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Climate change, soil, food: from crisis to growth

Milan, 17/06/2019, Annual Conference for the Friends of Aspen

Contemporary society is paradoxical: the number of global deaths for lack of food is equal to those linked with illnesses due to over-eating. This immoral division of food resources is all the more problematic if you consider that the food production chain (from farm to consumer table) accounts for nearly 40% of harmful gas emissions.

The response to climate change must therefore include nutrition and the agro-alimentary chain. Innovation is key to substantially reducing consumption and waste, as the effects of precision agriculture has already proven. While the consumption of carbon-rich soil frees large amounts of harmful emissions into the atmosphere, it is possible to reverse this trend and not only to make farming more sustainable but also to ensure that it goes back to “capturing” carbon through the wider and more effective use of compost.

Younger generations are showing some encouraging signs from the standpoints of lifestyle changes and their increased interest in work opportunities in the agriculture sector. Nevertheless, the urgency of the climate crisis calls for rapid action not only with a view to mitigating the effects of climate change, but also to adapting populations and farming practices.

Such efforts must be underpinned by education, beginning with the dissemination and explanation of the scientific evidence of the events taking place. The reduction of harmful gas emissions does not have an immediate effect on the climate because of the already high levels of climate-altering gasses already present in the atmosphere. Thus, commitments must be over the long term, which is only possible with the support of large segments of society.

In addition, the economic model needs innovating, with the insertion of environmental assets and the actions aimed at protecting them not only as costs but as values that can be accounted for on corporate balance sheets. Policy interventions of this sort could help the much-anticipated “green new deal” become a development model standard, thereby shifting the efforts needed to defend the planet to a much broader scale. 

Italy’s role in this scenario is ambiguous. Lagging behind on various aspects of environmental protection and agricultural innovation, the country could instead be a trailblazer in agro-alimentary sectors ranging from organic farming to high-quality site-specific crops. Indeed, in the changing dialectic between city and country, today’s vast urban areas bordering on or incorporating the countryside could potentially become sustainability and innovation models capable of generating positive returns for the country and the environment.