Atom, the most dangerous energy source. Or is it?

As the days go by…

As we are marching forward, equipped with the newest technological gadgets and clothed with imported from far away lands garments, somewhere in between all the informational avalanche we are experiencing everyday, voices of worry regarding climate change are peeking onto us. These voices are not loud, nor frequent. They appear from time to time, around any influential tragedy happening: forests burning in Brazil, massive floods destroying villages in Indonesia, droughts severely affecting the olive oil production, and so on. 

These moments are the very rare instances, when climate scientists have the opportunity to speak to the wider public – to finally be heard. Deep down we all know that the problem of air pollution should be dealt with. We all agree that some steps should be undertaken – by governments, by corporations and by us, the individuals. We try to limit the amount of plastic bags being carried around, we drink tap water, some of us consume less meat. These are all steps in the right direction, the representation of changing attitude and the sustainable way of thinking. 

But these are just a few drops in the whole ocean of problems. This ocean is not only vast in size, but also full of various trenches, making it almost impossible to dry out. The Mariana Trench of such problems is the energy. Our society is organized around electricity. We begin our days hearing the alarm clock that comes from our technologically advanced smartphones, which are powered by electricity. We go to take a shower, enjoying the warm water stream hitting our bodies, which is transported there by a water pump, working endlessly in the building and consuming megawatts of energy. We use all sorts of hygienic products, from soaps, through specialized shampoos to toothpastes. While performing this morning routine, we do not stop and wonder: how did these products get here? None of that would be possible, if it were not for electricity-powered factories, means of transport, or even the software necessary for all the logistics.

Our whole lives are powered by electricity.

Light my bulb!

Where does all this power come from? Even children in kindergarten would be able to answer this question: “from the power plant!” – you could hear the thin and enthusiastic voices screaming. 
There are various ways of categorizing energy sources, the most fundamental one is: renewable and non-renewable. With renewables it is easy. They are commonly considered as the good and healthy approach. After all, gaining energy from wind, sun or water is not contributing to the growing air pollution, and these sources are not just going to disappear one day. On the contrary, we have this internal hunch that tells us that non-renewable energy is not the way to go in the long run. And it is correct, in the majority, because this group is made up entirely of fuel-based sources, such as coal, gas or oil. But do not be so quick with your judgement just yet, as this group contains also uranium and deuter, which are used for nuclear energy.

Source: own, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019

Let’s perform some quick math on the stats given above. Coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear all account for the non-renewable sources, in other words – fuel-based. Twenty seven plus twenty four… Ah, darn it! Eighty nine percent (89%)!

So, in your hypothetical house, 9 out of every 10 light bulbs are being powered up by the conventional (non-renewable) sources of energy. Of those, 8 are receiving the “dirty energy” – it is a common name for the highly polluting methods of burning fossil-fuels, in order to produce electricity. Why only 8, if just moments before we mentioned the number 9? Not all fuel-based methods of producing energy are damaging the environment. Therefore, not all of them should be accounted for as “dirty ones”. Nuclear energy, despite the fact it technically is powered by fuels, does not quite fit this category.

Atom goes ka-boom!

Only, it doesn’t. But I do not intend to familiarize you with the technology behind, reactions taking place in the process, nor the specifics of how a nuclear plant functions. Our brains and the cognitive processes according to which they are wired, are designed in such a way, to prioritize the sudden and clearly visible threats. Therefore, we tend to associate rare, but dramatic events as the most dangerous ones. Not based on logic and deep analytics, but because of the quick and biased calculations done by our brains. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, based on years of his research, has come up with the framework describing how we think: quickly, intuitive and biased, as well as, slowly, calculated and logically. Just to give you a small taste of what these systems are about, let me ask you to solve two mathematical tasks. First: how much is 2×2? Got it? How much energy did you have to dedicate for this equation? I am pretty confident with the guess that almost none – the answer was right there, quickly retrieved from your memory. That is the system one in action – fast and intuitive. Now, how much is 13×17? Ahh, not so easy, huh? Now you have to slow down, focus deeply and make complicated calculations in your head. It is not pleasant nor enjoyable. This is system two, the slow and heavy machinery for difficult tasks.  In his book titled “Thinking fast and slow”, Kahneman elaborates more on the subject.

The phenomenon of either fast or slow thinking affects us all, especially in terms of statistical thinking. For this reason, when someone asks “what is the most dangerous means of transport?”, the intuitive answer is: plane. Why? Because when a plane crashes, not only do all the passengers die, but also the media is talking about it. It creates the image, where planes are deadly and explosive death machines, just waiting to crash. This image is memorised and stored in our brains, later on influencing the way we perceive the subject. When asked, we do not take time to analyze data, no – instead, we recollect the intuitive answers, based on emotions, stereotypes and available knowledge. The fast-thinking system one is in control here, leading us to the delusional answer. In reality, planes – due to the regulations, systematic technical check ups and highly trained personnel – are the safest option to travel. Equally biased logic applies to nuclear energy, which due to rare occurrences of dangerous accidents, is considered as the deadliest source of power.

At this point I believe it is important to specify that Chernobyl was indeed a tragic event. Such a catastrophe should not have happened and I am not trying to lessen it. There have been reported deaths – either directly, due to the event, or indirectly, due to the radiation. Different analyses present different values on how many people have actually suffered the consequences of the explosion. However, what is crucial to notice here, is the fact that Chernobyl – in all its horrors – was an individual event. A disaster on such a scale has happened only once in history, and it was not even the fault of the reactor, but a human error. It has truly had an impact on our imagination, and this catastrophic vision has for sure been strengthened by shows like ‘Chernobyl’. How dangerous is it actually, then?

It’s the silent ones

Let’s try to get a hold of the quick-for-the-judgment system one, responsible for the intuitive and biased answers. Instead, how about we stop and think, look into the available data and compare the findings? Let’s involve the system two – analytical and slow with judgments.

The iconic example of nuclear dangers. The tragedy that has made a whole area go hazardous and is to this day still experiencing the consequences of mystical radiation. I do not want to get into a detailed analysis on why this accident became what it is, so allow me to skip the explanation. Let’s just look at the data. According to the official data, the death toll of Chernobyl is 31. Period. 31 people have died in total due to the accident. But what about the post-effects? The radiation sickness, cancers? You are correct, but here the subject gets complicated. It is difficult to establish how many lives have been actually affected by it. But you know what, let’s take the most pessimistic one! It is the estimate done by European Green Party, and according to it, the total death toll of Chernobyl is 60,000. Just for a perspective on how divergent the numbers are, WHO proposes the number of only 4,000.

At this point I believe it is important to mention that despite the Chernobyl district – with the city of Pripyat – being completely abandoned and considered as a “no go zone”, the nuclear power station had been operating until the closure of the last reactor in 2000. Despite the common myth, it is not a life threatening area and people would show up to work there on a regular basis.

The Japanese nuclear plant located in Fukushima Dashi is the second nuclear outpost which gained negative publicity due to the tragic events of 2011. Despite the catastrophic scale of those incidents, affecting the whole of Japan, Fukushima nuclear power plant had sustained the incoming wave surprisingly well. Due to the better technology this institution was operating with, as well as the proper security measures undertaken, the official death toll of that accident is 573. The important factor to notice here is that the area was under the influence of a catastrophic tsunami wave, which hit the coast of Japan. The number of deaths was therefore not due to the effects of radiation, but rather the stress evoked by the whole incident. The estimates of how many people might suffer the long term consequences of radiation caused by the Fukushima accident, vary from 0 to 1,000.

The scale of the tsunami wave hitting the coast of Japan near Fukushima.

If I were to ask you what are the potential dangers of using the renewable sources of energy, what would be your idea? Can you spot anything lifethreathening in using solar panels, wind turbines or other technologies exploiting the natural processes? And following that hunch, in majority, you would be correct. It is a fact that most deaths associated with the renewables were caused by construction and maintenance accidents. Unfortunately, these technologies account for just a fraction of the world’s electricity production. However, this group has its little secrets as well – hydropower.

Hydropower is basically a way to tame the destructive forces of water and gravity. Usually, it is in the form of a dam, where the falling water is powering up turbines, which in result create electricity. Keeping billions of cubic meters of water has its dangers, however. Because the same water which when under control is your ally, can easily turn into the biggest opponent. China has, unfortunately, experienced what it means in reality. In 1975, the Banqiao hydroelectric dam had suffered a failure, with truly catastrophic consequences. Just imagine that 15 billions cubic meters of water are literally breaking free, causing massive floods. Not only floods, but also a chain reaction, in which the kilometers-wide waves are subsequently destroying other dams lying on the way. Countless communities and thousands of square kilometers of countryside had been literally covered by building-tall waves, destroying everything on the way. Just this single accident is already estimated to have caused from 85,000 to 245,000 fatalities.

Aftermath of the Banqiao disaster.

Conventional power plants – which account for 80% of world’s production – are, in a way, working similar to hydro plants. Just like water falling from a higher elevation powers up a turbine, here the steam is doing basically the same job. However, in order to obtain the hot steam, one must heat up the water. To do so, the process of combustion needs to happen – which is basically burning up the fossil fuels. In consequence – except from the heat – plenty of various substances are being released to the air: gases like ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. These gases do not only sound bad, but being breathed-in regularly, may cause some chronic disorders, such as asthma and other respiratory diseases. Apart from this, burning fossil fuels emits to the atmosphere dangerous particles – a mixture of solid and liquid droplets of poisonous substances. These particles are tiny enough to find their way to the human’s respiratory system, and eventually – lungs. Fossil fuels-related air pollution is the number one cause of premature deaths related to the environment.

Just how many? According to the WHO, it accounts for 29% of all cases of lung cancer, 17% of deaths from acute lower respiratory infection, 24% from stroke, 25% from ischaemic heart disease and 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. All in all, it adds up to 4 million deaths per year. Every year. Just for a perspective – at the time of writing this article (February 2021), the number of COVID related deaths stands at 2,4 million. Collectively, air pollution from fossil fuels is estimated to have killed around 100 million people in the past 50 years.

Let’s be fair

When comparing the statistics of any phenomenon, what is important to pay attention to is the scale – the proportions. We can present the gross numbers of fatalities, but it makes little sense to compare one source to another, given the different percentage share of world’s energy production made by each of them. It seems reasonable that if conventional sources provide 80% of energy, they also cause the most deaths. In rescue comes a very intriguing analysis done by Our World Data, where they took a specific unit and compared the amounts of deaths needed for producing this specific amount of energy. The unit is 1 TWh – an enormous amount of energy, equal to the annual consumption of 27,000 EU citizens.

So, in order to produce this amount of energy, how many people die? Coal causes 25 deaths, oil causes 18 and natural gas 3. Renewable energy causes one death every few decades. And nuclear? In the worst case, nuclear energy would cause one death every 14 years.

What are the safest sources of energy?

Source: OurWorldData,

The death-rate in this comparison, includes the fatalities of both the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.

As clearly seen above, even if standardised, the fossil-based sources of energy are the most fatal ones. Not only because they are the direct sources of it, but because they contribute to the catastrophic process of air pollution and in consequence – to climate change.

Why can’t we see this?

There is one significant problem when it comes to estimating the dangers of air pollution – it is a slow and graduate process. It does not happen overnight, giving us a clear evidence of the change – unlike the Chernobyl or Banqiao accidents, where within hours you could see the scale of it. Air pollution is a little bit like your hair growing – a constant process but distributed over big chunks of time, ergo – barely visible. Here, the faulty system one makes the quick judgment. It is therefore easy to come to the conclusion that since we cannot see the direct effects of it, there is no real threat. Unfortunately, there is. And it is a big one.

Atom, come back. Populism, go away

At the first sight it might seem that the atom is not the optimal source of energy – after all, renewables outbeat it in every statistic. Here, system one comes striking again. The quick judgment comes to mind, because just seconds ago you could have seen graphs showing how little deaths are caused by the renewable sources, especially like Solar and Wind. But it is not as easy as it seems. Non-conventional sources, unfortunately, come with enormous limitations due to the technology and infrastructure. They are simply dependent on outside conditions too much, and are extremely unlikely to be able to sustain World’s energy needs – in a great simplification.

Nuclear energy has two main faults – the opinion and the apparent problem of nuclear wastes. However, even the latter has already been solved down, and does not cause such a huge inconvenience and danger, as it might seem.

Unfortunately, despite its advantages and only apparent dangers – more and more nuclear power plants are being shut down, or the plans to establish them cancelled out. Germany being the leader in this field. This country, associated with rationality and efficiency, has decided to shut down 11 of its 17 nuclear facilities, and is planning to shut down the remaining ones until 2022. These decisions are the consequences of populism which has affected the German Green Party. The populism that believes in the catastrophic consequences of having an operating nuclear facility. The populism that prefers and feels more comfortable with using coal power plants – the ones that attribute the most to air pollution and climate change. A 2019 analysis concluded that as a consequence, the nuclear phaseout has led to 1,100 avoidable deaths per year in Germany, due to the increased air pollution in the years after 2010.

One study even found that nuclear energy actually saved two million lives between 1971 and 2009 by displacing fossil fuels from the global energy mix.

Italy is the only G8 country without its own nuclear power plants, having closed its last reactors in 1990 – as a consequence of the Chernobyl disaster. In 2008, government policy towards nuclear changed and a substantial new nuclear build program was planned. However, in a June 2011 referendum the 2009 legislation setting up arrangements to generate 25% of the country’s electricity from nuclear power by 2030 was rejected.

It is high time to change our perception of nuclear power.

Beyond global warming: why we need to save water to stop climate change

Climate change, which is discussed more and more often, is not only about global warming, i.e. rising temperatures. This is a whole series of dangerous phenomena, resulting in the deterioration of the living conditions of hundreds of millions of inhabitants of the globe.

Access to drinking water is becoming the main problem. Climate change simulations indicate that dry regions today will dry up even more, and wet regions will suffer from increased rainfall.

As temperatures rise, the amount of energy stored in the atmosphere increases. This is why hurricanes and tornadoes are increasing in intensity. Evaporation also increases – hot air holds more water than cold air. This causes drought. Until now, mankind has used water extremely wastefully. We treated it as an inexhaustible good. And rightly so, water is inexhaustible. Each drop will finally go to the seas and oceans, which will evaporate and give them back to the air.

The problem is that by managing water unreasonably, we restrict access to it. We are leading to desertification of entire stretches of continents and lowering the water table in underground deposits.

The 21st century may not only be the century of conflicts over depleted oil and gas resources, but also the century of disputes over access to water.

Experts estimate that in the next 15 years, 2/3 of the population will suffer from chronic water shortages. And the demand for water is constantly growing – it has tripled over the past 50 years! This is the result of not only population growth, but also industrialization – more industrial plants mean more water demand. It is also the result of rising living standards in many areas of the globe.

Already, more than a billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. In developing countries, millions of women and children travel for hours to water sources, often heavily polluted. Even in Europe, 41 million people are deprived of free access to water.

Today 2.4 billion people in the world do not have adequate personal hygiene, which exacerbates health problems. At any time, half of the places in hospitals in the world are occupied by patients suffering from diseases related to water shortage and pollution. 3.6 million people die each year from such diseases.

The other side of the coin is sewage.

Only 62% of the world’s population has access to a good-quality sewage network, separating wastewater from drinking water. 1.2 billion people have no access to sewage at all. Dung causes many diseases in the world, and lack of sewage is the single biggest cause of infection.

The conflict over access to drinking water already affects developing countries, such as China and India, as well as industrialized countries, including the United States. The people of Africa are most affected by this problem. However, it should be remembered that it is not only climate change that exacerbates the problem of water deficit in Africa.

The tragedy is also exacerbated by human activities, such as uncontrolled expansion of cattle herds, soil erosion caused by ruinous agricultural practices or the burning of savannahs, and deforestation for fields and pastures.

The UN estimates that desertification will cover 12% of Europe’s territory.

The lack of water will harm tourism, which is a vital part of the Mediterranean economies. The result of desertification and economic problems in southern European countries may be a wave of migrations to the north.

We need a minimum of 50 liters of water per day to meet our drinking, cooking and hygiene needs. The average person uses approximately 100–150 liters of treated water each day. Saving water every day does not have to mean reducing the quality of life. Sometimes minor behavioral changes are enough. In an average family, hygienic procedures consume about 40% of the total water consumption.

This can be changed in the following ways:

  • By changing the bathtub into a shower. A bath in a bathtub takes 150-200 liters of water. In the shower, we are satisfied with 60 liters of water, reducing its consumption by up to 2/3!
  • By rinsing your teeth in a cup, not under running water. We will use half a liter of water instead of 16.
  • Closing the tap while your hands are soapy. Remember that 12–18 liters of water will leak from the tap in a minute.
  • By reducing unproductive dripping. By checking the condition of the seals, we can prevent the escape of up to 90 liters per day.
  • By investing in a modern dishwasher with low water consumption.
  • By washing only at full load or using the economical “half load” mode.

In Terra Franca, we’re creating a safe space of dialogue and community, where we can learn together about sustainability and create a better future for all.

Zero kilometer: local business for global improvement

Today we would like to talk to you about zero kilometer products.

What are they?

As the term itself indicates, they are commodities, especially fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk, eggs, wine, meat, cereals, that are produced and sold more or less in the same place, where the purchase/sale process is often managed by the producer without having to resort to several intermediaries.

In fact, as reported by Coldiretti – an organization of agricultural entrepreneurs at national and European level – it has been calculated that a kilo of cherries from Chile must travel almost 12,000 kilometers to reach the Italian tables, consuming 6.9 kilos of petrol with an emission of 21.6 kilos of carbon dioxide. Similarly, Brazilian watermelons, which travel for over 9,000 km, burn 5.3 kilos of oil and free 16.5 kilos of carbon dioxide for every kilo of product, through transport by air.

It is often hard for the consumers to identify foods that have travelled by air, because they are rarely labeled as such, which makes it hard to avoid them. What we can do is avoid products that have a very short shelf-life, that is they go bad quickly, cannot be stored for a long time and have traveled a long way: here we should look for a label that contains info about the country of origin.

Fresh fruits and vegetables that are shipped to other states are generally picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. In addition, fruits and vegetables begin to lose nutrients moments after they are picked. Shipping and storage can also negatively impact nutrient content due to variables such as temperature, distance for shipping, and handling procedures, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Center.

When vegetables and fruit are grown in the same geographical area as the one of the consumer, they do not need to be transported over long distances, thus limiting the amount of exhaust gases released into the environment during transport. Zero kilometer food, in addition to being a friend of the environment, allows you to obtain quality products that better preserve their nutritional properties, provided that they are seasonal products bought while in season.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania: cibo a chilometro zero

Of course, it is not without significance how our products were grown and what products we choose. Meat, even from a local supplier, will still be much more burdensome for the environment than vegetables or fruit. In fact, 14.5% of global climate changing gases are due to meat and dairy production, which is more than the impact of all forms of transport. Moreover, the content of vitamins in the diet is decreasing, i.e. twenty years ago, carrots contained more nutrients than today. This seems to have been caused by a combination of factors, among which the depletion of nutrients in the soil due to monoculture and the use of fertilizers, which simplify the biochemistry of the soil. The simplification of the soil, in turn, makes the plants more vulnerable to pests, making farmers use more pesticides. A vicious circle.

Foods with generally the lowest environmental impact often have the largest health benefits (lowest relative risks of disease or mortality), and the food with the largest environmental impact — such as unprocessed and processed red meat — often have the largest negative impact on human health.

Obviously our eating habits and our efforts to follow a balanced and varied diet do not allow us to rely on the zero-kilometer commercial system only. Globalization and free farmers’ markets are a phenomenon that is unlikely to have a turnaround, at least not soon.

Today, the food industry contributes a quarter of the global carbon footprint. However, limiting food trafficking is possible because it is a choice that each of us can make individually, producing beneficial effects for all. Trying to introduce more local products into one’s diet would help both the local economy and the environment, also offering us healthier, fresher and tastier food.
Furthermore, buying zero-kilometer products makes it easier to avoid unnecessary packaging and thus helps to reduce the volume of waste, especially plastic. We can use cotton bags to carry all the products bought at a stand in our neighborhood. Zero mile farming also helps limit the amount of food that is wasted before it even reaches the consumers.

Zero-mile farming infographic

We hope to be able, within Terra Franca, to cultivate plants compatible with the climate of Sicily, such as citrus fruits, thus promoting the idea of ​​zero-kilometer food, reminding people of the richness of the Sicilian land and how important it is to know how to appreciate what is local.

Sicily is considered the Mecca of exquisite cuisine, and not without reason. This is largely due to the local products which form the basis of many dishes, rightly appreciated and loved. Zero kilometer products, in fact, focus on the bond with the Sicilian territory and pride. Dedicating a part of the Terra Franca land to the cultivation of vegetables and involving a number of people in the process will help increase awareness of how many factors influence the quality of the products that end up in our homes and would allow a better understanding of the work done by many farmers all over the world. It would explain where the difference in price of mass-grown products for export and local and organic products comes from.

Before it becomes reality, we would like to invite you to pay attention to the origin of the products you use in your kitchen. Where can we buy 0 km products? We will find them in local farmers’ markets, in solidarity purchasing groups, in the so-called farmer markets ( directly from agricultural entrepreneurs) and on stands supported by Coldiretti, such as Campagna Amica in Palermo.

According to Coldiretti, in 2018 almost a half of Italians at least once a month bought local, zero kilometer food products.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania: zero km food

It is worth emphasizing that the idea of ​​zero kilometer products does not apply only to food products.

Currently, many business and economic sectors have opened up to the idea of ​​zero impact and eco-sustainability. More and more often we hear about products at 0 km also in other areas, for example cosmetics, which are based on raw materials, such as olive or almond oil. In fact, many Italian regions can boast of having companies that produce cosmetics, for the creation of which they use locally available ingredients, inspired by nature – and Sicily is no exception in this area!

16 reasons why the climate is changing (for worse!)

Global temperatures are high and will continue to rise for decades.

Carbon emissions and climate change have major impacts on our ecosystems including air pollution; temperature extremes resulting in droughts and heatwaves; and rise in sea levels resulting in floods. Climate change also poses a major threat to human life causing threats to physical health and survival, food and water shortages, and loss of property, home, and way of life; with the most vulnerable in our society – like children, the elderly, and marginalised communities – often being the most at risk.

So we know the climate is changing, but what exactly is provoking this change?

In this article we are going to present to you 16 causes or reasons why climate change is happening. A new UN report for 2020 warns that the world is not prepared for climate change, highlighting how far countries have fallen in implementing adaptation measures. It adds that COVID-19 has pushed planning for climate change down the list of priorities for most countries.


1. Pollution
There are 7 key types of pollution – air, water, soil, noise, radioactive, light and thermal. All these types of pollution are interlinked and influence each other. Therefore we need to tackle all of them together. Pollution of air, water and soil requires millions of years to recoup. Industry and motor vehicle exhaust are the number one pollutants. Heavy metals, nitrates and plastic are toxins responsible for pollution. While water pollution is caused by oil spill, acid rain, air pollution is caused by various gases and toxins released by industries and factories and combustion of fossil fuels; soil pollution is majorly caused by industrial waste.

2. Soil Degradation
Food security depends on whether or not soils are in good condition to produce crops. According to UN estimates, about 12 million hectares of farmland a year get seriously degraded. Soils get damaged due to many reasons including erosion, overgrazing, overexposure to pollutants, monoculture planting, soil compaction, land-use conversion and many more. Nowadays, a wide range of techniques of soil conservation and restoration exist, from no-till agriculture to crop rotation to water-retention through terrace-building.

3. Global Warming
Climate changes like global warming are the result of human practices like the emission of greenhouse gases. Global warming leads to rising temperatures of the oceans and the earth’s surface causing natural disasters that include flooding, melting of polar ice caps, rise in sea levels and also unnatural patterns of precipitation such as flash floods, hurricanes, wildfires, drought, excessive snow or desertification.

4. Overpopulation
The population of the planet is reaching unsustainable levels as it faces a shortage of resources like water, fuel and food. Population explosion in less developed and developing countries is straining the already scarce resources. Intensive agriculture practiced to produce food damages the environment through the use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and insecticides. Overpopulation is also one of the crucial current environmental problems.

5. Natural Resource Depletion
We use so many natural resources that it would need almost 1.5 Earths to cover all our needs. This will further increase in the future due to massive industrialization in Asian countries like India and China. Increased use of natural resources leads to a number of other environmental issues, such as industrialization, population growth and air pollution. Over time, natural resource depletion will lead to an energy crisis. The chemicals emitted from many natural resources contribute to climate change. Fossil fuel consumption results in the emission of greenhouse gases, which is primarily responsible for global warming and climate change.

6. Generating Unsustainable Waste
The huge production of waste due to our hyperconsumption is a major threat to the environment. As per the study, the average person produces 1.95kg of waste per day. This hyperconsumption results in non-biodegradable trash in the form of plastic packaging, toxic e-waste, and harmful chemicals that leach into our waterways. When this waste ends up in landfills, it generates enormous amounts of methane, which ranks as one of the worst greenhouse gases because of its high potential for global warming.

7. Waste Disposal
The overconsumption of resources and the creation of plastics are creating a global crisis of waste disposal. Developed countries are notorious for producing an excessive amount of waste or garbage and dumping their waste in the oceans and less developed countries. Nuclear waste disposal has tremendous health hazards associated with it. Plastic, fast food, packaging and cheap electronic wastes threaten the well being of humans. 

8. Deforestation
Our forests are natural sinks of carbon dioxide and produce fresh oxygen, as well as helping in regulating temperature and rainfall. At present, forests cover 30% of the land, but every year tree coverage is lost due to the growing population’s demand for more food, shelter and cloth. Deforestation simply means clearing of green cover and making that land available for residential, industrial or commercial purposes.

9. Polar Ice Caps
The issue of the melting of polar ice caps is a contentious one. Although NASA studies have shown that the amount of ice in Antarctica is increasing, however, this increase is only one-third of what is being lost in the Arctic. There is enough evidence that shows sea levels are rising, and the melting of Arctic ice caps is a major contributor. Over time, the melting of polar ice caps could lead to extensive flooding, contamination of drinking water and major changes in ecosystems.

10. Loss of biodiversity
Human activity is leading to the extinction of species and habitats and loss of biodiversity. Ecosystems, which took millions of years to perfect, are in danger when any species population is decimating. Balance of natural processes like pollination is crucial to the survival of the ecosystem, and human activity threatens the same. Another example is the destruction of coral reefs in the various oceans, which support the rich marine life.

11. Ocean Acidification
It is a direct impact of excessive production of CO2. 25% of total atmospheric CO2 is produced by humans. The ocean acidity has increased in the last 250 years, but by 2100, it may shoot up by 150%. The main impact is on shellfish and plankton in the same way as human osteoporosis.

12. The Nitrogen Cycle
We often ignore the effects of the use of nitrogen by humans. Nitrogen is a crucial component of all life. Problems occur when the nitrogen cycle is not balanced. A process through which it is converted or ‘fixed’ to a more usable form is called fixation. The fixation happens biologically and through lightning, or it can be done industrially. People have learned to convert nitrogen gas to ammonia (NH3-) and fertilizers that are nitrogen-rich to supplement the amount of nitrogen fixed naturally. Excess levels of nitrogen in water can hamper marine ecosystems, through overstimulation of plant and algae growth. This blocks the light from getting into deeper waters, thus damaging the rest of the marine population.

13. Ozone Layer Depletion
The ozone layer is an invisible layer of protection around the planet that protects us from the sun’s harmful rays. The depletion of the crucial Ozone layer of the atmosphere is attributed to pollution caused by Chlorine and Bromide found in Chloro-fluoro carbons (CFCs). Once these toxic gases reach the upper atmosphere, they create a hole in the ozone layer, the biggest of which is above the Antarctic. CFCs are banned in many industries and consumer products.

14. Overfishing
Overfishing affects natural ecosystems severely and leads to an imbalance of ocean life. Around 63% of global fish stocks are estimated to be overfished. Overfishing caused fishing fleets to migrate to new waters that would further deplete the fish stocks. Moreover, it has negative effects on coastal communities that rely on fishing to support their living.

Risultato immagini per overfishing

15. Urban Sprawl
Urban sprawl refers to the migration of population from high-density urban areas to low-density rural areas, which results in the spreading of the city over more and more rural land. Urban sprawl results in land degradation, increased traffic, environmental issues and health issues. The ever-growing demand for land displaces the natural environment consisting of flora and fauna, instead of being replaced.

16. Genetic Engineering
Genetic modification of food using biotechnology is called genetic engineering. Genetic modification of food results in increased toxins and diseases as genes from an allergic plant can transfer to the target plant. Genetically modified crops can cause serious environmental problems as an engineered gene may prove toxic to wildlife. Another drawback is that increased use of toxins to make insect resistant plants can cause resultant organisms to become resistant to antibiotics.

Although some things listed before seem catastrophic, there are still so many things we can do to try and stop them, or at least slow them down. By raising awareness in your local community and within your families about these issues, you can help contribute to a more environmentally conscious and friendly place for you and your future generations to live.

If you want to know more about how we, in HRYO, try to contribute to the conservation and development of our green spaces, check our project Terra Franca, and find more about it! You can also get in touch with us if you would like to participate and be part of something bigger for the community.

The importance of rethinking our economy

In today’s world, everything – from global warming to global financial crisis – is telling us that we need fundamental changes in society. Based on the discourse of Helena Norberg-Hodge, a pioneer of the ‘new economy’ movement, producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness, and the author of several books, including Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, the most important and high priority issue is a fundamental change in the economy.

In her own words: “The change that we need to make is shifting away from globalising to localising. Localisation is a solution multiplier that offers a systemic, far-reaching alternative to corporate capitalism, as well as communism. It’s a way to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions, energy consumption of all kinds, and waste. At the same time, localising economic activity can restore biodiversity as well as cultural diversity. It’s a way of creating meaningful and secure jobs for the entire population and perhaps most important of all, because it’s about rebuilding the fabric of connection, the fabric of community between people and between people and their local environment.” She calls this “the economics of happiness”.

Helena Norberg-Hodge

Back in the 80s, Helena went to work in Ladakh, a region in Tibet, as well as Bhutan. She then observed the same pattern in both places regarding how the ‘outside world’ market opening destroyed the local economies and the peace between people. She shared these experiences with economists, anthropologists and environmentalists: they all agreed that our history is very similar to these ones.

The system in which we live is now outdated.

A system based on importing, exporting and creating more and more distance between us. This distance between countries and societies creates an impossibility to develop an ethical structure. We cannot be ethical and kind and maintain the local markets and economies if we do not see the impact we are generating on the other side of the world.     

She explains how the local food movement was created all around the world, from individuals to companies who shared these same thoughts of the need to cut back on production and transport. She exposes the 7 main points on which we should focus to change our economic system:

  • Localisation is better than globalisation: this does not mean eliminating international trade but simply shortening the distances between production and consumption. Reversing subsidies, taxes and regulations from basic markets such as  food, clothing or shelter, would increase the local economies. For examples, if I live in France, that would mean getting my oranges from Italy instead of Argentina.
  • Reducing global markets: currently, countries are importing and exporting the same products just to get the cheapest price. For example, the United Kingdom exports 20 tons of bottled water to Australia, and then Australia exports its own 20 tons of water to the UK. Is this necessary? 
  • Reconnecting people and the land: This restores health, both physical and mental, as well as happiness. We need to support interdependent communication between institutions instead of dependent relations without human connection. Our main resources are human beings and human qualities. Human relations and empowerment can cure and develop societies as well  as reduce pollution and energy waste.
  • The need for a better dialogue between “rich” and “poor” countries, between “country” and “city”. Because one does not survive without the other. A very interesting resource to check is VIA CAMPESINA, the biggest social movement/ international farmers movement, to understand how the farming activity supports every other activity in the world.
  • Restore diversity: we are facing a monoculture with no differences biologically (crops, ecosystems…) and humanly (societies, economics, politics…). There is a very interesting concept which is ‘rewilding’ as allowing the wilderness to restore its ecosystems. Carrying out an ‘agri-wilding’ system would mean allowing the natural restoration to balance the lands and fields used for agriculture and livestock.

So this is just one theory carried out by a small group of people all around the world. But as we know, every big change starts out very small. There are many good initiatives nurturing around the globe and we must find, promote, and support them. There is a change happening and this is just one of the many options to create a better tomorrow.

In this way, Terra Franca is one of these projects that are being carried out based on the principles of localising and reconnecting the people of Cruillas (in Palermo) and the land. With a lot of objectives in sight, creating a safe common space for the community as well as a fruitful vegetable garden, are the main ones for now.

7 good reasons to buy your products from cooperatives

The numbers of cooperative business models are increasing daily. These business models are especially successful in the food sector, as well as many others, like housing. 

The difference between a cooperative and traditional business models are really clear. In a cooperative, the partners agree with local or nearby producers to buy products according to a certain amount, special prices that are in any case fair, and other characteristics. Some conditions may vary depending on the agreements of the parts. On the other hand the cooperatives make sure to deliver their best seasonal and (normally) organic products. The cooperative group is on charge of selling, delivering and promoting the products in case this is considered necessary.

7 advantages of buying from a cooperative

  1. Quality. Producers are responsible for delivering their products with certain standards of quality and conditions. This means consumers can enjoy a better quality of products, that can be organic, from local resources, seasonal and fair priced.
  2. Trust. The cooperative´s role is also to ensure where the products come from, regarding the quality, the fairness and the sustainability.
  3. Transparent markets. Eliminating intermediates can be successful for the producers that see their profit margin grow.
  4. Innovate products. In this business model it is also important to deliver a big range of products based on society’s needs of consumption.
  5. Environmentally friendly. Products don’t travel long distances, in fact the idea is to avoid this issue. Also cooperatives pay attention to other environmental aspects such as keeping rural areas productive in the long term and avoid desertification of rural areas. 
  6. Create jobs in rural areas. Supporting small farmers and producers so they can also compete with big corporations, creating jobs in areas where this has been an issue in the past decades.
  7. Improve their activities. Belonging to a cooperative also means belonging to a bigger group where to find guidance, help from other small companies and where to learn from the best practices. This is also a huge benefit for the customer.

Some examples of cooperatives in Italy

In order to promote this kind of business I would like to highlight three cooperatives that operate in Italy, in case you’d like to support this kind of business.

  • L´alveare che dice si. It is a cooperative that works all over Italy. The cooperative not only offers fruits and vegetables from agriculture, but also other artisanal products. 
  • Coop La Lucerna. This cooperative mainly works online, offering a big amount of products depending on your needs. They have a certification of organic products recognised by the European Union. 
  • Cooperativa Agricola Palazzetti. In this case the cooperative is based in Bergamo, although they offer products from all over Italy depending on the needs and the production seasons.

As an alternative, there is also the option of contacting small local producers nearby or even growing your own vegetables and fruits on somebody else’s farm. There are many social projects like Anima Franca, started by HRYO, that offer this possibility.

Less water, no soil: welcome to the world of vertical farming

Did you know that agriculture makes up even 70% of global sweet water consumption?

That is an astonishing number, especially given the fact that we use water every day in our taps, market shelves are full of various drinks and industry needs it as well. However, all other water designations account for barely one third. Farming needs a lot of it, but we need it as well. Some regions of the world are already facing the problem of complete lack of water – Cape Town in South Africa has barely managed to avoid it, but only for a while, by drastically limiting the water consumption there. Mexico is struggling with this problem as well. But we do not have to look far away to notice the danger – even locally, in Europe, there are already reports stating that we are running out of our sweet water sources. 

But we cannot simply stop producing food, can we?

World’s population is drastically growing in numbers, which means the opposite – we need more food, more farming and therefore – higher water consumption. Some estimates are already stating that we will need to double our food production by 2050 to meet the growing demand. The case seems hopeless. There is an interesting way out of this, however – soil-less farming

The name is actually quite literally describing this method – there is no soil needed. This unusual way of growing vegetables had been initially researched by NASA, and to your surprise – not because it is difficult to bring soil to space. Water is much harder to be put up there. And due to its substantially smaller water consumption, soilless farming has been on the scope of astronauts.

What is it exactly?

Soil-less farming is a highly controllable and monitorized method of cultivation, in a closed environment and without usage of a single grain of soil. There are various mediums to substitute the soil, hence their different names. Hydroponics are plants which have been grown in water – their roots are submerged in mineral-rich and nutritious liquid. Water circulation is basically closed, and the only part of it that is being “lost”, is the one that is used by the plant itself – for example, into cell production. There are also Aquaponics – which are different from the previous one only by one factor – the water used for its production is also inhabited by fish. Slightly different are Aeroponics, because instead of water, there is just a sort of a fog-like air, which is also rich in nutrients necessary for proper growth.

An example of hydroponic plantation – roots are submerged in water.

As mentioned before, this way of producing vegetables is extremely water-sufficient. But how exactly?

By some estimates and real-life results (for example in Japan), soil-less farming can cut the water usage by 99%. That is an astonishing number! And even better news is that this is only the beginning of advantages. Another way of referring to this method is vertical farming – this is due to the fact that plants can be stored in a sort of container, and these can be stacked upon each other. Hence we not only achieve huge water savings, but also need less area for producing equal results. What is more, by appropriate light distribution and composition of the “feeding” water, we are capable of receiving more food out of the same amount of product. When it comes to salad, for example, the edible part accounts usually for around 30% of the whole plant’s mass. Using hydroponic agriculture, we can consume even 90% of the plant.

Since we are talking about salad already, let’s compare other interesting statistics. By using traditional agriculture, from one meter squared, we can produce on average around 4 kg of salad, which requires 250 l of water. One meter, 4 kilograms, 250 liters. Vertical farming from the same area (one meter) can provide 100kg of salad, consuming only 1l of water. Again, one meter, 100 kilograms, one liter. This example shows how drastically more efficient this type of agriculture is.

A view to a soil-less farm.

Unfortunately, as with everything, there are two sides of the coin, and vertical farming has its disadvantages.

First, we are capable of producing only green vegetables, like salad or herbs. There have been attempts of growing more demanding vegetables, such as broccoli, however with little success or with high costs. So far this technology is not developed to such an extent that would allow us to farm anything we desire. It is still within early steps. What is more, soil-less farming requires high technology and strictly regulated – even lab like – conditions. On top of that, the source of energy comes not from the sun, but LED lights. To sum up, this means that vertical agriculture is not available to everyone: costs of entry are quite high, as well as the costs of electricity. 

Japan comes here with some great real-life examples. In 2014 the profitability of such farms had been examined. Unfortunately, only 25% would be profitable, half would manage to come clean (no profit no losses), and the remaining one quarter would generate losses.

The technology is however still being researched, improvements are being introduced and the future is looking rather in bright colors for vertical farming. Financing has grown 13 times in the past 5 years, accounting for around 13 billions dollars. It is still little, but the trend goes in the right direction. If we manage to produce grains (wheat, rye, etc.) with this method, we could – by the estimates – reclaim 15% of lands and cut the water demand by 91%. It is definitely a game worth playing.

At Terra Franca we are not capable of growing plants without soil – at least for now! Instead, we are trying to get as much as possible from the land given to us. Even though traditional farming seems to be a wastage compared to the vertical one, it is still the greenest way to go. That’s why we want to have our own little garden that will be able to satisfy our – and in the future also yours – modest needs. Commune gardens not only provide value in the form of food, but also education and social integration.

Nothing bonds people as much as dirty hands, does it?


Cultivating a sustainable life with Permaculture

What is permaculture?
It is not easy to describe in a few words the concept of permaculture as it involves a lot of activities and several processes. Permaculture is often related to eco agriculture, but it is definitely more than that, as it also involves aspects such as economy, bio construction and renewable energy, water treatment, social relationships and community development. For some people, permaculture is a way of living more than just an agriculture technique.

In fact, permaculture is an ensemble of knowledge, philosophy and techniques to create a permanent culture that sustains over time. The goal is to restore the damage caused by the use of nature, while, at the same time, managing the resources in a sustainable way for the common benefit of nature and human beings.

What does it consist of?
There are no standards in order to create a permaculture system, but there are some principles to follow and a simple ethic based on taking care of the land as well as the humans and resources available.

According to this ethic, permaculture takes into consideration not only human beings but also non-human beings, meaning the land, biodiversity, the atmosphere, water, etc. All the activities must guarantee that the ecosystems are able to run in a healthy way while they are shared with people.

The principles of the Permaculture can easily be explained with 12 basic rules:

  1. Observe and interact.
    In order to achieve a more ethical and sustainable way of living.
  2. Store and catch energy.
    This is key in order to live a sustainable life. Use the resources nature is providing us.
  3. Obtain a yield.
    This can be either tangible or not, however it is necessary to be able to see results in the short term.
  4. Feedback and self-regulation.
    Understanding where we have gone wrong through analysis to change the  process in order to achieve success.
  5. Use and value the resources and renewable services.
    Use solar, eolic, hydraulic energies, for example, in order to make your permaculture project work.
  6. Produce no waste.
    There are many ways to start reducing your waste: buy more wisely and always try to recycle or compost your food.
  7. Design from patterns to details.
    Before starting any kind of permaculture project, have a look at the big picture in order to start with your project.
  8. Integrate don’t segregate.
    Collaboration in nature and in social relationships is the key to success. Individual projects are often more likely to be frustrated.
  9. Use small, slow solutions.
    Big changes cannot be made from one day to the other. Focus on small things first in order to not be overwhelmed and achieve your bigger goals.
  10. Use and value diversity.
    The same way ecosystems can benefit from different species, society has also some similarities. Embrace diversity and different points of view.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal.
    Sustainability is also about taking anything that is at our disposal.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change.
    Have a plan a, b and c if necessary, and respond effectively to changes.

Terra Franca is looking forward to embracing these principles in order to create a Permaculture project in Cruillas, outside the city of Palermo, Sicily. The objective is to create a sustainable space to produce and share with the community.

Anima Franca: our fight for a greener future

Natural environment has already been under attack for centuries. Since humans have discovered agriculture, they have massively transformed the globe through the expansion of modern civilization, to the detriment of Earth’s biodiversity. Nowadays changes of climate are happening very quickly, therefore, ordinary ways of adapting (such as migration) are impossible for many species. A strong link has been proven between many cases of mass extinctions (fauna and flora) and climate change.

We can notice easily how fast people are transforming the global environment. In recent centuries, large tracts of forests in temperate regions of Europe, Asia and North America have been cut for cultivation, timber and urban development. The tropical forests are still being cut out and cleared. The number of times ecosystems are overrun by pests, predators, or simply competing species that are introduced by humans, is growing exponentially. Excessive, devastating exploitation of fisheries and forest game is the rule rather than the exception.

The United Nations Environment Protection Program states that the Earth is a place of mass extinction of life, and 150-200 species of plants, insects, birds and mammals die out every day – that is, one species every several minutes. Most conservative researchers believe that to be “only” every few hours. In other words, the current rate of extinction is hundreds or even thousands of times higher than the natural rate, and the process is still accelerating.

All of this is the result of a six-fold increase in population and a fifty-fold increase in the world economy. The Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s was built thanks to the abusive management of the environment (Steffen et al., 2007). Around 83% of the land surface is under direct human influence. We have complete control over 36% of the biologically productive area (Krausman et al., 2013). Half of the world’s freshwater flow is generated for human use. Industry transforms more nitrogen into its active form than all natural phenomena. Industrial and agricultural processes cause constant accumulation of persistent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the concentrations of which already reach levels unheard of for at least 800,000 years, and perhaps even much longer (Jozuel et al., 2007), even for several million years.

It is clear that this worldwide dominance of one species must have an effect on other species and on biodiversity. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report brings sad conclusions. 60% of ecosystems are degraded and the rate of extinction is 100-1000 times greater than natural processes in geological history. For example, the study by Brook et al. (2003) found that up to 42% of Southeast Asian species could be doomed to extinction by 2100 due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation alone.

To sum up, the present perspective on Earth’s biodiversity is grim. We are conscious that the most mass extinctions were triggered by the rapid onset of global warming, caused by the growth of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Before, these emissions were mostly begotten by enormous, volcanic eruptions. 

Looking through the prism of the geological scale, these changes appeared in the blink of an eye, thus, were more harmful. What is happening right now is similar. Population, since 1850 has caused the level of CO2 in the atmosphere has rapidly increased. At the present, is more or less on the same range like was in the last 3 to 5 million years before.

We are changing the climate quicker than animals and plants are able to adapt. Although it can be depressing and overwhelming, there is still the chance to stop this destructive process. We are still on time to reverse the worst effects that humans have made on climate change. Supporting conservationist efforts and transition to renewable energy is one of many things we can follow.

Therefore we are working on the project TerraFranca because we strongly believe that taking care of green areas can create a beautiful impact to nature.  Everybody can join us and be a part of something big. It just depends on us. Just give a look at our activity contracted with TerraFranca and AnimaFranca. We hope to see you there with us.

Together we have a huge power!