Luca Mercalli (Turin, 1966), climatologist, master in mountain sciences at the Université de Savoie-Mont-Blanc, director of the Nimbus magazine, presides the Società Meteorologica Italiana, a national association founded in 1865. He deals with research on climates and alpine glaciers, teaches environmental sustainability in different schools and universities in Italy (University of Turin-SSST), Switzerland and France while personally adopting its values and practices, living in a solar-powered house and traveling by electric car. He is a consultant of the European Union and scientific advisor of ISPRA-Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale. He worked for the RAI tv show “Che tempo che fa”, “Scala Mercalli” and “TGMontagne” and Rainews24. Columnist for Il Fatto Quotidiano, he has written thousands of articles and has over 2,400 conferences to his credit. Among his books: “Filosofia delle nuvole” (Rizzoli), “Viaggi nel tempo che fa” (Einaudi), “Prepariamoci” (Chiarelettere), “Il mio orto tra cielo e terra” (Aboca), “Non c’è più tempo” (Einaudi), “Il clima che cambia” (BUR), “Salire in montagna” (Einaudi) and the children’s book” Uffa che Caldo “(ElectaKids).
How are you? How did you live through the difficult months of the pandemic? Did you work on a new book?
Fortunately, i was able to transform the year of the pandemic into a remote business. Mostly thanks to the very rapid development related to communication technologies, i was able to convert all the conferences, business trips and training events to online webinars and remote interventions. Within a month, I radically changed my work style and guess what, without any major issue. I had time to finish the book, published in September 2020, which tells about my experience of moving to the mountains, “Salire in montagna. Prendere quota per sfuggire al riscaldamento globale”. Currently I have no plans for new editorial releases, but I continue to write articles and elaborate scientific studies that lead me to write constantly.
Let’s talk about climate: what phase of the climate emergency are we experiencing?
We are experiencing an emergency that the pandemic has partially concealed. Nowadays all the attention is focused on the health emergency’s data and therefore the analysis on climate issues have been set aside. However, the problem continues to exist and the global data does not give any positive signals, on the contrary we’re seeing a constant worsening of the indicators. The amount of CO2 emissions in the world continues to increase, despite a fleeting moment of reduction given by the first lockdowns of 2020. However, it did not last long.
The short time during which the decline in transport took place (precisely between March and May 2020) led to a 6% decrease in global emissions. To date, however, we have already canceled this improvement, returning exactly as we were before.
The good thing is that we are starting again to talk concretely about climate negotiations. This year we will have a big conference in Glasgow on November 2021, which will see the return of the USA. After four years in which the Trump administration has exited the Paris Agreement, the new President Biden has instead expressed the will to turn the tide. We expect that in this conference something more concrete will finally emerge than what it was done till now, many words and a lot of greenwashing.
In Italy, the new Ministry for the Ecological Transition seems to have limited itself, so far, only to announcements, without apparently making improvements. It seems that there is no political courage to change the situation.
The health emergency has given us the proof that with incisive measures we can obtain results. We don’t need a pandemic to understand this: we have noted the extent of what we must negotiate and agree on to have an effect of real environmental sustainability, otherwise they are only to be considered mere decorative measures.
The difficult thing is to make people perceive the positive aspects of these changes and new sustainable lifestyles. Is the problem related, perhaps, to the communication of the potential that such a radical change would have on us?
The positive thing is what is at stake right now. We do not realize that we are condemning all humanity and all future generations to live on a hostile planet. Unfortunately, we are at a point of no return: we have exhausted the potential for prevention with the hesitations of these previous thirty years and thus got ourselves into trouble with our own hands. Now, to cope with the climate emergency, we will most likely have to give up something.
If we had implemented concrete measures thirty years ago, there would have been time to make a real transition, one step at a time. The first international climate agreement took place in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro: since then, 30 years of mere words.
We have missed this period of prevention and now the “disease” is underway. I’ll give you an example: when a patient goes to the doctor and has an awful disease, there is no way to sweeten the situation. We must stop processes that create damage. For example, in Italy we continue to build and build with cement, also creating problems for tourism: if a shed is built next to a Palladian villa, then you can’t expect that international tourism will be attracted to it. The problem is also and mostly territorial, because when it is going to rain more oftenly, because of climate change, the water will not drain and the floods will be even more catastrophic than what we have experienced till now.
The real solution? No more land consumption. This choice would entail the discontent of those who have personal interests in the field. The ecological transition requires new infrastructures such as solar panels and wind turbines, but it would also require radical measures to stop the processes that cause irreversible damage, we need the courage to act.
There is an underlying problem of social psychology to be added to the aforementioned interests. We are a species that rejects any long-term prevention, in all sectors, not only on climate. We acted accordingly with the pandemic: we took action late and we did not have a prevention plan.
What contribution can startups and the “green innovation” can give to climate action? What do you think of the very controversial “offsets”? A critical judgment is welcome.
Today’s situation is not entirely irrecoverable. Simply, the climatic and environmental damages we have done so far can no longer be repaired, but we can avoid adding future ones. To get there we need to be quick, so the role of innovation is important, especially in the energy field. We need to waste less energy, from construction to production processes. We need to rely more on renewable energies and electric mobility, sectors to be developed in parallel with the elimination of what creates damage.
“Offsets”, or the so-called forms of compensation (“I pollute, but I plant trees to compensate”, ndr), are controversial: if I don’t fix or stop the reason for the damage, I’ll never get to the result. The compensations have a limited sense in time and only for some productions. For example, hospitals consume energy and cannot yet make the ecological transition because of infrastructural reasons; however, they are indispensable and, in this case, the compensation will be useful to help allocate resources. So that we can make investments in innovation and research. However, it is unthinkable to manage everything like this. If we adopt compensation to produce luxury cars, which are unnecessary goods, surely the compensation is useless. For certain sectors, offsets should not be considered; instead, we should use small, modern and electric utility cars and eliminate the manufacture of useless and polluting objects.
What do you think about the European Green Deal? Which in particular could be Italy’s role in this context?
The Green Deal is certainly at the forefront as a message on sustainable policies. It is a great program, but has two flaws: the first one is that it is only on paper, while the second concerns the contradictions that lay within it. The Green Deal explains the fact that many things must be transformed into green, but it does not say which ones must to be stopped. However, we urgently need to act and we cannot afford this kind of process. In the Italian context, but also in general, we must encourage the sustainability transformation, and we must stop the old activities that damage the environment. We have to work in a “integrated way”, perhaps having the courage to fight against some economic interests. We can’t play both sides!
How much could a business-as-usual economic recovery cost us in terms of climate change? How do you imagine the future of work and the economy?
Economic recovery based on business as usual translates only to one scenario: ecological catastrophe and the extinction of humanity.
Future generations will live on a hostile planet. To keep our planet livable, we must apply all the efficiency and sustainability technologies, but we would also need to make some sacrifices. It would be necessary to carry out a “degrowth”, which would mean the elimination of the superfluous and the inefficiencies; it certainly would not mean living in hardship.
Infinite growth is not compatible with a world of limited dimensions The planet has size limits: how is it possible to be sustainable with infinite growth in a finite world? The Earth is running out of its resources and instead is increasing its amount of waste. We must adapt to the physical dimensions of the Earth, not the other way around. Regarding the climate, we are the cause but we are also the solution. We must stop and think about genuine needs and not induced needs.
The first edition of GECO EXPO opened interesting discussions, for example “Climate actions”, which led the way for a concrete and constructive dialogue on the future of sustainability. Would you like to speak at one of the round tables of the 2022 edition in order to bring even more value to the discussion on climate?
What I have noticed is that there is a lack of adequate information spaces on these issues. The problem is that environmental issues never get deeply analyzed; everyone talks about it, but we just stay on its surface. The subject it’s composed by complex topics that have an enormous amount of connections with each other and obviously they are not topics that you can cover in few minutes. Undoubtedly, We need to speak louder! even better if in a virtual platform that does not pollute. Let’s keep in touch!
Original interview posted by Expogeco