The Turin Polytechnic held an event between 12 and 15 November titled “Technology and Humanity – Mutations for a sustainable future” which included an interesting debate on “Protecting the soil: conservation and renaturalization”.
Luca Mercalli, Michele Munafò and Paolo Pileri were invited by Guido Montanari to reply to the question: In the future will we eat cement?
This difficult question engaged the four speakers in an analysis that tackles all aspects connected with soil consumption.
Michele Munafò gave the figures published in the 2020 ISPRA report which reveal a troubling picture of the situation in Italy: in the past year around 60 km2 of soil have been lost, equivalent to around 2 m2 a second, or 16 ha. a day.
Luca Mercalli described the struggle to stop soil consumption as a “pointless battle”, explaining that in Italy the parameters have been reversed: instead of the soil being protected as the fundamental element for the survival of future generations, local officials who attempt to block or limit the damage caused by soil sealing (e.g. Matilde Casa mayor of the Comune of Lauriano Po) are dragged into court. “Pointless” because despite the “great ruin” which is plain for all to see, politicians and decisionmakers continue to shut their eyes to the degradation caused by the loss of the multiple services which the soil provides to ecosystems. This wilful blindness prevents changes to the current rules and laws which still allow soil sealing (for shopping centres, go-karting tracks, new hospitals etc) and the loss of a non-renewable natural capital, ie the soil.
Paolo Pileri stressed the failure of regional laws which, under a veil of environmental protection, continue to allow the wasting of fertile soil. Furthermore, the soil continues to be regarded culturally as a mere “surface” and not as a “depth” teeming with the activities of macro and microrganisms that are essential for all the ecosystem services required of the soil. This situation is due in particular to the “cosmic void” of information on the soil in the media and above all in the culture: only rarely is the soil’s role in life explained. In this context, politicians tend to ignore it, especially at the most local level such as the “comuni”. Those in the vicinity of big cities, for example, do not hesitate to include areas for new building in their development plans as though the population was going to double in a few years, whereas in Italy the population is decreasing. Even the Corte dei Conti [the equivalent of the UK’s National Audit Office] recommends limiting communes’ building plans because they are excessive.
The recording of the SIP Forum’s study seminar on the “Caring for soil is caring for life” report by the group of experts appointed by the Research and Innovation Directorate of the European Commission is now available in its entirety on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cVg1CLdSpIw
For ease of viewing, it is possible to watch the various different sections by clicking on them directly, as shown on our website.
Below are the different sections of the recording:
We are often powerless witnesses of the destruction of the environment.
Civil Society has been trying for years to draw attention to and change policies that damage the environment and future generations. Unfortunately resistance to change is backed by powerful economic interests. We are referring not just to the multinationals, but also to single individuals such as ourselves. For proof look no further than what happened with Covid-19 between June and September: the first consideration was a rapid economic recovery and so, feeling free from any danger, we created the conditions for a second wave of the virus.
To bring about change we need new pathways, including legal ones. This is what led 10 parliamentarians from different countries to create the International Parliamentary Alliance for the Recognition of Ecocide. They have come together to tackle the destruction of ecosystems, climate change and the mass extinction of biodiversity. To combat these, they are calling for the creation of legislation that is capable of criminalising those who threaten the planet: a specific law on ecocide.
Ecocide is “destruction or severe damage to any part or system of the global commons, or an ecological system on Earth at a scale which could threaten the lives of present and/or future generations, but above all the safety and hospitality of the planet“. In other words, any action that has caused serious ecological damage by participating openly and significantly in the overstepping of planetary limits, committed with knowledge of the consequences, which would result from it, and which could not be ignored, constitutes a crime of ecocide.
The Alliance brings together ten parliamentarians: the Brazilian Roberto Agostinho, the Belgian Samuel Cogolato, the Philippine Eufemia Cullamat, the Swede Rebecka Lemoine, Caroline Lucas from the UK, the Australians Janet Rice and Larissa Waters, Ines Sabanes from Spain, the American Lindsey Schromen-Warwin, and the French MEP Marie Toussaint, at the origin of the project. Let’s not forget these names!
To tackle planned obsolescence, restrictions on practices that intentionally shorten the lifetime of a product should be considered. In a resolution on the sustainable Single Market, MEPs call on the Commission to grant consumers a “right to repair” by making repairs more appealing, systematic, and cost-efficient.
They also ask the Commission to consider labelling products and services according to their durability (e.g. a usage meter and clear information on the estimated lifespan of a product). This would support second-hand goods markets and promote more sustainable production practices. To reduce electronic waste, MEPs again urge the implementation of a common charger system, which should already have been implemented by electronic component manufacturers in particular.
It is never too late to fight planned obsolescence!
The EU has often been criticised for slow decisionmaking. Seen from outside it seems incomprehensible. Seen from within, however, it looks like fights between members of the same family. We are paying the price for the mistake that was made in not organising the Union with decision-making rules that were capable of advancing as new member states joined.
This premise enables us to understand what is happening with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). On one side of the “family quarrel” stand the young people who have been protesting in recent years, environmental associations, new MEPs and even the Environment Commissioner. On the other, the farming lobbies, the industrial food producers and the Agriculture Commissioner. We wrote about this in a previous newsletter.
The result of this clash is not painless. We can see this in the reaction of the environmentalist world which, when the Green Deal for Europe was approved, had imagined an immediate change in EU policies, including the CAP. Disappointment came on 23 October when the European Parliament approved the new CAP which, if applied, will make it impossible to respect the Paris accords and avoid climate collapse.
This means the continuation of a scheme that leads to the degradation of the environment and human health. Additional evidence for this is the EC’s authorization for the next ten years of the import of Bayer’s XtendFlex genetically modified soya. This soya has been developed to resist three major herbicides: dicamba, glufosinate-ammonium and glyphosate. In Europe production of this soya is banned, but it is allowed in Brazil, Argentina and Canada, which are growing it to supply the European market. In other words, others are allowed to use pesticides which have a negative impact on the environment and on biodiversity, provided it happens outside our borders.
Returning to the CAP, the agriculture ministers of the EU State Members, including the Italian minister, are “satisfied”, at least according to the assessment the minister presented to the Italian Parliament’s agriculture committee which stressed the creation of naturally flexible eco-schemes (!), excluding rice (!). This continues the old approach of protecting the economic interests of some while damaging health and the environment. Exactly the same as what is happening throughout the EU with Covid-19.
We need solutions and positive signs. It is hard for soil researchers and farmers to convey their knowledge to the general public. A non-farmer has succeeded! Josh Toussaint-Strauss, a journalist at the Guardian, explains the soil “problem” in a 7 minute video released in July 2019. The video briefly mentions definitions and problems, but it also provides possible solutions and opportunities. At a time of pandemic and negativity it is a pleasure to see that maybe we can succeed.
The video, available only in English, deserves to be shown and explained to children, even little ones.
Having seen the video, it is much easier to understand the call to action of the Sustainable Soils Alliance – UK, which identifies 8 policy points that governments should follow in order to leave healthy soils for the coming generations. These are the titles; the full call to action is attached below.