Islands are becoming more and more sustainable: why doesn't it happen in Italy too?

Islands are becoming more and more sustainable: why doesn't it happen in Italy too?

Islands are becoming more and more sustainable

From the Aegean to the Canary Islands, there are many islands that are focusing everything on a different integration between tourism and the environment, also thanks to technology. But Italy is still behind

A charging station at the port of Maltezana, in Astypalea (photo: Antonio Piemontese) Lunar landscapes, jagged paths that decline towards the sea carrying clouds of dust, wild beaches where the only comfort is that of a wooden tavern. Administratively part of the Dodecanese, but actually a bridge with the Cyclades, Astypalea has embarked on a campaign that focuses on sustainability.

Electric cars, shared transport, renewable energy, purification, water reuse, composting. The island aims to protect itself; but also to overcome the competition of the other dozens of stars that crowd the Greek sea. And, if not to rival Santorini, at least become the retreat for those looking for a less fashionable well-being. Without giving up some comfort.

It is not the only one. From the Canaries to the islands of the North Sea, there is no lack of examples in Europe and the world of islands that have given a decisive turn to their policies, aware of the need to preserve their diversity. Researchers and, in some cases, governments, look at these experiences with interest, because they can be reproduced in small to medium-sized cities. But there is also a sociological fact: in these contexts, technology, far from shaping existence, simplifies it. In this sense too, it may be interesting to observe the how.

The holistic vision of Astypalea

He himself defines it as “holistic”. The strategy put in place by Mayor Nikolas Komineas with the support of the Athens government is extensive. He welcomes us into his study on a warm early July morning. He whips the Meltemi, the Aegean wind that has been blowing strongly for a few days on the Xora, the upper town dominated by the Venetian castle. Here it is frequent that the gusts create some complications in some areas, making it impossible to bathe. The longitudinal conformation of the island, however, means that half of the territory is sheltered. Placid calm on one side, heavy sea on the other. A resource to be exploited.

"Ours is a broad-spectrum project to transform Astypalea" explains the mayor, in office since 1998. The plan is, first of all, to eliminate petrol (which here costs two euros per liter and must be transported by ship) by 2023 and switch to electric. Everyone.

A pilot experiment with cars donated by the Volkswagen car manufacturer has already been operational since the beginning of the summer. In strategic areas, six double charging stations have been positioned, capable of refueling a total of twelve vehicles at the same time. The agreement with the German company also provides for controlled prices for a number of new cars, which will be sold at cost to encourage residents to transition.

That's not all. In the coming months, says the burgomaster, an innovative public transport project will start: an application will receive user bookings, study the best route in order to optimize time and costs, and communicate it to the driver. No more idle turns and skipped stops, you go by the shortest route based on the request. For their part, car, motorcycle and quad hirers will participate in car sharing with their vehicles.

Stop diesel and energy self-sufficiency

Electricity to make everything work today it is produced by a diesel-powered plant. “Today we burn eight tons of diesel a day, plus two more consumed by public and private transport” quantifies Komineas. With the new solar panel plant, he says, already under study together with the national electricity company, hydrocarbons should become useless. It could take another two years, but the engineers are hard at work.

The panels will take advantage of the island's exposure. To these could be added a wind turbine, whose motion would be powered continuously by the Meltemi. Ideas that have raised some perplexity in the inhabitants, worried about the landscape. But on the roofs of many houses the panels are already installed, and they don't seem to bother too much. Komineas aims at zero-emission self-sufficiency, and guarantees that all precautions will be taken to avoid spoiling the landscape. After all, that between transitionists and maximalists is always an open game, as we will see in the Italian case.

The problem of transition costs

Will it work? Electric cars are already running on sunburnt ups and downs. It happens to meet them even in the most remote ravines, such as Mesa Vady, a village of six houses outside the tourist routes and difficult to reach. A couple of German tourists trudge through the dust. We ask if they need help, and we take the opportunity to ask a few questions “We took an electric vehicle because the others were finished. Seventy euros a day is a lot to rent a car in Astypalea ”, complains the corpulent sixty-year-old driving, lowering the window, before giving us the way with our vehicle, much more suitable for motocross. "Even if - he admits - the recharge is free".

"It is a good project, but it will take a few years to develop - admits the owner of a car rental. Then there are those who express economic reserves. This is the case of Kostas Argyros, a well-known television journalist. “Frankly - ironically skeptically on the phone with Wired - I can't understand how residents whose average income in many cases does not exceed a few hundred euros a month can afford electric vehicles that cost several tens of thousands. For me, it is just a marketing operation, with which the government, which not surprisingly appeared on the island, is redefining its image at a dramatic moment for the country. ".

There is some truth. The move undeniably brought publicity and allowed the island to make headlines in the international media. But it is undeniable that, in the era of mass tourism and low cost flights, such experiences make sense in the light of a new environmental awareness. Somewhere we will have to start. “Astypalea - says the mayor - is an example of how innovative technology can support small places that are traditional. And they intend to remain so ". Santorini with its instagrammers, drones and ships loaded with tourists dancing to high vlume, are far away. At least for now.

A million plastic bottles

After all, Komineas knows the problems that afflict the island. Plastic, for example. As an administrator, he knows well that the used one must be disposed of. "We currently consume over a million bottles a year," he continues. "The plan goes beyond recycling: we plan to do without it by exploiting a water source present in the subsoil of the island. Water that needs to be purified, but that will allow us to drink from the tap ".

Desalination, for the moment, is not an option: it costs too much in terms of electricity. But there is more. Of the precious liquid, the scarcity of which can be seen from the almost total absence of trees, we will try not to waste even a drop, recovering the gray and black waters and reusing them for irrigation to support agriculture, together with the composting of organic material and manure of the 13 thousand sheep and goats on the island. And in the future there are other technologies that can lend a hand, from the exploitation of wave motion to smart grids.

Sustainable commercial activities

The idea of ​​being sustainable is also beginning to take hold on young people . “It's important to keep up with the times,” admits Victoria, a shop owner in the Xora. Athenian, she has converted the historic shop owned by her boyfriend's family into a delightful corner that offers clothing and design objects made in Hellenic soil. Naturally, 100% sustainable.

Peering through the labels it is possible to reconstruct their stories and realize that the circular economy and its keywords are gaining space and admirers despite the persistent crisis, thanks to a generation of young designers and entrepreneurs who studied in the schools of architecture, economics and communication, and now try to build an alternative life by focusing on self-production and short supply chains.

Electric cars are not a priority

If something moves in Greece, in Italy everything is frighteningly still in the smaller islands of the country, around thirty. Over the years, expectations have been created regarding renewables. Mostly disillusioned: to write it, in no uncertain terms, is Legambiente in the fourth edition of the Sustainable Islands report, produced in collaboration with the CNR.

Mobility is not the problem to start from: the big issues are the production of energy, which in the islands not connected to the mainland takes place almost exclusively with diesel oil, the collection, management and disposal of waste, the purification of water.

The analysis is merciless. “If we want a transition, a shared national strategy is needed. But Italy, alas, is far behind - denounces Edoardo Zanchini, professor of urban planning and vice president of Legambiente - In other European countries there are ambitious projects to turn these micro-realities into innovative laboratories. There are the Greek islands, the Canaries, the realities of the North Sea, but no local island has decided in a convinced way to take this path. And - he adds - I don't understand why the ministry in charge does not raise the problem ".

Why - points the finger Zanchini - without the support of the government you can little or nothing.

Many objectives losers. The Aeolian archipelago in 2020 had 508 kW of RES installations compared to the target of 2,860 kW, Pantelleria with 872 kW compared to the ambitious 2,720 kW and the Pelagian archipelago 605 kW compared to the planned 2,310 kW. A tiny fraction, even in the presence of incentives; because, when there are measures, as in this case, the implementing decrees are missing. The only positive notes come from Ustica, which has even exceeded the target by reaching 432 kW of installed renewables compared to the ambitious 280 kW, and Capraia, which has totally eliminated the use of fossil fuels for the production of electricity.

No better for water. Consistent delays everywhere, and in many islands there is no waste water treatment system (Giglio, Linosa, Favignana, Marettimo, Levanzo, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi, Panarea, Salina, about 40% of those analyzed). The conclusion of the report leaves dismay: "it is assumed that the discharges are discharged directly into the sea". But even where the systems are present, they seem mostly incomplete and inefficient.

The main problems that slow down this perspective are three, Legambiente points out in the report: information on the opportunities and advantages - including economic ones - of these interventions for citizens and businesses, access to credit in a difficult phase of the economy linked to the pandemic, the complexity of the procedures for existing constraints and prohibitions by the superintendencies. All these issues will need to be worked on over the next few years.

The debate on the landscape

Not alone. Landscape constraints are suffocating, says Zanchini. And if to say it is a big shot of one of the most active organizations in the protection of the environment, perhaps there is some reason to give up maximalism. It is necessary, the report reads, to prepare a plan for each island. And to create a control room in Rome that includes the Ministry of Culture and the Superintendencies.

“Otherwise we will never make the transition. Installing a solar panel is very complicated from a bureaucratic point of view. Do you think that in Sicily there is a law that prohibits the construction of wind farms on all the islands of the region ". There are, he continues, "also some paradoxes: in Pantelleria, the port area is a very ugly and degraded industrial area. Even there it is forbidden. Not to mention the fact that to limit the visual impact of the panels, a technology that already guarantees excellent performance today, just place them parallel to the roof. In addition, each island has many areas that could be solarized: let's think of open-air parking ".

Sul Giglio, continues the teacher, a medium-sized wind turbine would be enough to cover most of the needs, in Pantelleria three. "And then there is the problem of the technicians. On islands with a few hundred inhabitants, there is a lack of professionalism with the level of experience and skills adequate to present projects of this type. It is clear that Rome must intervene ”. The problem of competences was, moreover, also denounced by the SMEs [insert link].

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