Postcard From San Rossore

25 Aug 2004

As in each July for the last four years, the meeting ‘A New Global Vision’ was recently held in San Rossore. Initiated and organized by the Tuscany Regional Authority and its president Claudio Martini, it has become a valuable opportunity for institutions, movements and individuals to meet and discuss issues connected with globalization.

The meeting was established at the time of the Genoa G8 meeting in 2001and has maintained its committed focus. Each year discussions address environmental, food, health and education issues to explore ways of constructing durable peace. The topic this year was climate change.

It was striking how the speakers, many of them very high profile, voiced serious concerns. (Their cause for alarm is a familiar issue with environmentalists, but maybe less urgently perceived by the rest of the population.)

There were prophets of doom, moderates, scientists and tough purists: differences in emphasis but agreement that the earth is inexorably heating up, more energy is being consumed than produced and something needs to be done.

The scientific community more or less agrees on the empirical data: sea levels are rising each year (by 1-2 millimeters, ten times the rate of the last 3000 years), glaciers are diminishing, polar ice is retreating, seasonal weather patterns have gone crazy and we are experiencing irregular rainfalls, droughts, temperatures, hurricanes, floods and other alarming climatic disasters.

It’s no joke! The images commonly used by environmentalists to sound the alarm tend not to help people to really appreciate the situation—perhaps the message is not being presented properly?—but this is what is happening and we have to change course.

Speakers at San Rossore included the legendary Edward Goldsmith, founder of the Ecologist magazine and a founding father of ecological awareness, former US Vice President Al Gore, President of the European Commission Romano Prodi and Vandana Shiva, to just mention just a few of the best known.

Catastrophic forecasts were often highlighted: Al Gore showed slides of Florida and Bangladesh half covered by water, presented ‘before’ and ‘after’ images of glaciers and rattled off frightening statistics. Maybe it was all a little exaggerated and one can’t help wondering what measures the Clinton administration took during the years that Gore was Vice President, given that the USA is the country most responsible for global pollution.

With great modesty, Romano Prodi described the diplomatic efforts undertaken to persuade Russia and the USA to sign the Kyoto treaty. He was a little more reassuring, but gave no less cause for concern.

During a Round Table discussion on food there was talk of the significant responsibility of industrial agriculture for global warming and wasteful use of energy.

I do not wish to sound apocalyptic, but it is a crucial issue: for example, use of chemical fertilizers has increased the amount of nitrogen entering natural systems by 700 percent since 1960. This is equivalent to 70 million tones a year of extra nitrogen, double the amount due to natural causes per year. How can people imagine that this won’t affect the natural equilibrium? This is only one issue. Chemical products, overexploitation of the soil and water, reduction of biodiversity, desertification … the list goes on and on.

What can we do to improve the situation? For a start, we need to realize that every one of our actions, however small, has an effect: whether in the city or in the country, whether you take a shower or irrigate a field. A farmer, for example, needs to be aware what nature is, how it functions and how we should relate to it. He needs to look beyond his fields, think about new methods of cultivation that are more in tune with the environment and leave healthy soil for posterity, avoid wasting energy and water, and maybe apply less fertilizer than the exaggerated doses recommended by the manufacturer.

Farmers are the direct custodians of the environment and have to think of the future, preserving the land which allows them to live. It will also hit us in our pockets if we continue along the present path: if everyone realized (and some people in power are beginning to tentatively understand) that harming the planet means harming the economy, you can be sure that there would not be any delays in ratifying international agreements or adopting a saner approach.

First published in La Stampa on July 26 2004

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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