Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Keeping the Morale High: Measuring Pollution by Simple Instruments

I think it was General Heinz Guderian who said that when the morale of the soldiers is low, especially when they are in a defensive position, you give them something to do, for instance preparing an attack. And I think the situation in which we are requires something like that. It doesn't mean having people physically attacking someone, but taking an active role; doing something.

Here, Miguel Martinez reports about the installation a pollution measurement device in Florence, the Airquino, in a public garden managed by the Nidiaci Commons. The instrument is very simple and it provides data on various atmospheric pollutants. It is a way to take an active role in fighting pollution and keeping the commons alive and well. A good idea coming from Italy!

The Air as Commons at the Nidiaci

By Miguel Martinez

On Wednesday November 8, technicians of the Institute of Biometeorology of Italy's National Research Council will come to the Nidiaci Commons in Florence's Oltrarno to install the first AIRQuino device in the district.

This is a simple plastic box, with a sensor and a chip which can accurately detect all the main air quality parameters and updates the data every two minutes.

This project, funded by the Regional Authority, aims at creating a dense network of small, very low cost monitoring stations, next to the official network of stations. The latter perform better, but are far more costly and there are only seven in all of Florence.

The Nidiaci garden, right behind the Carmine church where Masaccio ushered in the Renaissance, is run as a Commons by the families of the Oltrarno district. Their Impatto Nidiaci project focuses on spreading awareness and improving the quality of life of the residents of this historic district.

A district overrun by tourists and traffic, where an understaffed cooperative has to clean all the public parks according to an impossible schedule: when they do manage to come, everything from used nappies to electric batteries to the leaves from the trees is sent to the incinerator.

In the last few months, the families have introduced separate waste collection, set up an educational garden, imposed a smoking ban in the garden, purchased solar lamps to provide more sustainable lighting, used the leaves from the trees – hitherto thrown away in the general waste as in all public gardens in Florence – as compost.

The AIRQuino project will allow residents to become directly active in monitoring their own quality of life. To understand the operation of the AIRQino, Italian speakers can watch Italian speakers can watch this video.


  1. Thank you for publishing the piece...

    I agree: these small actions don't actually change the world situation.

    What they do change is, they make people curious about things they never thought about before.

    "Pollution" is usually a headline about things like, "The Antarctic by 2200 will be a tropical jungle". Which is about as far away as you can get.

    Here you can look at the little box and see it measuring the very air you breathe.

    Naturally, what comes out will be gibberish, until somebody explains it: so you also will listen to the expert.

  2. Another important point is how a group of "ordinary citizens" can relate to institutions.

    Some people protest and demand that state institutions "do something". This can be quite justified at times, but it has two problems:

    1) asking institutions to do something always means assigning responsibility to somebody else

    2) if you fail to persuade the institution (as usually is the case), bitter feelings arise and you start scapegoating somebody in your own group.

    So we try to do positive things all the time, but also try to do them as professionally as our non-existent financial resources allow us.

    In this case, we found a perfect partner in Ibimet, which is the cutting edge of scientific research in Italy and a very official institution (which means brilliant researchers trying desperately to survive on precarious and underfunded projects).

  3. A third factor.

    In the previous post,Ugo spoke about "opinion polarization".

    As soon as you "get into politics" you immediately get mentally polarized.

    In our peculiar Florentine context, this means you fall into one of four categories (governing centre-left; opposition left; opposition right; opposition "grillini").

    Whatever category you get polarized into, you will automatically be opposed by all three other categories, whatever you do. For one friend you make, you will have three enemies working to destroy you.

    Whereas, if you put up a pollution sensor, with all proper permits and not accusing anybody, all four will vie to be friendly with you.

  4. Comment erased by mistake

    Pierino has left a new comment on your post "Keeping the Morale High: Measuring Pollution by Si...":

    quali sono gli inquinanti analizzati?

  5. The pollutants analyzed are (I don't have a written text, I just quote what the technician says on the video):

    carbon monoxide
    nitrogen dioxide
    volatile organic compounds
    fine particles pm2.5 and pm10

    1. Plus (I forgot) CO2, not considered a pollutant but an indicator of combustion



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)