INTERVIEW WUTH Luca Mercalli (Climatologist)
(Climatologist, Founder of the magazine “Nimbus,” Climate Change activist)
Anthropogenic Climate change (caused by humans) is an extremely dangerous phenomenon for our survival and the health of our planet. It is a "fast" and "unnatural" phenomenon. The ecosystem cannot follow its pace with adverse consequences on biodiversity and soil health. Yet It is a well-known phenomenon (its roots come back to the studies of Svante Arrhenius, Nobel prize for Chemistry) with a sound scientific and political consensus (starting back at least 30 years ago, with the Rio de Janeiro agreements in 1992, to which 154 countries joined). Nevertheless, to date, little has been done to fight it. Will the two latest international Climate Change conferences (Paris 2015 - Cop21 - and Marrakech 2016 - COP22) succeed in boosting and accelerating our actions against Climate Change? Will renewables replace fossil fuels? What about Italy? Who belongs to the task of fighting Climate Change: to citizens or to institutions? Luca Mercalli, climatologist, Climate Change activist, and founder of the magazine “Nimbus”, answered these and other questions.
Luca Mercalli: Climatologist, deals with changes in climate and glaciers in the Western Alps, mitigation and adaptation to Climate Change, communication on the risks brought by global warming, energy efficiency and renewable energies, environmental sustainability. In 1993, he renewed the Italian Meteorological Society, the largest national association in the field of Atmospheric Sciences (set up in 1865), of which he is president. In 1993, he founded (and since then has directed) the international meteorological magazine, Nimbus. He has made over 1,700 conferences, both in Italy and abroad, and has participated in more than 1,000 radio and television conferences. Specifically, from 2003 to 2014, he was part of the cast of the television program "Che tempo che fa," by Fabio Fazio, broadcasted in Italy’s TV channel, RAI 3. In 2015-16, again he worked with RAI 3 Italy’s TV channel, designing and hosting two editions of the successful program "Scala Mercalli," which has been talking about Climate Change and sustainable initiatives; He also collaborates with RTSI- RadioTelevisione Svizzera Italiana (Falò; Il Giardino di Albert, Laser). Since September 2016 he has worked with Italy’s program “RaiNews24,” where short environmental information videos (Mercalli’s Pills) are launched. He is part of the International Weather Forum (Paris) and has coordinated Italy’s edition in 2017. He collaborated with the World Meteorological Organization for the global promotional campaign of the Centennial Observing Stations in 2016.
Luca Mercalli's books:
- (2016), Il mio orto tra cielo e terra. Appunti di meteorologia e ecologia agraria per salvare clima e cavoli, Aboca
- (2015), Tav No Tav. Le ragioni di una scelta, Scienza Express
- (2013), Prepariamoci a vivere in un mondo con meno risorse, meno energia, meno abbondanza... e forse più felicità, Chiarelettere
- (2013), Clima bene comune ,Mondadori
- (2009), Che tempo che farà. Breve storia del clima con uno sguardo al futuro, Rizzoli
INTERVIEW - (March 2017)
This interview was made in March 2017 and published in April 2017 on www.lteconomy.org
Subject: Climate Change, international conferences on Global Warming, renewable energy, solutions for citizens
- Let’s face it... “Anthropogenic” Climate Change is a "Sound" theory. It has its roots in the 1800s, in the studies of the Swedish Svante Arrhenius, Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
- … Already in 1992 (with the Rio De Janeiro Agreement), a total consensus on the subject was reached! Despite this, our actions are still slow, extremely slow... …We have wasted 30 years! Without this delay, we will be required a much smaller effort.
- Many humans still do not accept “the truth of Physics:” in a limited planet, no unlimited growth is possible!
- The main problem in Italy? The internal contradiction of political choices! Italy boasts excellent initiatives in some sectors: renewable energy, energy saving and waste collection.. But, again, I am talking of isolated initiatives (held in small territories, by small groups of citizens and individual directors), and the rest of the country rears against them.
Renewable energies are most suited to a distributed model. However, investments must be made in order to build a grid for local and intermittent energy production.
The fight against Climate Change and the greater Ecological Crisis is a process we must accelerate, trough 1) more and more widespread information; 2) enlightened politicians, 3) the European Union should not do the same...
Question 1: Welcome Luca and thank you for being with us. You are one of the most prominent advocates of Climate Change in Italy. Can you tell us why the phenomenon of Climate Change is “real?”
Well, over the course of history, Climate has always changed due to natural forces. So, what is the problem now? It is that for more than 200 years, we (the humans) have artificially been changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere: we have been emitting the so-called greenhouse gases from the massive combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). The result? We are causing an "unnatural" overheating of the planet.
Such an artificial change has superimposed upon the natural one; it has even changed its sign: over the last 150-200 years, net of anthropogenic effects, the global temperature should have remained flat or even slightly declined, and, instead, it is increasing (in the last century global temperature has increased by 1° C).
Let’s face it... “Anthropogenic” Climate Change is a "Sound" theory. It has its roots in the 1800s, in the studies of the Swedish Svante Arrhenius, Nobel Prize for Chemistry. It has been backed by more than a century of research and statistics. The first mathematical simulation that confirmed the correlation between CO2 emissions and global warming comes back to 1967. Therefore, saying that Climate Change does not exist is absolutely wrong! Moreover, global temperature reached its peak in 2016, a further confirmation of what we have just said.
Question 2: Two international climate conferences have been held recently (Paris 2015 - Cop21 - and Marrakech 2016 - COP22). They are considered (by the international media) as a key step in the fight against Climate Change. Are the targets of these conferences sufficient? Is there an effective international will to tackle the issue of Climate Change once and for all?
We have just talked about the growing scientific consensus on the issue of Climate Change. As a result of that, since 1992 (Rio de Janeiro agreements - to which 154 countries joined), every year an event known as Conference of Parties (CoP) is held in respect of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC). This means that already in 1992 a total consensus on the subject was reached! Despite this, our actions are still slow, extremely slow... In 1997, the Kyoto agreement was signed, hardly applied in the years to 2012; then the Paris Agreement was reached in 2015. It is considered the most concrete and effective agreement on Climate Change ever reached. However, in my opinion, it is still far from finding an effective solution to the problem.
We have wasted 30 years! Without this delay, we will be required a much smaller effort. True, we are 7.5 billion people and 195 governments: finding an agreement on something is not easy…. This is why, to the question: do you think the Paris agreement is effective? I answer: 1) yes, within the logic of "human beings"; 2) No, within the "Physics Limits!" A faster and more integrating action is required, as physics limits do not take into account our slowness. And I am afraid (and sorry to say) that, with the “Trump administration”, which even puts into question the Paris agreement, the fight against Climate Change could be further slowed.
Question 3: In the meantime, some bottom-up initiatives are taking place. In Italy (with a delay compared to other European and overseas countries) the figure of the expert in sustainability, with a multidisciplinary approach, is emerging (e.g., the University of Sustainability, held by professor Gianni Tamino; the Department of Sustainability at the University of Parma, with professor Alessio Malcevschi). Moreover, for the past two years, a Bachelor's Degree in Ecological Economics has been held at the University of Pisa (Professor Tommaso Luzzati). Are we on the road to an ecological awakening?
It is true and it is an extremely positive fact: universities are gradually giving greater importance to the issue of environment and sustainability. Again, the problem is that we are talking of very slow processes, confined to the initiative of one or another illuminated professor. Climate Change has found global consensus since 1990; by now, it should have crowded the whole university system!
Question 4: Over the years, several sustainability-driven economic models have been proposed: Bio-Economy (by N. G. Roegen), Ecological Economics (by K.W. Kapp), Economic De-growth (by S. Latouche), the Third Industrial Revolution (by J. Rifkin), the Steady-State Economics (by H. Daly). Why none of these models has yet succeeded?
Simply because many humans still do not accept “the truth of Physics:” in a limited planet, no unlimited growth is possible! Even a child could understand such a simple concept!
This is why the models mentioned above have such a little appeal. What I think about them? I think, they should be put into practice, studied and perfected. Actually, there is even no debate on them! These are models developed by few visionaries; they are alternatives to the limit-less growth model, but they have never found the attention they really deserve.
Question 5: In your successful television program, Scala Mercalli, in 2016 (and also in your current program on Rainews24, Mercalli’s Pills), 6 sectors have been highlighted in the fight against the Ecological Crisis: 1) Sustainable cities and waste; 2) Renewable energy; 3) Water (availability and pollution); 4) Sustainable food and agriculture; 5) Transport; 6) Cementation and economic sustainability. Which of these factors is more important in reducing our Ecological Footprint?
Each of these factors is important and cannot be considered separately from the others. We live in a complex world; Environmental problems must be tackled holistically.
Question 6: What are the main problems in the issue of eco-sustainability in Italy?
The main problem in Italy? The internal contradiction of political choices! Italy boasts excellent initiatives in some sectors. I am talking of renewable energy, energy saving and waste collection. But, again, I am talking of isolated initiatives (held in small territories, by small groups of citizens and individual directors), and the rest of the country rears against them. Let me give you some examples. In some villages in northern Italy, there are advanced models of recycling; while in southern Italy, many villages have yet serious problems in waste management. The same happens in the sector of renewable energy: there are excellent Italian companies in this sector, but the use of their products is disincentivized! Italy’s laws in this field favor old forms of energy. Again a big contradiction!
So, do we need a top-down strategy?
Yes, the will of citizens (for a better sustainable world) is clear… but not yet supported by coherent policies. I am myself finding big difficulties in carrying on my initiatives in the field pf sustainability; they are hampered by legal measures which weaken my power of action. Politics and citizens should go in the same direction.
Question 7: Renewable energy is a very important topic. Can it replace fossil-fuel energy?
Not yet today... but, with the right investment, renewable sources can replace fossil-fuel sources in a few years. A direction, a path, targets must be established to reach this goal within the next 20-30 years.
Question 8: Are you more in favor of a distributed production of energy (each building generates its own energy by using renewable sources), as the economist Jeremy Rifkin does suggest, or of a centralized system (with the creation of large wind and solar power plants)?
Renewable energies are most suited to a distributed model. However, investments must be made in order to build a grid for local and intermittent energy production (the existing grid was thought and built years ago for a centralized production). Politics must move funds from the traditional market of fossil sources to these kind of investments. No other financial resources are needed!
Will we need large wind and solar power plants?
Yes, part of the energy must be produced by plants (centrally production), to ensure the stability of the grid. However, the greatest investments must address the biggest weakness of renewables: the accumulation of energy. In this case, the technology is not yet mature, but, by working and investing on it, we will surely find suitable solutions. Some Countries are investing a lot on renewables. Let’s think of Denmark. Its energy production will be made entirely by renewable sources by 2050?
Question 9: Let’s talk about eco-sustainable cities. This is a very important issue as it includes all the factors involved in sustainability (food, buildings, energy, mobility, transportation). What are the best countries in the matter of sustainability?
A lot of work has been done on this subject. Graduate courses are emerging in the faculties of architecture and engineering focused on the creation of eco-sustainable cities (the so-called smart cities). Again, the Countries of Northern Europe (Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany) have much more experience on this subject. In Italy, again, there is a strong problem of contradiction. On one hand, there is a lot of talk on smart cities. On the other hand, no action is put in place to develop them. There are cities, which have embraced with great enthusiasm this theme (such as Bologna); On the other hand, there are cities, which do not even know what we are talking of. There are universities dealing with climatic resilience in urban centers, such as the IUAV in Venice, but their studies find no concrete implementation.
Question 10: One of your latest books is a sort of "warning" to individual people/families: Prepariamoci a vivere in un mondo con meno risorse, meno energia, meno abbondanza... e forse più felicità (Let's get ready to live in a world with less resources, less energy, less abundance... and perhaps more happiness). Can you tell us why there will be less resources in the future? What advice do you give to individual citizens in a world with fewer resources?
Why will there be fewer resources? I have already answered this question. We live in a finite world and we cannot grow infinitely! The limits concern both the consumption of resources and the pollution we produce. The current economic model is unsustainable in the long-run! And even the European Union is increasingly putting emphasis on the model of circular economy (whose basic principle is "recycling everything"), although it is far from reaching a solution to the ecological crisis.
This is why the individual citizen need an alternative. My latest book proposes "practical solutions" for individuals who want to address the risks of Climate Change and of the Ecological Crisis: self-generating energy, using thermal insulation to reduce energy consumption, growing his own vegetable garden (if possible), gathering rainwater, producing less waste. Essentially, being more autonomous and less impactful on the environment.
What are the major risks of Climate Change?
The greatest dangers come from the intense waves of heat and drought, which affect water availability and agricultural production. Geopolitical risks are also important. In a world inhabited by more than 7 billion people, if the amount of available resources decreases, the risks of wars and migration will automatically increase.
Question 11: You have recently written another book, Il mio orto tra cielo e terra (My Garden between sky and Earth). What are the aims of this book and who is it addressed to?
This book swells one of the chapters of the book "Let's get ready to live in a world with less resources, less energy, less abundance ... and perhaps more happiness," the chapter on how to be more autonomous in terms of food production. I Have a 50 years-experience in managing gardens; Essentially, I explain how to create a sustainable garden without the use of pesticides and other chemical elements.
Question 12: You work a lot with the “RAI” (The Italian public broadcast). Do you have any new programs in your plans?
After the successful experience with the Italian broadcast, “Rai 3” (Scala Mercalli), I am currently working for the Italian channel “Rai news 24,” where I am producing short 1-minute videos (Mercalli’s pills) on the issues we have talked about. Such kind of videos are very useful: in a time where people are extremely busy, a short one-minute message is very effective.
Question 13: Can you give a message to institutions and citizens?
The fight against Climate Change and the greater Ecological Crisis is a process we must accelerate. To this end, we need:
1) more and more widespread information (the number of people who are aware of these issues must grow);
2) enlightened politicians (something I am much doubtful about);
Finally a strong message goes to Italian and European institutions. In a context where America’s policy on Climate Change is weakening, 3) the European Union should not do the same; instead, it should assume a leadership in the global climate change struggle.
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