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Newsletter n.88

16/11/2021

1. TIME TO GET ANGRY!:The Superstrada Pedemontana Veneta toll road: a 94. 5 Km hole between Treviso and Vicenza

2. NEWS FROM THE SIP FORUM: 

3. NEWS ON THE SOIL & EUROPEAN INSTITUTIONS: Plan to put the Mission on the Soil into action       

4. WE ARE NOT ALONE! The Lancet

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The Superstrada Pedemontana Veneta toll road: a 94. 5 Km hole  between Treviso and Vicenza

The toll road known as the superstrada Pedemontana Veneta or SPV is the tangible result of the development and planning policies implemented in the Veneto region of NE Italy since World War 2. The road was conceived in 1966 as part of the regional Economic Development Plan as a fast surface road in order to resolve the traffic emergency in an area of rapid economic growth. After more than 20 years in the planning, it was transformed into the costliest toll road in Europe (€8.80 for 84.8 Km between Montebelluna-Valdastico), running between embankments for more than 70 Km of its length in the hydrogeologically most sensitive area of the Veneto region. In accordance with the Terzo Atto Aggiuntivo (Third Additional Act) of the Veneto Region, signed in 2017, the financing of the project falls entirely on the Region, with the eyewatering sums of 914,910,000 euros in capital costs and 153,950,000 euros in running costs for 39 years (figures from the Corte dei Conti, 2018).

The road crosses 34 different municipalities in which 3000 expropriations took place, including more than 892 ha of farmland lost under concrete and asphalt in pursuit of an unparalleled act of planning deregulation. Among those experiencing the forced purchases were many owners of small areas of arable land for whom the land now has a purely monetary value: they are the heirs of a peasant society in the Veneto in which the land meant toil and hardship, who rose into the middle class during the years of Christian Democrat government when the mechanisms of social mobility still functioned. But the expropriations also affected many enterprising and hardworking farmer/producers who have worked this land to produce Bassano’s famous white asparagus, the cherries of Marostica, radicchio from Treviso and Castelfranco, extravirgin olive oil from Grappa, cheeses including Casatella Trevigiana and Grana Padano – to name but a few: products that are sold and appreciated around the world. These farmer/producers have seen part of their businesses, and indeed their lives, taken away from them without adequate or timely compensation, in the name of a civil engineering project regarded as essential to resolve the longest Traffic Emergency in history… 7 years! This Emergency was declared on 31 July 2009 through a decree issued by the then Prime Minister, with the nomination of an ad hoc commissioner.

Landscapes of farmland and foothills designated as Special Protection Zones have been devastated by excavations for the bypass tunnel in Vallugana, Vicenza province; the worksite of the Malo tunnel was seized following the death of a Sicilian workman when excavations led to a collapse; while the area where the Poscola stream rises has been turned into an open scar. This 50-year story has ended in a decade of political debates, protests, public meetings and transformations of the landscape, the result of powerful electoral and special interest pressures on local politicians, which has led to the area of building land available in their communities increasing 5 or even 50 times  (2018 Salata and O. Borsato). The human cost has been high: a son has taken his own life, a father had a heart attack after seeing 10,000 sq m of olive trees ripped out, after decades of resistance; some have suffered depression and others have fallen ill, while some have grown rich through speculating on the land around the 14 toll booths, which were designated as areas of strategic development by regional law! Expropriations and the further break up of traditional farms have inflicted deep wounds on the psyche and the society of this part of the Veneto, literally sweeping away the daily routines of many families and irreparably damaging this community with its roots in the Catholic-rural world, turning it into a denatured society, one that is ever less companionable, and with a growing problem of loneliness. The suicide rate in these areas has risen over the past 20 years, but no one dares talk about it.

It’s no coincidence that the first logistic outposts of multinationals such as Amazon have started to appear a few metres from the toll booths, while huge shopping centres with fancy names are in the planning stage, importing models of consumption and economic development that bear no relationship to the much talked-about ecological transition.

The case of “Montello Hill” at Montebelluna, in Treviso province, is typical: a shopping mall at the base of the Montello hill, currently being built just beyond the Montebelluna tollbooth, 25,000 square metres with 160 shops and parking for 2700.  A place where the whole family can spend the day, dazzled by the lights of the shops, cafes, restaurants, entertained by special events, in an air-conditioned and energy-guzzling environment, in exchange for 1.5 million euros invested in the town centre of Montebelluna, 30% of which was requested in the form of assets ceded to the municipality in the form of an area of building land in the Sansovino car park (2021, F. Giuliano).

The first stretch of road was opened in November 2020, and in August 2021 there were just 6,000 vehicles a day over the 56 Km (figures from CoVePA, 2021), as opposed to the 21,000 stated in the Mattino di Padova newspaper on 1 August 2021 based on Pedeveneta’s official figures. Heavy vehicles continue to prefer the ordinary roads, clogging the Treviso-Vicenza state highway, partly because of the excessive cost, partly because the signage in some areas and close to the exit booths has not been completed and drivers who are not familiar with it end up getting lost, especially on the Vicenza section of the route.

It should be noted that the Pedeveneta, when finished, will require the construction of a further 63 km of complementary road upgrades so that it can be accessed by potential users resident in communities that are not on its direct route, resulting in additional soil sealing and land transformation. The authorities of the Veneto Region, by choosing to carry out this project come what may, has set out on a journey of no return that will place future generations in debt for the next 39 years.

Nora Emme of the Coordinamento Asolano e Castellana of the SIP Forum

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NEWS FROM THE SIP FORUM:         

Change is afoot! By the end of the year we are aiming to publish the Italian version of this Newsletter directly on the SIP Forum website. Nothing will change for the readers, who will continue to receive the Newsletter as before. The links will be different because they will lead straight to the articles published on the SIP Forum website.

The English translation, meanwhile, will continue to be published on the Gruppo Suolo Europa site which will also continue to hold all the previous Newsletters in both languages.

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Serena Mattia – Internship at the European Parliament

My name is Serena Mattia and I have a degree in landscape and environmental planning. I am going to tell you about one of the best, most inspiring experiences of my career so far. Thanks to the Salviamo il Paesaggio Forum and the Gruppo Suolo Europa in particular, I had the opportunity to engage with a subject that in my view is crucial: protection of the soil. I started my internship in the office of the Green/EFA MEP Eleonora Evi in Brussels in February 2021.

Despite the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions, working in Brussels, albeit remotely, was a wonderful experience, the more so because my “Belgian” period was a time of personal change when the whole world was in stasis.

I took part in many webinars, conferences and seminars on the following subjects: the soil and the Green Deal, soil protection, the future of European soils, increasing fertility, climate change and carbon storage, and SoilCare conferences. I analysed the treatment of soil as a resource within the NRRP (National Recovery and Resilience Plan), the CAP, the biodiversity strategy and other documents. I wrote some questions for the Commission about soil consumption and soil protection. I am really happy that the resolution on soil protection was passed by the European Parliament during my internship, because it made the experience even more special.

As well as the “soil question” I also followed at the same time the work of the ENVI and PETI commissions, writing questions for the Commission on toxic muds, pesticides, and bee diseases. I attended webinars on ecocide, green towns, farming in cities, GMOs etc. and I took part in several meetings of the New European Bauhaus, including the opening conference.

In June 2021, at the end of my internship, Ms Evi decided to extend my contract for another four months, so I was able to continue work I had already started as well as following other activities. I attended the hearings of the Commission of inquiry into the wellbeing of animals during transport (Anit) and wrote accounts and articles about it for Ms Evi’s blog.

This also allowed me to work on some petitions from Italy about soil sealing in Emilia Romagna and a constantly updated collection of examples of good environmental practice from Italy, Europe and the rest of the world.

The whole period allowed me to immerse myself in European environmental policy, enriched my technical skills and knowledge of this subject and, last but not least, was a source of considerable personal growth.

For more info: serena-mattia@live.it

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COP OFF!

There have been many civil society initiatives running alongside COP26. Most are taking place in Glasgow in November. Among those that aren’t, we note the following one, named COP OFF!, which will be held online between 14 and 16 November. Those taking part include Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, and Caroline Lucas.

The reasons behind this initiative:

“As our planet’s clock approaches midnight, world leaders are set to converge in Glasgow at COP26 in order to come up with new excuses, new symbolic targets and new ways to silence the real progressive voices who oppose them.

Climate change is real, it’s here, and it’s an emergency. But history has shown us that those who were supposed to lead us out of this crisis are so blinded by capital and powerful private interests that they’ve decided Earth itself is a small price to pay for the yachts, mansions, private jets and record profits of the 1%. They will gather, mingle over dinner and drinks, and preach their commitment to insufficient goals and targets. Then fail to meet even those.”

The event will be online and many progressive thinkers and leaders are expected to take part. On the first day we will host two sessions, at 6PM and 8PM CEST; while on the second and third day we will host 3 sessions each: 4PM, 6PM and 8PM CEST.

COP OFF: DiEM25’s Alternative Climate Conference, will be livestreamed on DiEM25’s

https://www.youtube.com/c/diem25official

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EUSO – Citizen Engagement – Soil Literacy  

The European Union Soil Observatory (EUSO) – launched in December last year – held a three day (19-21 October) online seminar to firm up its five objectives. Many high-level representatives of EU institutions took the floor, providing their inputs, suggestions and analysis. We remind readers that the SIP Forum has formally signed up to EUSO.

We will focus on the session “Citizen Engagement – Soil Literacy (with Soil Mission)” held on the 21 October related specifically to EUSO’s fifth objective: “Providing an open and inclusive European Soil Forum“. Attended by more than 12 speakers it had the aim of “breaking the ice” and setting the conditions for an open and inclusive debate.

The presence of EU institutions and of different groups meant that it was possible to set out what this EUSO Forum could achieve. SIP Forum was among the invited participants and had the opportunity to describe its recent round table held on 28 June.

We are confident that EUSO staff will take on board the inputs received and that as part of its next steps future meetings will include participants from other major actors involved in soil preservation, such as the European Investment Bank, the DG for mobility and transport , the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC), the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), FridaysForFuture, etc.

  Recordings will be available from https://webcast.ec.europa.eu/

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Suggestions for changing behaviour:         How to spend a lot of money

If someone offered you a million euros to spend on helping to save the environment, how would you spend it? on 20 or so small projects, or all on one big project?

This may seem like a silly question, but it reflects what actually happens. Take for example the Italian NRRP (National Recovery and Resilience Plan) and you will see that the choice has been made to give the money immediately to those who can spend it, and that is powerful industrial groups who already receive all kinds of public funds. Many SMEs will remain on the sidelines because they do not have the ability to go through the bureaucratic processes (often designed to be difficult) that are required in order to access small sums of money. Here’s a concrete example: if the Italian energy multinational puts forward a solar panel project costing 100 million euros, it is more likely to be funded than a small municipality asking for 20,000 euros. In bureaucratic terms, the assessment and approval take more or less the same amount of time. So to spend the money more quickly, the big projects are funded and the small ones go without, even though the latter’s impact would be much more concrete and closer to the needs of the people.

Is this situation typical just of Italy? Unfortunately not. Rather, it is policy for programmes and projects at the European level, as well as for member states. It’s not by chance that the Corporate Europe Observatory has denounced in advance the organization of France’s 6 month presidency, which is due to start in January 2022. In brief, the report states that the preparations for the French Presidency reveal a growing confusion between public interest and private interest. This is due especially to the close collaboration with big French companies, through lobbying, public events and requests for contributions from business associations and focus groups (which are closely linked to the big corporations), with precious little transparency… while civil society and the public in general are kept at arm’s length.

The stakes are high, because legislative proposals and policies that are crucial for Europe’s future will be adopted or developed during the French Presidency, in particular the firming up of the Green Deal, the climate package “Fit for 55”, the regulation of digital technology and the future of recovery funds.

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Plan to put the Mission on the Soil into action

Mission on the soil: On 29 September the European Commission launched a new mission in Horizon Europe, the EU’s research programme, called “Soil Deal for Europe“. The main goal of the mission is to create 100 living labs and lighthouses by 2030 to lead the transition towards healthy soils. 60-70% of Europe’s soils are currently in deep trouble.

Can we regard this as a concrete response to the “blahblahblah” criticised by Greta Thunberg? Maybe not, for three reasons: i) because soil science researchers, with rare exceptions, have no influence over political choices; ii) because the large amounts of money involved require large and expensive management and oversight structures that researchers are unable to manage; iii) because the coordination and exchange with the labs/lighthouses selected or created lies with these structures, that is, it does not exist.

Would it not then be wiser to take advantage of the transition to use ad hoc structures like the EEA (European Environment Agency) and the European Soil Observatory (EUSO) and give them the task of setting and coordinating labs and lighthouses thus creating a permanent structure?  

We hope to be proved wrong by the results of the projects and actions that will be funded. However we believe it is unrealistic to wait until 2030 to see the results of the implementation of this Mission.