after the introduction of aluminium smelting in the Maurienne valley did concerns over deforestation due to the emission of hydrofluoric acid emerged. While Foresters were trying to reforest areas that helped protect rural communities from torrent overflowings and landslides the smelting process aggravated precisely those risks. The need to install factories with housing facilities for its employees both close to railways and near sites of hydroelectric potential implied building at the bottom of the valley in an acutely risk-prone location owing to the extreme V-shape of the valley and the violence of local torrents.
Industryʼs impacts gave rise to coeval processes of landscape and social change but also fostered regional mobilisations from farmers (supported by local authorities and the press) against pollution and to protect ʻalpine sites of natural beautyʼ. Heuristic antagonisms around resource conflicts thus provide frameworks for understanding contemporary perceptions of innovation in technology.
Illustration retravaillée (cadrage et contraste) à partir de Par Florian Pépellin (Travail personnel) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) ou CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons