The Social Dimension of Environmental Sustainability (document)

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Poster of the seminar “Health, Social Inclusion, Sustainable Development” (Siena, 20 May 2014)

On May 20, 2014 I had the pleasure of featuring as a speaker along with Tommaso Diegoli (Project Manager of MED Solutions) and Gianluca Breghi (Managing Director of Fondazione Sclavo) during the seminar “Health, Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development. Global and Regional Challenges“, co-hosted by Greening USiena and Fondazione Sclavo in partnership with MED Solutions and the University of Siena. As the title of the event suggests, covered topics included the progress on the MDGs, the transition to the SDGs, the push to achieve health for all, social sustainability as a pillar of sustainable development, perspectives for the Mediterranean region and so on.

My talk (“The Social Dimension of Environmental Sustainability”), in particular, focused on the mutual relationship that exists between social and environmental sustainability, analyzing the importance of a healthy bio-physical environment for livelihoods and societies and presenting examples of such an interaction throughout areas ranging from climate change to the plight of natural resources during armed conflicts.

Below you can find slides from my presentation (in pdf format), the content of which mainly relied on data and reports from UNSDSN, UNDP, UNEP, IPCC, FAO, TEEB. It was divided in the following sections:

a) Section 1: What exactly is social sustainability?
b) Section 2: Why “the social dimension of environmental sustainability”?
c) Section 3: Interactions: the Millennium Development Goals
d) Section 4: Interactions: the impact of climate change
e) Section 5: Interactions: armed conflicts and violence
f) Section 6: Conclusions

Download the document here:

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World Water Day Infographics

Yesterday was World Water Day! This year’s theme, “Water & Energy”, was meant to shed light on the interdependence that links these two issues (and the mutual relationship they also have with food security, biodiversity and so on). Learn more on the observance’s official website (http://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday/home/en/) and take a look at these poignant infographics by the World Bank (more here).

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Celebrate #IFDay 2014!

Today is the second International Day of Forests and the Tree. Exactly one year ago I wrote this to celebrate forests and their role for sustainable development: http://goo.gl/d6ZKcS

You may also like to take a look at the page set up by FAO or read the message of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Earth Overshoot Day 2013


Yesterday was #EarthOvershootDay2013. While I am not that into sharing quotes, nothing better than this sentence by Wolfgang Sachs says how we are stuck in fake progress while we keep destroying our natural resources day after day.
To learn more about Earth Overshoot Day and the Global Footprint Network, visit http://footprintnetwork.org.

Timelapse 1984-2012: i cambiamenti globali

Cogliamo l’occasione offertaci dalla pubblicazione dell’impressionante progetto congiunto realizzato da Google EarthNational Aeronautics and Space AdministrationU.S. Geological Survey (USGS) e TIME, per condividere anche con i lettori del nostro sito le immagini in timelapse dei cambiamenti avvenuti sulla terra negli ultimi trent’anni.

Timelapse è per l’appunto il nome del lavoro in oggetto: si tratta, in sostanza, di unamappa diacronica che mostra l’impatto visibile delle attività antropiche(deforestazione, sviluppo urbano e costiero, irrigazione, cambiamenti climatici) sugli ecosistemi, sull’ambiente e sulla geografia stessa del nostro pianeta nel corso delperiodo 1984-2012, ottenuta grazie alla diffusione su internet, curata da Google Earth, dell’immenso archivio Landsat, composto da milioni di immagini satellitari raccolte sin dagli anni settanta da una missione congiunta NASA-USGS.

Poche campagne, nella convinzione di chi scrive, hanno avuto un potenziale così elevato a livello comunicativo: ‘sorvolare’ attraverso il tempo l’Antropocene in cui viviamo significa infatti ampliare l’orizzonte, purtroppo spesso limitato, con cui l’opinione pubblica osserva i cambiamenti globali, e rappresentare tale environmental change in tutta la sua drammatica portata. Per utilizzare le parole di Rebecca Moore, engineering manager di Google Earth Engine & Earth Outreach, “much like the iconic image of Earth from the Apollo 17 mission—which had a profound effect on many of us—this time-lapse map is not only fascinating to explore, but we also hope it can inform the global community’s thinking about how we live on our planet and the policies that will guide us in the future”.

Vi lasciamo adesso alle fotografie in formato GIF, comunque non senza prima avervi suggerito di leggere l’affascinante articolo di approfondimento sul sito del settimanale TIME, che trovate a questo indirizzo: http://world.time.com/timelapse/.

Columbia Glacier Retreat

1. Il Columbia Glacier, situato nello stretto del Principe William (Alaska), dalla sua scoperta (nel 1794) fino al 1980 non si era praticamente mai mosso. Da allora ha iniziato a ritirarsi. Ad un certo punto, nel 2001, il ghiacciaio perdeva estensione ad una velocità stimata di 30 metri al giorno. Ad oggi, i ghiacci si sono ridotti di circa 20 km in lunghezza e 400 m in spessore.

Dubai Coastal Expansion

2. Alla metà degli anni ’80 Dubai era una città di circa 300.000 persone. Oggi ne conta più di 2 milioni ed è la capitale finanziaria del Medioriente. Non è semplicemente cresciuta nel deserto, ma attraverso isole artificiali ha addirittura iniziato ad espandersi sul mare.

Lake Urmia Drying Up

3. Il Lago Urmia, seppur protetto dal Dipartimento dell’Ambiente iraniano, si sta prosciugando ormai da tempo (si stima che abbia perduto il 60% delle dimensioni originarie). Se il trend continuerà, diverrà presto una palude salmastra con livelli di salinità estremi. L’Iran ha recentemente annunciato un accordo con l’Armenia per ‘importare’ acqua con cui combattere il declino del lago.

Las Vegas Urban Growth

4. Prima di Dubai, un’altra città si è sviluppata nel deserto (con enorme consumo di risorse idriche a danno del vicino Lago Mead, il quale si riduce proporzionalmente all’urbanizzazione): è Las Vegas, la cui popolazione è cresciuta del 50% dal 2000 al 2010, per poi conoscere un improvviso boom di sfratti dovuti alla crisi dei mutui subprime.

Saudi Arabia Irrigation

5. I sistemi di irrigazione hanno trasformato le sabbie dell’Arabia Saudita in un’oasi artificiale, un paradiso per le attività agricole. A quale prezzo in termini di consumo di acqua e di energia?

Wyoming Coal Mining

6. Le miniere a cielo aperto stanno conoscendo un’espansione senza precedenti in Nord America, a causa dell’aumento del prezzo del petrolio. Che si tratti delle sabbie bituminose dell’Alberta o dell’estrazione di carbone in Wyoming, quello che colpisce è la velocità della devastazione ambientale.

Brazilian Amazon Deforestation

7. Lo stato di Rondonia, nell’ovest del Brasile, è situato nel cuore dell’Amazzonia ed una volta ospitava quasi 50 milioni di acri di foresta pluviale incontaminati. Oggi, è una delle zone più pesantemente soggette a deforestazione. Circa 65.ooo km quadrati di foresta sono scomparsi dal 1978 al 2003.

Forests are about more than survival

by Dario Piselli, Greening USiena coordinator

I am sorry for the late timing, but I thought some words were needed to address the firstInternational Day of Forests and the IDF_poster_ENTree, which was held yesterday after a UN December resolution declared that 21 March of every year was to observed as an occasion to “celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and trees outside forests“. Apart from the consideration that international occurrences may or may not be pivotal in achieving the goals they are concerned with, depending on countries’ willingness to commit to tackling the issues that have been raised, it should not be unfair to say that the recognition of the value of forest ecosystems and the services that they provide brings up one the biggest and most evocative challenges the human race and the planet are facing today. Forests are not only the core of the earth’s biosphere and the cornerstone of life, functioning as soil conservers, climate change regulators, primary producers, hydrologic flow modulators, habitats for wild species and holders of about 90% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity; in fact, their history is inextricably linked to mankind’s one, and mankind’s biological (but also anthropological) evolution has developed in strong connection with them. On one hand, forests still host roughly 2,000 indigenous cultures which deserve respect and the right to be held keepers of their environment (not to mention the need for us to leave them alone, recognizing their will for an autonomous model of development, that be really their own); on the other, they have accompanied human progress throughout time, providing man with a (seemingly) never ending source of food, building materials, heating sources, shelter and a (truly) never ending source of thought and mysterious fascination.

This is what strikes me the most about forests. Nearly everything that could have been said on the ecological, social and economical crisis that we may expect if we keep on destroying these ecosystems for livestock breeding, indiscriminate agriculture, paper, timber and so on is contained in the brilliant message that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has delivered yesterday (and that can be read here). But there is much more than that. There is, at least in me (and I hope in many), a deep sense of belonging, even though I never lived within close range of a ‘forest’; there is a sense of moral connection, of our shared place ‘in the family of things’, as Mary Oliver once put it; there is, finally, a sense of mutual relationship which has helped (and continues to) shape the world and our very same spirit, in the meantime.

This is especially evident in those indigenous cultures, to which I pointed earlier, that have retained and nurtured their likeness to the nature that surrounds them: without trees and forests, they simply wouldn’t exist, and not just because they would-Yasuni-National-Park-in--001 have developed another type of civilization, but especially because they would have lost their identity. However, it is not exclusive of them. Through the centuries, there have been men who have worshipped forests and protected them, by words or by action, from destruction; and they have done so for more than their beauty, and surely for more than that (sometimes) emotionless adhesion people express for a cause which is being put forward by an NGO they donate to. What these men (think of John Muir, for instance) pursued was not the somehow egoistic goal of defending their primary mean of survival and existence (and that especially because in the nineteenth century no one could even imagine mankind facing the global challenges we need to address today); what they pursued was the recognition of us and the forests being part of the common tissue of life, a tissue which encompasses a ‘give and take’ mentality (and not a ‘Giving Tree’ mentality) but which also goes beyond physical interactions to penetrate the very heart of human history on this planet earth, and they did so because they understood that “in wildness is the preservation of the world”.

(from The Maine Woods, Chesuncook – by Henry David Thoreau)

john_muir_washington_column“Strange that so few ever come to the woods to see how the pine lives and grows and spires, lifting its evergreen arms to the light, — to see its perfect success; but most are content to behold it in the shape of many broad boards brought to market, and deem that its true success! But the pine is no more lumber than man is, and to be made into boards and houses is no more its true and highest use than the truest use of a man is to be cut down and made into manure. There is a higher law affecting our relation to pines as well as to men. A pine cut down, a dead pine, is no more a pine than a dead human carcass is a man. Can he who has discovered only some of the values of whalebone and whale oil be said to have discovered the true use of the whale? Can he who slays the elephant for his ivory be said to have “seen the elephant”? These are petty and accidental uses; just as if a stronger race were to kill us in order to make buttons and flageolets of our bones; for everything may serve a lower as well as a higher use. Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine-trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.’