FROM A CITY
N ° 107 October 2002
(Pp. 22-23)

27% of the Italian soil is affected by erosion processes and for much of the south, Apulia, Basilicata, Sicily, Calabria and Sardinia, there is already talk of desertification. What is meant by desertification, are there general parameters to define it?
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification has defined desertification as degradation of soils due to various climate and environmental phenomena and, in particular, human intervention, meaning degradation of soils a loss of characteristics that allow the Soils themselves to retain soil, humus, water and therefore to keep the vegetation. From the Rio of 1992, three environmental conventions, one for climate, one for biodiversity and one for the fight against desertification came out. If the first two are addressing the parameters and objectives of global phenomenon analysis (Kyoto agreements, for example, tend to define the amount of global emissions compatible with a restoration of optimum greenhouse conditions), the Desertification Convention Locate objectives and parameters locally. To understand, we know that climate change has led to the acceleration of destructive and erosive phenomena on a global scale, but it is not true that they are only due to global climate change, what is actually the local microclimate. In general, desertification is due to lack of rainfall, but rain can also be destructive, and just the current climate change is producing, along with a shortage of rain at certain times, excess rainfall in others because ocean warming Has produced more water circulation in the atmosphere, greater energy, and therefore more precipitation, with violent climatic extremes. This is what we see more and more in the Mediterranean, lack of water and then floods, prolonged droughts followed by air trumpets. We must expect a climate system that will evolve more and more in this direction. However, the alternation of positive situations and catastrophes is part of the history of humanity, which had been able to adapt over time, traditional systems of soil organization were based on the need to cope with unpredictability and climate change. Adapting means, therefore, to arrange the soils, the slope, for example, becomes dry if there is no rain, but the arrival of a rainy rain can be just as destructive if the soils are not adequately equipped with forests or plantations of trees, dry walls, systems Collecting and channeling water that can bend its impulse by organizing it in its rivulas and covering it in cisterns for the stages of shortage. All abandoned practices to replace them with other destructive. And here we come to the action of man: cementing an entire area to make it a city means preventing the rain water, which first went into the ground and the ground, to be absorbed by the soil, dispersing it quickly toward the sea. We cemented the rivers and littoral flats, abandoned the mountains and the hinterland, cut the forests, moved the water at very distant distance. The wind absorbs water from forests as well as from the sea, they are real catalysts of precipitation water. Making water basins and bringing fresh water to places where it is missing can not allow it to be renewed where it was taken, because if we take water away we alter the climate mechanism, based on delicate condensation and precipitation equilibrium, and it is possible That where it once rained then it rains no more. Such actions are the basis of desertification. Desertification does not mean desert, the desert exists in a latitudinal band where it has been established from geological eras, so it has created its own biodiversity condition linked to the specific adaptations in that environment, to selection processes set up over time. For desertification is meant, however, a situation of extreme and sudden deterioration. It’s time the important variable. Desertification does not leave organisms time to get used to and respond to new conditions, it is the traumatic breakdown of an experienced equilibrium and is established where, for latitudinal and climatic conditions, desert should not exist. But paradoxically we can say that desert can desert, and this happens when the oases, the water collection systems disappear. By restricting the analysis to Italy, the fact that the phenomenon is massively present in the south does not exclude the involvement of northern areas as well. Last year I was phoneed by Valtellina or the Padana plain, failing to understand why they had no more water and complaining of drought, in fact, relative to what happened here, nothing happened to them, but the water shortage is a Its relative, where it is used to large quantities of water, is enough to lower the alarm, and in the south we drink a lot of water much higher than that used in the Sahara. However, we have to get used to converting our production systems, industrial ones, but above all agrarians, into low-consumption water systems, because this is the resource destined to become increasingly rare and difficult to find, especially drinking water. We must also consider that the waste of water we make is still exceptional, in the north most of the water ends up in the rivers and is discharged into the sea without being collected.

What are the major sectors of waste?
Even more agriculture is in the industry. The maximum amount of water currently used ends up in an agriculture totally spoiled by water. Agriculture once used small plots producing a very wide variety of land, not only for the diversification of crops but also for the presence of unpolluted areas with different characteristics necessary to maintain a biological balance, the establishment of a habitat, Allude to the fencing bushes, the rigging, the woody aspects, the drainage. Industrial agriculture, on the other hand, needs large surfaces that are always the same with large machines, thus destroying all that variety of landscapes that constituted the richness of traditional agriculture. Even here in the southern areas previously considered marginal as those karsties are now grinded to make it a flat expanse to be exploited for agricultural production, which, under such conditions, can only be done by using massively artificial fertilizers and pesticides, hence huge amounts of d ‘Water, because water is the only means of absorbing these elements to the ground. Thus, an entirely artificial, almost plasticized, uncultivated agricultural land is created, free from true fertilizers, and a vicious circle is created. Since we no longer have the variety of plants, bushes and residual areas, harmful insects focus on cultivated plants, so the need for pesticides, chemical fertilizers and water to absorb them increases gradually. We would not need a perennially irrigated agriculture, so pumped and doped with artificial fertilizers, we have produced it as a vicious circuit that will inevitably expand. To begin, the soils will no longer be able to absorb water. This winter along with the drought mourned the frost of the soils, so the soils became a plastic crust, and even if it rains the water does not penetrate and the foams do not feed. Then drought even in the presence of rain. But the cold this winter was due to the clear sky, as the climate warming caused a lack of clouds, the heat was not retained and fired upward, so the frost was created below, which in turn increased aridity. The mechanisms are therefore complex. Agriculture is only one component within a wider process. Certainly it would be very important to start from here to reverse a mechanism that, amongst other things, gives us tasteless and inflated products from the water. A fruit contains 85% water, we can say we export water by selling it, but in its cost the value of that water is not there. And it is drinking water because we, in a global context where a billion people suffer from the lack of this resource, we use drinking water to wet the plants. So the real cost of this water is paid in some other way, when we import oranges from Israel, for example, the water that is inside is paid for the extraordinary costs of desalination and conflict, war is in fact the fruit of Disparity between those who consume 200 liters of water and who has access to them 10. And these are the data we must expect for the future of the planet, the era of water wars has already begun, the imminent Iraqi conflict Will be the last one for oil. Think for example at the Nile. Today are there ways to make large basins upstream of the great rivers, if Ethiopia would make the dam on the Nile that Egypt would do? He would have to attack Ethiopia, because it is completely dependent on the Nile, but this situation may occur in almost the whole world if it goes ahead with the dams policy, because the boundaries of the great rivers do not coincide with those of the states. It is then necessary to have a world water code that sets a minimum right for each inhabitant. Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg has appealed to ensure 50 liters of free water per day to every inhabitant of the earth. However, if we say this, it means that we really came to this and in a while we will have to say it to the air, it means that it has monetized everything, even an absolutely vital resource. And then the only plausible answer is the change in the development model that determines this situation.

Coming back?
Here too we are faced with a paradox. We expect traditional cultures to be behind, and the legacy of peoples that we call underdeveloped or, in an attempt to be more politically correct, marginal, intending to say that the future is another thing. Well, first of all, it is not marginal at all because the 3/4 of humanity still survives thanks to the knowledge of traditional economies, so the data is structured even if it does not fit into the established direction for the planet by the expansive development model. Moreover, if there really were any intention to include everyone in this model, it would be a few calculations to demonstrate their impracticability in a global perspective, if every day they consumed the 300 or 400 liters of proximal water we consume in the West Potable on the planet would not be enough. The truth is that in the meantime 3/4 of humanity consume 10, the minimum life limit of Madagascar, to 50 liters of water per day. The same reasoning applies to paper, if China wanted to consume as much as Europe consumes trees will end, and so with cars, if the Chinese have as many as we have the atmosphere would be completely destroyed. So the model of the affluent society is not propitious in the current demographic situation, pursuing it means going to apocalypse, natural disasters and wars caused by the growing accentuation of huge disparities. The other model, that of traditional society, continues to keep the 3/4 of the planet’s population, but paradoxically it is seen as something of a pastime, while in developed countries it begins to become a boon, we think of the landscapes of Switzerland or To the production of quality homes in England, which have the use of ancient techniques. In fact, therefore, the traditional model is progressive, it is a model pride for the economies of well-being. The poorest countries, those who have suffered a cultural shock, are overwhelmed by modernity, and because of the destruction of their values, their traditional model can not accept from it what is actually to be taken, leaving aside what is there Of negative.

Can you give me examples of how this cultural shock has been realized?
Even here in our south you see very well, the case of the Sassi of Matera is an obvious example. In the ’70s they were completely depopulated, no longer modern living in the Sassi. But the same has happened for so many Italian historical centers, the inhabitants had accepted an idea of ​​modernity that made all this obsolete, not practicable. So in Matera it happened that in the streets was passing the cart that distributed plastic bundles in exchange for copper pots and people came running. Meanwhile copper objects were sold in more advanced markets, for example in Germany, at a high price. It is a problem of fixing values, we can now dwell in medieval houses because we have modernized them with modifications that, without distorting their structure, respond to contemporary housing needs. Here is the point, tradition must be able to accept from modernity that degree of modification that does not fool the logic, for example here in the Sassi of Matera I use the terrace to collect rainwater and a cistern dating back to prehistory to preserve it but To spread it in the toilettes use a modern pump. The future is this, keep the logic of tradition by innovating it as much as is necessary to allow the tradition to perpetuate itself.

For this, however, it takes time and awareness …
Here we come to the node of the question, in fact the cultural shock occurs because the peoples are not prepared, they do not have the ability to respond, but above all have been culturally and economically depleted. Here poverty is a determining factor, the people who are poor by the loss of their tradition are inhuman and accept modernity without being able to contradict. For example, we always blame African deforestation for the fact that people cook with wood kitchens and, being poor, resort to cutting trees by destroying the territory, but in tradition it does not go to cut the green tree; They took their roots and dried branches, there was the awareness of staying within an environmental cycle that they had to keep. Now, cultural degradation is also evident from the disappearance of traditional symbols, the sacred wood, the taboo, the tree of the ancestors that was respected; When all this disappears, the lack of cultural resources to react will create an extreme disposability to overwhelm anything that comes from outside. So it is true that tradition is a dynamic fact that is constantly evolving, able to incorporate by selecting what one needs, from an imported plant in the sixteenth century, for example, originated from the tomato culture typical of Mediterranean Italy. I can live in a prehistoric cave, in the Sassi of Matera, is because I have acquired a cultural solidity. The inhabitants of Matera do not return to the Sassi unless they have the cultural power to claim prehistory and troglodythism as a part of their culture and tradition, in the absence of this there is the shame, the shame of the national shame of the past.

With regard to the definition of values, so-called marginal cultures, developed in difficult environments, are based on the recognition of the extreme delicacy and lability of vital balance, and hence on the principle of alliance and cooperation between different forms of life, values ​​that We risk losing.
Their is the logic of symbiosis. I believe that Darwinism does not really give an explanation to social and cultural evolution, too often it is used by extrapolating the notion of conflict to justify abuse, selection rewards the strongest, and implicitly recognizes the right to overwhelm others. Reality, however, can not be closed in this scheme, humanity itself is the proof, probably man was a graceful and unsuccessful monkey, and this was precisely his strength because it pushed him to join in communities that used Intelligence rather than strength and alliance with other beings, dog and other pets. The oasis is the extraordinary example of this symbiosis, the same organisms that attract by putting the palm tree to the shade and the condensation of moisture, which, decaying, produce fertility and create the soil. The need to be together is at the base of every ecosystem, understood as a continuous cycle, a perfectly integrated and autopoietic circuit. And this inevitably occurs in any limit state of the planet, because where the environment is difficult and requires an alliance for survival, it is clear that humanity has adapted itself. Here, I believe that basic traditional survival knowledge is still preserved in these communities, from the Sahara oases to the small historic or rural centers, to the various agrarian landscapes on the planet, it’s about knowing how to use them.

Knowing how to use it means knowing how to translate it from very different ways of transmitting knowledge?
We, at least from the Enlightenment, chose technical encoding as a way of transmitting our knowledge, while traditional cultures use symbols instead. Carrying on symbols the acts of daily life that work to survival keep their memory and make them transmissible, making them to become culture. The symbol also adds aesthetic value to the act, making it enjoyable. Here is the point, traditional knowledge does not separate the technique from aesthetics and pleasure, there is no difference between the vegetable garden and the garden made for contemplation, a traditional technique is both effective and beautiful. Rehearsing our traditional techniques today also means reconfiguring the net fracture between work time and leisure time and culture that has been produced in our societies. The symbolic finally attributes to the gestures and knowledge an aura of sacredness that allows it to be preserved. We take hydrogenetic techniques, those related to the water cycle and developed in environments where this resource is not immediately available. Water is an extraordinary metaphor for life, recalls the mother’s womb, it is indispensable for existence. Water is the word, say Dogons, a people of Mali who lives on the Niger pass, and indeed it is true, our breath is steam, when we talk too much we need to drink, so water is communicating over That vital necessity. But water is also the example of a productive cycle that is continually renewed and crosses the whole living, we are all crossed by the same water that has always circulated in the earth, so we ourselves are placed in the order of cyclicity and this is the A criterion that must guide human activities. We can not break the circular process without expecting consequences and circularity is based on perpetual renewal, not on the destruction and production of waste that can not be integrated into the cycle. Water is therefore a metaphor of the eternal return of the fact that in an ecosystem the decay of some beings allows the lives of others. The fruit must macerate on the ground because there are new sprouts, the vile matter, the manure, becomes humus, and it is from humus that comes the word man. The Latins said campus laetus happy field, but it was manure. The excretion cycle is important for the birth of life. In the city of Shibab the excrements are used to make the desert fertile and the oases would be an offer if a guest did not offer their excrements to the field, because that is its fertility in the system.

Returning to the water emergency, what possibilities could offer us the traditional techniques?
First, it is necessary to restore the traditional organization of the agrarian landscape, so in the south the terraces of the slopes with the dry stone walls, which are essential to avoid erosion and to absorb the excess water, preventing it from falling impetuously downstream and preserving it to Periods of shortage. The stones capture the night humidity and transfer it to the ground, any stone cluster produces water. The Egyptians said that there is another Nile in the skies and there were no precipitation, so this Nile was dew, condensation, the same great river in the skies was used in all the Puglia when there was no aqueduct Apulian, it was a great heavenly aqueduct that was captured through the mirrors (so called these stone clusters), the dry walls, the trulli and the water catchment systems on the roofs of the masserie. You should return to these practices by eliminating the model Of mechanized extensive farming and restoring forest systems and marginal areas, such as marshes. The re-naturalization of the coasts and the recovery of osmotic conditions is indispensable given that the problem of a significant increase in the level of the seas and the increase of the salinity of the coastal bands for the intrusion of sea water will soon be raised. But there are also examples of advanced technology that are in the logic of tradition, such as solar, a technique used forever, even painting the roofs of houses in order to gain heat, and which can be successfully associated with technicians who By themselves would not be propitious. For example, I think of the terraces system, which usually meets two kinds of opposition. On the one hand it is said that it takes too much work to do them and on the other stresses the difficulty of keeping them having to go uphill or donkey back as it once did. Well, meanwhile, high-intensity working systems like the traditional ones would be a good alternative to unemployment, and then the climb of the slopes would be solved by means such as those successfully tested at Ischia, a kind of monorail with solar powered electric motors Has no impact on the landscape and allows to maintain terraces that reach up to a thousand feet high. This is a demonstration of how traditional technology can continue to exist thanks to the association with modern practices. I say more, in my opinion the way mankind is going in space is in the logic of traditional technique, a space station recycles all of its waste and feeds it with solar energy. Probably in the moon will dwell in the caves, in underground tunnels, will create ecosystems able to regenerate the atmosphere. I am convinced that the strength of tradition represents the future, but a future that must always be measured with sustainability, that is, with transformations capable of producing more resources than they consume, this is the logic to apply to any production and consumption.

Can you give me some examples of repetition of the traditional water conservation techniques that have been successful?
Here in Palagianello, one of the graves of the Ionian area, we have successfully experimented with the refurbishment of terraced slopes. There was a slope that was eroding and crumbling, a boulder threatening the construction of an underwater aqueduct, so funds had been allocated for extraordinary intervention. Initially, it was thought of cement injections, tie rods, and a large containment wall that would disrupt the beauty of this canyon. We have instead proposed to rebuild terraced fields and walled gardens, so a traditional technique that, while consolidating the slope, gives the people of the gardens to stroll and in addition produces water, because we also rebuilt the tank system. Models like this are more and more suggestive, just think about how much the demand for organic products is spreading. It’s not just a matter of ideological discourse. The Western agricultural model has no outlets, produces on an ever larger scale causing destruction of non-sustainable resources and preventing all other countries from producing with traditional farming systems. A battery-based egg consumes the waste of a thousand liters of water (for cleaning machines and more), water which is obviously not calculated in the price of the egg. In this way we produce thousands of eggs and enter the global market at such competitive prices as to discourage traditional local productions. We are paradoxically producing more and more cheap and qualitatively poor or even harmful foods (think of the BSE) by paying very high environmental costs, while simultaneously destroying the growing economy of the areas, reducing their dependence on food.

Would traditional techniques be compatible with current urbanization systems?
To begin with, we should review the urbanization models, in cities we should no longer have cemented continuous surfaces, green bands should be inserted for the overflow of the foams to allow rainwater to infiltrate the subsoil. But even in modern homes, we could make terraces for water catching, which would be distributed in apartments, for example self-sufficiency for drinking water. Waste waters could be recycled in toilets or gardens. We could even think of hanging gardens, formidable temperature regulators, lowering it in the summer, and avoiding heat dispersions during the winter. Each summer, in fact, they increase the consumption of air conditioners and will soon come together all together as it has already happened in California. In Japan already there is a law that forces all new skyscrapers to have a garden on the terrace and water collection systems are increasingly involved in modern architectures. In the city the roof garden system is also useful for the shortage of greenery. And it is not true that they would not be possible in the north, in winter it would be enough to use traditional protection techniques such as those used on the Amalfi coast, barrel mats supported by wooden perches and stretched over citrus groves. Probably the historic centers already have traditional systems that should be retrieved, for example, to all the canalization systems, to the riverways that were in many cities in the north. All of the great cathedrals of the north were built by bringing the stones to rii that once reached the central square and are now covered, could be reopened and brought back to navigability. A city like Milan has the huge problem of replenishing the water rather than the decline of the slopes, they have all the cellars full of water, because before there was an integration between the fountains system, the water catchment, and that of the ships Functional disposal. Then all of these systems were obscured and if during the big industrial presence the situation was due to the fact that the water of the foothills was absorbed by production, now that the great industry has been dismantled all the city’s buildings are in danger of excess water . But the rebuilding of drainage drains has become indispensable for many cities, reopening the waterways, a beauty even for the landscape.

What instruments does the Convention have in place to oppose the ability of multinationals to focus on the current economic model?
The power of what I call the old economy is huge and does not want to go back. In the face of this, I think that the ideological approach does not serve, it is necessary to demonstrate the advantages of an alternative production mode and its practicality, although I remain convinced that change will not happen except on the wave of disaster, because the story Humanity demonstrates it, it has never been the invention to determine model change; environmental disasters have caused a change based on existing inventions and choices that could have been done before. The civilization of the stone is not over because of the lack of stones. Returning to the Convention’s powers are those of the United Nations, which are not decisive. In Johannesburg we saw that multinational lobbying was more representative of the states. Mandela’s appeal for the 50 liters of proximal water underlines the dramatic nature of the situation. Well, what multinationals did they answer? Let’s do atomic power plants by the sea and use them to desalch the water and guarantee it to everyone. A hypertechnological response based, among other things, on a highly dangerous and harmful technology that would give enormous power to those who own the capital to carry it out and control it. I have participated in all five world conferences made by the Desertification Convention, my impression is that the Western countries are taking part in it with the intention of slowing down any decisions they have to take, participating in safeguarding national public opinion but not There is a desire to make drastic decisions. Even European countries do not deviate too far from the United States in terms of sustainable development, with the difference that in Europe the deployments are tendentially transverse, there is no difference between right and left governments in America. But there, however, have been like California, which alone is worth ten industrialized countries, and it is instead deciding in the direction of sustainable development, for example by proposing, within the next few years, the total abolition of gasoline cars, which is not utopia, because By now it is quite clear that the future of the car will be hydrogen. Non-industrialized countries, on the other hand, believe that this is their Convention, the one for Africa, though too often the ruling classes that represent them contract small aid in exchange for a softer attitude. However, NGOs are also largely present and those in these countries in particular have a great deal of experience. They also reproduce the dynamics in our countries. We take China while we are doing extraordinary experiences of reintroducing traditional farming techniques, such as resetting on a very large scale of dunes with weaving systems of dried palm leaves that reestablish soils, at the same time constructing the big dam on Blue River, which will lead to an imminent catastrophe. In short, the contradiction is within all countries, and I think that from non-industrialized countries will have to be the strongest answer because it is a matter they feel most immediately on their skin and so it is easier for the new model to come from there , But at the same time we begin to give an example of the need to change it would be a huge contribution to the struggles of those in those countries opposed to resource shrinking. Moreover, how can we tell the Chinese that they can not use the same amount of paper we use as this would cause all the forests of the planet to disappear?
However, the real challenge is not so much the environmental remediation as the design of new production systems that are already themselves non-polluting, production processes, ie waste that triggers other processes, as is the case in nature. You can already make some examples, such as paper recycling for forest fertilization or the example of the Calcutta sewers, which instead of continuing to be dispersed in the environment, polluting it increasingly unsustainable, were filtered and used to The fertilization of nearby rice pads, it is necessary to adopt logics of this type, to make a problem a resource.

How do we interpret the news recently given to triumphal tones of the rejuvenation of vegetation in some desert areas?
It’s a bad news. The true fact is that the hole in ozone has been reduced, and this demonstrates that the measures taken on a global scale serve, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is served. Instead, the desert data has been badly interpreted. This is something we expected, the desert has always had these moments, an entire area can bloom because under particular conditions rainfall is created. That’s what happened now: because of climate warming in some areas of the Sahara and in the American deserts there have been violent rains, but they have caused terrible damage, entire villages built on raw land have been destroyed, so it is not A retreat of the desert, if anything of the degradation I was talking about, water where it should not have been in those proportions, or phenomena that, if they were sporadic, happen, that I know, every ten years, they are now most likely to find unprepared populations . An ecosystem can only change with biological times, allowing for a proper evolution of the life forms that make it, drastic changes are the symptom of degradation. It also occurs in the history of human society, sudden transformation creates cultural shock, instead the absorption of innovations over time, which allows for adaptation of social systems and is filtered out of memory and experience, is desirable and synonymous with progress.