In the future will we eat cement?

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.

Finally, Guido Montanari showed how, despite all the problems, it is still possible to intervene at speed, for example by giving tax breaks for the recovery of abandoned areas and increasing the taxes paid by those who consume new soil. The “negativity” of those involved is simply a stimulus to change the cultural and political atmosphere that still prevails in Italian society.

This interesting discussion, not much more than an hour long, can be seen in its entirety on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkPq512f_F0