Energy: problems and solutions

The mid-summer Meeting at San Rossore has become a regular appointment, bringing together experts, politicians and members of the public to discuss problems of global significance and to concentrate on proposals, projects and solutions.

By now in its sixth edition, the Meeting has consistently tackled important subjects such as food, climate change and health, with the overall aim of coming up with tangible proposals. Evidence for this lies in the fact that the idea of an International Food Commission, and the solid support that this has received by the creation of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, was the result of San Rossore 2003.

This year, discussions centred on energy, the spark of the world or, according the physicist’s definition, the suitability of systems to carry out a specific task. Over the last thirty years, energy requirements have almost doubled and it is estimated that, between 2003 and 2030, the worldwide consumption of energy will grow by 71%. Meanwhile, energy injustice has also grown meaning that, currently, an inhabitant of the African continent uses, on average, 20 times less energy than an inhabitant of north America. The United States uses more than 25% of the global oil production whilst a third of the planet’s population has no access at all to commercial energy sources.

Slow Food felt itself obliged to follow the works of the Meeting since a concern with food dictated by the philosophy of good, just and clean, necessarily implies an equal concern with the environment, energy and policies of sustainability. Possibly, many are unaware of the concept of incorporated energy or, in other words, the baggage of ‘hidden’ energy that each and every product brings with it, derived from the use of fossil fuels required for its production, transportation, preservation, packaging and waste disposal.

For an idea of the impact that our decisions as consumers can have upon the planet, it is sufficient to recognise that a crate of lettuces grown in a winter greenhouse needs 1 litre of diesel fuel or, in other words, 2.66 kg of CO2, or that by eating an apple grown in New Zealand rather than in Italy, we are also eating the fuel used to undertake the 23,000 km journey and, lastly, to explode the technological myth of on-line shopping where food products bought on-line require 55% more fuel for their delivery. Slow Food, together with its Tuscan representatives who organised the two days of meals at the Meeting for an overall 1,800 people, provided a modest example of intelligent consumption and safeguarding of biodiversity by exclusively using seasonal, typical and locally produced foods from a large number of different Presidia.

The Meeting, as highlighted by Claudio Martini, Chairman of the Regional Council for Tuscany, encourages the expression of different views on the subject in order to stimulate a constructive, if sometimes heated, debate. In the presence of a public which, on the first day, numbered around 1,000 people, the floor was taken by the Minister for the Environment, Pecoraro Scanio, the Secretary General of the World Energy Council, Gerald Doucet, Jeremy Leggett, Greenpeace spokesman at the event on the Kyoto Protocol, whilst the internationally famous economist, Jeremy Rifkin, was connected by video-conference from the USA.

However, there were also numerous spontaneous contributions from members of the public amongst which were the protesters No TAV and the citizens’ committee against incinerators. Beppe Grillo [a well known Italian comedian and satirist] followed the discussions for about eight hours in a large tent where the changes in the climate could be visibly perceived, before taking to an incandescent stage and attacking with sarcastic wit right and left, the decision makers and the so-called scientists. His pointed humour, based on true facts, reanimated a public already thirsting for information and, above all, concrete proposals.

These appeared on the second day of the Meeting with the illustration of interesting examples such as: the Brazilian experience of alternative fuels made from sugar cane, soya or palm oil; the Energy Service Company project, financed by the Ethical Bank – a company of integrated services for energy that carries out global, energy saving operations; the projects piloted by the Regional Council for Tuscany for the exploitation of agro-forestry energy sources; sustainable architecture and the reduction of thermal loss.

A number of absolute necessities emerged clearly from San Rossore: escape from the dependence on oil; promotion of the development of clean and renewable sources and the improvement of energy efficiency.

These three elements are undeniably interlinked. Today, we are hooked on oil and have allowed it to become of vital importance to everything we do – 90% of all transport by land, air and sea uses oil and 95% of all food products requires the use of oil. However, it is common knowledge that crude oil is a limited natural resource and oil deposits tend to run out, as demonstrated by the surge in oil prices.

Furthermore, the current concentration of fossil combustion has a devastating impact on the planet, contributing to an increase in global temperatures calculated to be between 1.40 C and 5.80 C by the next century. In his speech, Jeremy Leggett announced the good news that renewable energies, if combined with an efficient management, can answer all the world’s energy requirements, but then added that the oil deposits will have been exhausted well before sufficient renewable energy sources have been developed.

It is essential to attempt a reduction of energy consumption in a way that can be translated into a series of actions involving each and every individual, as illustrated by Luca Mercalli: “We must reduce waste – in Italy, each person consumes 520 kg of waste per year, we must promote a shorter production line and we must become consummate consumers adopting a responsible consumer use, building smaller houses that are less wasteful of heat, using energy efficient light bulbs”.

We must develop the action of the individual and the position of decision makers, involving public bodies and the private sector in order to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste.

Mario Agostinelli takes on the role of spokesperson for the World Contract for Energy and Climate and explains how energy should be seen as a loan that humankind receives from nature which should be exploited not only as a fundamental asset but, above all, a common and not purely financial one. “It is a territorial and communal good” he adds, “for which just and responsible access should now be considered a right.”

The vision dreamt of by Grillo and Rifkin is an energy system based on a network where each individual can become both producer and consumer and where it is possible to exchange clean energy produced by renewable sources. It is currently possible to do this by means of two-directional contactors so that, for example, those producing energy with photovoltaic panels can put surplus energy in circulation and permit its use by others.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world” said Mahatma Ghandi, and, at San Rossore, there are many indications that lead us to believe that this change is already taking place.

Ermina Martini works at Slow Food’s Terra Madre Office

Adapted by Ailsa Wood

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