Monday, July 6, 2020

The Energy Transition: Who has the right to speak?

Italy is not a windy country and it relies mainly on the sun for its renewable energy. Nevertheless, some spots of the Appennini mountains are swept by enough wind to make it possible to build wind plants. In the picture, you see the wind farm of Montemignaio, not far from Florence, where one of the first large wind plants in Italy was built, already in 2001. It has been working beautifully for nearly 20 years. Other wind plants are planned in Italy, but a strong local opposition and a lack of long-term vision at the national level make their construction difficult and slow.

While the ecosystem starts showing signs of collapse, we desperately need to do something to promote the renewable energy transition. But we seem to be stuck: blocked by science denial, political polarization, sheer ignorance, and slick propaganda. Mostly, what we need seems to be a new way of seeing priorities in a world dominated by financial profits only. But, as the situation becomes worse, we seem to be retreating more and more into obsolete views where everyone sees nothing but their personal short-term interests. In the text below, you can find the transcription of a speech given by Professor Andrea Pase of the University of Padua in an ongoing debate on the advisability of building a wind power plant on the Apennines, in Italy.
Pase masterfully identified a key element in the question: scale, both spatial and temporal. The same concept applies to many other public utilities. Who has the right to speak about a new, planned infrastructure? It often happens that the inhabitants of the affected territories engage in defending what they see as "their" land. But does this mean that the other Italian citizens, engaged in promoting what they think is good for the whole society should not have a say in the matter? Here, Pase broadens his vision to include even those who are not yet born, as well as polar bears, raptors, and salamanders, threatened by global warming that will wipe them out, as it will wipe us all out if we do not find a way to stop burning fossil fuels. 

A beautiful speech, enjoy reading it! (UB)

Translated from the Italian text that appeared on the "Effetto Cassandra" blog

Good evening, Mr. President. Good evening to all of you.

My name is Andrea Pase. I am a geographer of the University of Padua. I deal mainly with Sub-Saharan Africa, I do research in the Sahel: from Senegal to Sudan, through Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad.

You will rightly wonder why I participate in this public inquiry, what I have to do with Mount Giogo.

I'm here to try to explain.

I start by expressing a dissenting opinion with regard to what was said in the last debate, if I understood correctly, by a political scientist, Professor Donatella Della Porta, when she said that the telematic mode undermines this public inquiry because it allows many people, perhaps too many, who are not inhabitants of the area, to express their opinion. And that is seen as a profound distortion of the debate. The real problem was thus put on the table: who really has the right to express their opinion on this project?

On the other hand, I fully agree with what my colleague said: the ridge is a "commons". But what border does that commons have? How far does the community we are talking about extend? Is it only about the people who live in Mugello, or in the two municipalities of Vicchio and Dicomano, or does it include only the inhabitants of Villore and Corella?

Whose wind is the wind blowing across the ridge? To whom does the water falling on the Apennine slopes belong?

There is a problem and the problem is that of scale: a classic geographical theme.

The scale actually creates the phenomena: the choice of the scale, first of all the spatial one, is fundamental to identify different aspects of an issue: what is to be included or excluded from the calculation of costs and benefits? One thing to think only in terms of the local scale, another is to think on a national scale and another about the global scale.

The communities convened change depending on the scale chosen. And it is a political and ethical choice, as well as cognitive.

Then there is also the time scale to consider: to whom do we turn? Only to those who live today or even to those who will live tomorrow?

A Nigerian leader questioned in 1912 claimed that the earth belongs to a community of which many members have died, few are alive, and infinite numbers have yet to be born.

I would like to call into this inquiry many voices that have not yet been heard, at different spatial and temporal scales.

I would like to call on the inhabitants of the small oceanic islands that the rise of the sea due to climate warming puts at the risk of disappearance. Not many people, you tell me. Well, then I summon the inhabitants of the great river deltas of the world: the Nile, the Ganges, the Mississippi, the Yangtse, hundreds of millions of people, who are also exposed to more and more frequent floods. Then I call to witness the people of the Sahel, whose faces I have met many times. Climate change multiplies extreme weather events, violent rains, and droughts, complicating their already not simple life.

But then I also summon the non-humans, and not just the raptors and salamanders of the Apennines, I summon the polar bears, I summon the hundreds of animal and plant species at risk of extinction, because of the impact of climate change. I also call to witness the inanimate world, the glaciers that are disappearing.

I would like, again, to summon our grandchildren, those who are small and those who have not yet been born, to ask them what they expect from us.

Everything is connected, we cannot cut out a single place from the world in which it is inserted, from the time it starts, we must assume awareness and responsibility that every choice, however small, has repercussions on other scales. And also the choice we are talking about today: please bear in mind all those we have called to testify tonight. To keep in mind the different spatial and temporal scales involved.

"Scale conflicts", as anthropologist Eriksen says, are inevitable in a globalized world: each solution has different outcomes at different scales. It is not simple, but it is essential to try to make dialogue between the different scales: global emergencies and local situations, the rights of the living, and of those who still have to arrive on our land.

I close by telling you where I'm talking from, that is, by explaining to you that one and a half kilometers from my house, there is one of the largest plants for the treatment of the wet part of the waste of the whole Po Valley. I assure you that it is not pleasant, especially in the summer. But managing waste is another major environmental challenge. It is not convenient for me to have this implant within reach of my nose. I have to tell you, I'd rather have a wind farm. Everyone, however, can only do his part.

I am available to any deepening, gladly coming in person to Vicchio and Dicomano, or even better to Villore and Corella, maybe guest of some of the inhabitants. As a geographer, I love the territory.

Thank you, and have a good work.


Andrea Pase's professional page

The planned wind plant on the Appennini Mountains


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)