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Italy’s ecological transition with Minister Cingolani

By ecology, sdg 1, sdg 10, sdg 11, sdg 12, sdg 13, sdg 14, sdg 15, sdg 16, sdg 17, sdg 2, sdg 3, sdg 4, sdg 5, sdg 6, sdg 7, sdg 8, sdg 9

Alongside Roberto Cingolani, Minister for the Ecological Transition, we imagined what the world will be like in 2040 when his youngest son will be 30 years old. Cingolani helps us understand why we need to act now to put all the knowledge we have to good use. Are you ready to do your part to facilitate a transition that, by the very nature of the term, must be gradual?

Cristina: How will we transition from the world we have to the one we want? We came to Genoa to ask the Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani, physicist, researcher and father of 3 children. Good morning Minister. In 2040 we’ll be 10 years away from the 2050 target of zero emissions and your youngest son will be 30 years old – what will the world look like?

Minister Cingolani: If we’ll have done a good job it could be much cleaner than it is now and above all, there should be much less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and we’ll probably start to limit and mitigate the effects of global warming. The problem is that we have to start tomorrow and install all the renewable energy we need, we have to reach 72% of renewable electricity by 2030, so 10 years before the date you mentioned and I have to say that it worries me. Paradoxically, the problem today is neither resources nor technology, nor companies that can install these large plants, especially in Italy where we have lots of know-how. Right now, the most limiting factor is the bureaucratic one. The chain of permits for the installation of photovoltaic, wind and renewable energy plants is so slow, we risk that during the 5-year duration of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), these permits will be issued too late. First of all, we need to simplify the regulatory and authorizational aspects because there is such urgency, we can no longer waste any
time.

Cristina: Let’s imagine that world in 2040 for a moment longer.

Minister Cingolani: Smart mobility, cities on a human scale, greener. Hopefully we will have recovered some biodiversity, and above all, a greater awareness of tomorrow’s adults, today’s children.

Cristina: A question about fossil fuel subsidies is inevitable. Where are we and what do you think is the right destination?

Minister Cingolani: It’s a very delicate subject, unfortunately, sustainability is a compromise between different demands, we must mitigate the damage we’ve done to the environment as soon as possible, but at the same time, we must allow people to live and work. Unfortunately this also depends on contingent situations, we are not coming out of a particularly prosperous and happy period. The subsidies must certainly be reduced as soon as possible, and if we can reduce them we can reinvest a part of these reductions in something that will help create new jobs, including the reconditioning of the transportation industry. It’s a balancing act because if we ideologize the problem we harm workers, if we neglect the problem we harm the environment, so we all need to think about how to reorganize our habits and our lifestyles knowing that nothing is free.

Cristina: Thank you Minister.

Minister Cingolani: Thank you and good luck to everyone.

Cristina: Our country’s green transition must fulfill all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. An eye on the present and an eye to the future!

On air June 12th, 2021

Bees – the sentinels of biodiversity

By ecology, sdg 1, sdg 10, sdg 11, sdg 12, sdg 13, sdg 14, sdg 15, sdg 16, sdg 17, sdg 2, sdg 3, sdg 4, sdg 5, sdg 6, sdg 7, sdg 8, sdg 9

Having taken sustainable development to heart for a few decades now and focusing on solutions to our biggest challenges, I tend to think that issues which have been brought to our attention have positively evolved. Sadly that’s not the case but I know we have all the information to evolve as a species and co-exist respectfully with the complex ecosystems that we’re a part of. Speaking with Andrea, the beekeeper I always buy honey from, he introduced me to Luca Bosco and Marco Bergero. Thanks to these dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable young men, I found out that bees and pollinators are more threatened than ever. That’s how this interview came about and I learned how much more there is to do. If you know any hazelnut or almond growers please share this story. Christina Grozinger, Director of the Center for Pollination Research at Penn State confirms that exposure to fungicides, neonicotinoids and insecticides is causing great harm to pollinators. Engaging in conversations with the people we buy produce from is critical to understanding the  impact of our choices.

Cristina: Today is World Biodiversity Day, and the UN wants to bring our attention to the complex dynamics that govern life on earth. Biodiversity is our greatest treasure and monitoring its health is complicated. We are in the Cuneo area to meet Luca, a beekeeper. Luca, why are bees the most precious sentinels of biodiversity?

Luca Bosco: Because everything that arrives in the hive collected by bees is the result of a synergy between different forms of life and, therefore, is a result of the environment’s biodiversity.

Cristina: What do your observations tell you?

Luca Bosco: That the bee’s situation, and pollinators in general, is very serious. We often see episodes of die-offs and poisonings in our hives. Unfortunately we find insecticides, fungicides and herbicides in the matrices of the hives. One herbicide in particular, the molecule glyphosate, is very serious because its discovery, especially in the hive’s honey matrix – maturing honey, is a precise clue. The molecule that is sprayed here can end up anywhere, we find it in the water, in the air, it inevitably ends up in the soil because it’s sprayed on the ground and we also find it in plant pollen and nectar. This is a clear indication that the ecosystem’s natural filters are somehow degrading.

Cristina: Luca, which crops are sprayed the most with these substances?

Luca Bosco: Here we find ourselves in an area of viticulture and coriliculture, so grapes and hazelnuts. In recent years, thanks to the work of the beekeepers association, viticulturists have learned to use pesticides wisely, without causing direct and serious harm to pollinators. On the other hand, as far as hazelnuts are concerned, the matter is still open to discussion because it’s a new crop and, at the moment, the agronomic practices in use leave much to be desired. They are a source of direct poisoning, somehow they’re also the cause of those systematic findings in the hive matrices, especially in this area. We want to appeal to those who grow hazelnuts to follow the path already taken by winemakers.

Cristina: Luca you are about to take some samples, what is their frequency and what are they for?

Luca Bosco: They’re monthly and are used to investigate the possible presence of chemical molecules. Experience tells us that we will most likely find them because in past years, their presence has unfortunately been very assiduous. We know that these molecules are harmful to bees, also because of their somewhat unique ability to purify environmental matrices by absorbing chemical molecules into their bodies, to their own detriment of course, but especially preserving the honey. Somehow, the honey always results pure.

Cristina: How phenomenal. Do you cross-reference this data with others?

Luca Bosco: We cross this data with other measurements that are carried out in the area, in particular with those carried out on the Tanaro River, which you can see just nearby, and the two surveys confirm the same thing, the ubiquitous presence of chemical molecules.

Cristina: Thank you Luca. This story touches all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. And what can we do? Talk with beekeepers as much as possible, understand the critical issues in our area and protect it in any way we can. It pays off for everyone. Occhio al futuro

On air May 22nd, 2021

Alisea – circular design

By ecology, sdg 10, sdg 12, sdg 15, sdg 17, sdg 8, sdg 9, technology

Susanna Martucci Fortuna, founder of Alisea, turned a crisis into an opportunity. She created an all-Italian supply chain of advanced engineers, designers and craftsmen to give new life to industrial waste.

Cristina: Today we’re meeting a woman who turned a crisis into an opportunity. She was losing her company, and grappling with what to do, she remembered a conversation about recycling and questioned how she could give new life to industrial waste, which abounds in her district of Vicenza. She took her idea to the experts and created an all-Italian supply chain of advanced engineers, designers and craftsmen. Let’s go meet her and see what she does. Good morning Susanna, what are we looking at here?

Susanna Martucci: This is all about graphite: these are graphite electrodes and this powder is the unavoidable waste of the production process, recovered from the factories’ ventilation systems. We reclaim this dust and make it into a new material. This is a granule made with 80% of this waste. This new material, which comes from circular economy, has led us to design an innovative process to make pencils, without wood or glue to attach the eraser. Each pencil removes 15 grams of graphite powder from landfills and in a year we save 60,000 trees – we don’t think about all the wood that goes into your normal pencil.

Cristina: Did you do anything else with graphite?

Susanna Martucci: Yes, we clearly fell in love with this material. In this other case we always start from graphite powder, but add water, a process we use to dye fabrics. The young designers we work with dye all sorts of materials – wool, denim, silk, organic cotton – in a totally non-toxic way. This here, is instead recycled plastic, which we turn into rulers, record sleeves, and more, all from recycled post-consumer bottles.

Cristina: All this thanks to Susanna’s creativity and determination. These children’s puzzles are made from recycled fair stands and so are these bags. We’re running out of time, but this is also graphite with recycled cork. These are made from coffee bags and leather scraps. Susanna’s work addresses 6 of the 17 SDGs: 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, and 17. Occhio al futuro!

On air February 29, 2020

The artificial intelligence of IRIS

By sdg 17, sdg 9, technology

Anita Schjøll Brede explains how artificial intelligence like Iris could simplify scientific research and much more.

CRISTINA: Anita can you give us a metaphor to understand exactly what AI is and how does it work?

ANITA: We’re shaping these systems more like a human brain and less like a calculator, so say that you’re running a pizzeria and every morning you have to figure out how much dough you should make for all the pizzas today. It’s a complex question, what is the weather? What historically have I sold? Is it tourist season or not? What day of the week is it? There’s a number of data points that are important for that and you know with human experience you can make a fair assessment, but if you have a system that learns over time you can set it up to calculate for you every morning, based on historical data, how much you should make. And every day you have new data to feed the system and the system will learn every single day and become better and better at predicting it.

CRISTINA: Now how are you applying AI?

ANITA: We have a variety of tools that help researchers go from: I have this problem I need to solve, map out all existing literature, and narrow that down to a very precise reading list.

CRISTINA: Wow

ANITA: And this is incredibly time consuming. We have 150 million research papers, millions and millions of patents in the world and one human being simply cannot read and understand everything. So what we’re doing is building a system that allows us to actually do that, where one human can sit down and find exactly the pieces of the puzzle that they need to solve the problem.

CRISTINA: Do you think that will spare time in maybe doing research on things that have already been researched and conclusions that have made sense been drawn?

ANITA: Exactly and so much of the solutions to our really big problems, whether we talk about climate change or any of the big problems we’re facing, it’s interdisciplinary. It’s taking that solution and that solution and that one and piecing it all together and that is not possible for a human being to do today, but we’re making it possible for an AI to do so.

CRISTINA: And it’s functioning already?

ANITA: Part of it. The part of the tool that is helping you do the literature reviews and going from problem to precise reading list. That is functional, we’re selling it to universities and to big corporates as well. And then the next step is to start extracting a hypothesis and finding conclusions and starting to see the big patterns.

CRISTINA: So it will become a researcher itself?

ANITA: Eventually yes.

Jaya Baloo’s cybersecurity tips

By sdg 16, sdg 17, sdg 9, technology

Jaya Baloo, one of the world’s leading experts on cyber-security, gives us advice on how to protect our devices and personal data. She also explains the incentives hackers can have and the differences in cyber-attacks. Private citizens, large corporations or even governments can be victims.

PART I

CRISTINA: Jaya should we be concerned?

JAYA: Yes we should, but i supposed the extent to which we should be concerned depends on you. It depends on what it is that you have to protect and from whom. If you’re a person, an individual, or you’re a company or a government, those concerns can greatly vary. And it terms of who you have to protected it from, I like to say that there are three motivations of hackers: fun, profit and politics. And they usually go in that order. And we start with individual hacker who is kind curious and wants to do it for fun, to cybercriminals who do it for profit, and state-sponsored hackers, who do it for political motivation.

CRISTINA: What are three major hacks in each of these categories so people can understand the scope?

JAYA: Let me give you three type of hacks, when we talk about the individual hacker, what we see them do are kind of simple hacks, but they’re very effective. Things like a distributed denial of service attack, where services – usually online services – don’t became available because they’re getting flooded with traffic. That is one example of something that an individual hacker very easily can set up, but it’s not always easy to defend against.

CRISTINA: And you were saying you can hire someone do that for 40 euros and it mainly means that they’ll just deluge your webserver with information and it can’t handle it.

JAYA: No and it can’t handle any valid requests anymore, so we see this happening, but it’s not just a volume of type of attack, it’s also different types of application attacks. They’re difficult to defend against and they cost companies millions to arrange properly. So that’s individual hackers. If you look at the cybercriminal, we’ve seen the largest bank heist in history for over a billion dollars worth. We saw that disruption and you see ransomware affecting regular people, where their computer gets encrypted and they can only get it decrypted if they send a bitcoin payment to the criminal. And then when it comes to state-sponsored attacks, where should i start? We see it everywhere, we saw it with hacking of the US selection, we see influence in the European elections, you saw that the Italian navy was trying to be hacked. There are so many things happening in this space.

CRISTINA: Who is doing what in Italy that we should know about?

JAYA: If I had to pick one italian hero, it would probably be Paolo Villoresi. He is from the University of Padova and I actually think we should pay way more attention to people like him and give him lots more funding to keep continuing his research.

PART II

CRISTINA: Jaya what can we do on an individual level to protect ourselves?

JAYA: I think it starts with keeping it simple. Let’s first make sure all of our software and hardware is up to date. That means applying updates as soon as they become available. Don’t wait three weeks and then have thirty-five thousand updates still waiting for you.
The second really simple thing, which is not sexy, is backups. Just backup your data, both online and offline. Using an antivirus and two-factor authentication, really the majority of the low hanging fruit for a hacker is gone.

CRISTINA: So people think it’s so convenient, you know now, when they put search online then system figures out what they like and then they get more of what they like. That’s really a not good thing right?

JAYA: The most precious commodity we have to give is time, so if we can gain a bit of that, it would be great, but I think not at the expense of our security and privacy. We can only be free to use the fruits of our digital innovation if we don’t have to worry about if our data is being stolen, is it being shared with people that I never intended to? We need to take control of our data and really understand who we have to trust.

CRISTINA: And instead for organizations, corporations or governments?

JAYA: I am very worried about our national critical infrastructure, and I think governments can prioritize that. From drinkwater, energy, to telecommunications and in that order, that we actually have a program to look for vulnerabilities in those sectors and patch them. We have a responsibility as a country to the citizens and I feel that it’s just as valid in Italy as it is in the Netherlands that we really have to look at where our vulnerabilities are. Where would a hacker try to attack if they’re trying to attack national infrastructure and eliminate the possibility by focusing on our defense instead of offensive tactics to gather information from others.

CRISTINA: Such as eavesdropping on conversations?

JAYA: Eavesdropping, signals intelligence or hacking back to other countries. I’m absolutely against this hacking back because it means that we’re escalating the issue rather than de-escalating and negotiating and dialogue. I’d really like us to focus on cyber-peace and our own defenses.

CRISTINA: And what’s heartening is that there is a lot of talent in Italy from your perspective.

JAYA: There is tons of talent in Italy. I’m a big fan of the universities in Italy, I think there’s a lot on offer if we just visit the campus, I think we just need to encourage companies to work more closely with academia.

The power of trash

By ecology, sdg 11, sdg 12, sdg 13, sdg 14, sdg 15, sdg 17, sdg 7, sdg 9, technology

Arthur Huang, architect, engineer and CEO of Miniwiz explains his processes and machines to use the most abundant resource on our planet: trash! Trashpresso, a portable solar-powered recycling machine was in Milan’s Parco Sempione during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2018.

PART I

Cristina: Arthur, what is the power of trash for you?

Arthur Huang: It is the most abundant resource that’s out there right now. It’s in our ocean, it’s in our water, it’s even in the glacier at 4.900m. This trash resource is growing so I think we need to do something about it to power our new way of designing and our lifestyle.

Cristina: You are doing something about it. How many systems have you designed?

Arthur Huang: We actually designed 1.200 new processes and they come with 4 big categories of machinery, which can sort and transform the material from the original raw source of trash that we throw away every day from cups, bottles, packaging, all the way to waste fiber. From these four major categories we can go into lots of different variations of pre-fabricated material for designers and engineers to be able to use in building construction or for products.

Cristina: You’re wearing a number of your new materials. Can you point them out?

Arthur Huang: This is 100% single material, without glue in it, it’s made 100% from plastic bottles. This is also made with 100% plastic bottles but it feels like wool. The shoes are also made from recycled PET. Even the buttons and the sunglasses and the watch strap are made from cigarette butts. This button was made from four butts, that we collected from Switzerland and Italy and we’re turning into a new form of buttons and hardware and sunglasses. These are the sunglasses.

Cristina: And how much energy does it take to actually strip some of these materials from their toxic elements?

Arthur Huang: It is actually much easier than you think, that’s why we designed the portable machine called Trashpresso, to demonstrate how little energy is used. All of the machines are actually powered by the sun, all the water and air is internally recycled, so we want to show people that the transformation process actually requires very little energy, as little energy as possible. You get a 90% savings in energy in the transformation, rather than going out there into the ocean, taking out the oil, producing that and transforming it into raw material.

Cristina: There are no toxins left in the the cigarette button?

Arthur Huang: Actually we did a whole set of safety tests and there isn’t anything left in the cigarette butts after the transformation process, there are some fumes, but they’re captured by the machine. A lot of times during the transformation process the toxins are actually already exposed in terms of fume.

PART II

Cristina: We’re reading on the papers that there’s more recycled materials than the market demands, so this is a critical issue, and people are burning these stocks of transformed trash. How can your strategy and your system have an impact on a global scale?

Arthur Huang: First of all, most of our systems are designed to be portable. I think this is very important, you need to take the transformation technology as close to the trash source as possible. Most of the problem today is that when you recycle, you mix the materials. Once you get contamination, the material has no value, once the material has no value, the transformation process has become very expensive and it also becomes more environmentally damaging. The idea is to bring the machine as close to the source as possible and then you can transform it into a medium that the designers and engineers can work with on site.

Cristina: From your experience where are the missing links to be able to harness all this expertise, intelligence and solutions?

Arthur Huang: The missing link is the recycling process itself, you need to know how to sort the trash. That’s the first question. All the recycled materials out there, no matter how much percentage you collect, in reality only less than 2% is being used to be turned into some sort of recycled substitute material. And then on top of that, after you know how to sort and process the material, you have to know how to form it. And there is the whole transformation process with all the different data that’s needed. You also need application, is it going to go into shoes? Jackets? Is it going into a chair, or a building? These all have different specifications, so right now all that missing link of data is what we are working on. We are opening up a material database with 1.200 new materials in it to open source data from our learning in the last 15 years to give to institutions for education so young designers and engineers can play with the material. So we are trying to fill the missing link with data.

Cristina: What is your moonshot?

Arthur Huang: Our moonshot right now is to build an airplane made out of trash. We actually bought an airplane from Germany and we shipped it to Taiwan and now we’re actually trying to come up with a new process to build an airplane wing made from recycled PET.

A trip to the future with Cristina Pozzi

By sdg 16, sdg 17, sdg 8, sdg 9, technology

Does your head spin when you think about the future of work, society and family? I went on a short trip with Cristina Pozzi, author of 2050 Guida (fu)turistica per viaggiatori nel tempo [2050 (Fu)Turistic guide for time travelers]. Cristina is also the founder of  Impactscool, which brings training courses to Italian schools and universities, preparing for the big changes taking place.

Cristina: What are the changes that await us in the coming years? Cristina you’re a social entrepreneur and writer and you traveled into the future. What did you see?

Cristina Pozzi: The future I saw in 2050 is one where the environment in which we live changes because, alas, due to climate change, our planet will be subject to many changes, but also the same concept of family could be questioned, mutate, evolve, due to the evolution of genetics. For example, children could have three parents born by using the genetic material of all three, it has already been done in England.

Cristina: How are we going to increase our cognitive skills?

Cristina Pozzi: We can do it in many ways, both from a chemical point of view with medicines that are being studied to increase our attention and also with so-called neurotechnologies – we can have implants or helmets to wear that increase our creativity.

Cristina: And what if they are not within everyone’s reach because of the cost?

Cristina Pozzi: Only a few could benefit. We probably don’t want to see a society where only a few people can be smarter, more successful at work or have access to certain treatments to stay healthy. For those who cannot afford it, there may be scenarios where you can even get access to a technology in exchange for advertising, perhaps continuous, so you can always use it for “free”.

Cristina: What about sharing your DNA data?

Cristina Pozzi: That could also become a source of income, one of the many jobs that we might have because most likely we will no longer have just one job but many at the same time.

Cristina: And many jobs we know today will disappear. Which ones do you think will remain or become strategic?

Cristina Pozzi: Definitely finding ourselves immersed in a reality that’s changing fast and that we struggle to understand, perhaps also due to the presence of robots around us in many situations, the role of psychologists who can help us manage this transition, will be essential.

Cristina: Do you think there is a correct path to make this journey towards the future?

Cristina Pozzi: For now, no. The advice I always give is learn to be curious and learn to learn.

Cristina: So, by combining our natural talents and our intellect, heart, creativity and willpower. Occhio al futuro!

On air September 9, 2018