Climate, using big data to save Venice and other cities

Climate, using big data to save Venice and other cities


The energy crisis prompted the Italian government to postpone the switching on of the radiators in what was expected to be a difficult autumn. But in many cities the radiators were started even later than expected due to the abnormal heat. Unforeseeable coincidence: the problem, as Riccardo Biancalani, project coordinator of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told, “is that agriculture cannot be”. We can adapt to climate change, but working times, types of crops and the socio-economic system are marked by the rhythm of the seasons.

The philosopher Cosimo Accoto, author of various essays on the subject, affirms that we are passing from the society of archives to the society of oracles. Digital. Long-term forecasting is one of the most promising sectors, at the crossroads between climate science and information technology. The challenge for entrepreneurs in the sector is to try to do better than governments and international organizations. It's not just farmers who are interested. Watching carefully (and paying) for reliable forecasts are the large multinationals with assets located in dozens of countries and at different latitudes, and  obliged to defend them as much as possible; insurance companies, which pay out tens of billions in compensation every year; and, of course, the cities, which have to prepare in time.

What is the Mose, which protected Venice from high water The dams of the Mose came into operation and prevented high tide and bad weather from affecting Venice and the houses of its inhabitants

Changing scenarios

The role of data is central, but what really matters is the ability to analyze them. The London-based Cervest defines itself as a climate intelligence company. “We predict how the climate impacts assets, from facilities to transportation networks, to protect people and assets,” says John White, vice president responsible for partnerships. The clients are large multinational companies. The company is five years old and employs one hundred and ten people. Three (classical) outputs provided: the worst case scenario, the best one, and an intermediate one.

“ To build them, we use a combination of statistics and climate science, starting from mostly public data - explains White -. What we do more than institutions such as the IPCC (Intergovernmental panel on climate change, the United Nations body that deals with climate change, ed)   is to employ a more refined model ”. We ask: why trust you? “It is not possible to check in advance the quality of the answers we provide, but only the method we use to find them - he says - It is about climate, not weather, and persistent factors determine its evolution. We know what they are, even if no one can say for sure what will happen in the future ”. Difficult, risky bet. That doesn't scare the British.

In the same vein is the Canadian Runwithit, which deals with disaster prediction with a particular declination and focus: cities. “Our customers are above all companies in the Fortune 500 (ranking that brings together the first US companies by turnover, ed)”, says Myrna Bittner, co-founder. "Then there is the energy sector, which is going through an unprecedented crisis". But there are also public administrations and governments. "The difference is that to our models, we add a variable that is difficult to capture with traditional modeling techniques - she says - people, even marginal segments". Again, we ask how can you trust. “We don't predict the future, but we give character to data and trends" replies the manager. "The future cannot be predicted, but the best possible choices can be made. We make use of the best sources of information, we rely on the work of thousands of experts” continues the entrepreneur. Runwithit produces reports and 3D models and uses mostly open data, she says. “ But the magic happens when you manage to go further ”. The company currently employs twenty-four people.

The market will determine whether Cervet, Runwithit and the many others that will follow in their footsteps will be successful. Space exists: all large companies that have assets spread over different climatic areas are subject to risks that must be foreseen as much as possible. But cities also need to adapt to increasingly unpredictable scenarios, and to do it in advance. As taught by Venice, which in recent weeks was saved from a potentially devastating high tide thanks to the MOSE, the system of bulkheads that was raised to defend it. A work with a long and complex gestation, but which proved to be essential.

You will need an entrance ticket to visit Venice From January 2023 the measure to counter mass tourism. Those who book early and those who stay overnight in the lagoon will pay less. Also access to discounts and reductions on museums and means of transport

Sustainability in the Lagoon: other companies

The quote is not accidental. Both Cervest and Runwithit are spending a semester in Venisia (Venice Sustainability Innovation Accelerator), a hub born in 2021 in the city of the Doges to bring together promising realities between innovation and sustainability. The direction and inspiration are by Carlo Bagnoli, full professor of strategic innovation at Ca' Foscari University. Here the danger does not come only from the sea, notes the scholar. There are the loss of biodiversity, depopulation, hit and run tourism. Over 3,500 startups from 63 countries responded to Venisia's call. Thirty have been selected to take part in the second edition of the acceleration programme, starting in the coming months. There is no lack, says the teacher, of already established realities, " with which we carry out co-innovation projects ".

Lots of interesting ideas. Like Duedilatte, born in Pisa in 2013 from an idea of ​​the founder Antonella Bellina. The company produces fiber, yarn and fabric starting from milk, rice and coffee waste. "Basically, like having breakfast," smiles Bellina. Different properties:  “The rice fiber totally absorbs the humidity of the body, the coffee fiber activates the surface microcirculation and warms the wearer” explains the entrepreneur, who already collaborates with major fashion brands.

Circular materials recovers metals from waste water from industrial galvanizing processes. According to the company, between 15% and 18% of metals end up in landfills and can be recovered. Bufaga, on the other hand, is a device that takes its name from a bird: it is placed on the roof of cars and means of transport in general and cleans the surrounding air " The inspiration came to us from the bird that lands on the backs of African animals and cleans his skin ”say the founders, who aim to enter into agreements with companies that manage large corporate fleets.

Degrading polyethylene, the most used plastic in the world, thanks to the galeria melonella, one of the species of caterpillar, is the idea of ​​Beworm. “We took its stomach, put it in a liquid where there was only plastic, and found that there are microorganisms that degrade the molecule, cutting it into shorter pieces,” simplifies the team. It will take a few more years: for the release on the market, we are talking about 2028.

River cleaning, on the other hand, produces a device capable of collecting the plastic that floats on rivers, a sort of impenetrable barrier to bottles and containers, but which allows the passage of fish. An experimental installation has already taken place on the Naviglio Martesana in Milan. Rfc power creates a long-life battery based on manganese (one of the least expensive electrolytes on the market, explains Stefano Mezzavilla, head of the research team) and hydrogen. The sector is that of energy accumulation, a necessary complement for the transition to renewables.

Reco 2 manufactures building products by recovering iron and steel industrial waste, with a solution that allows for a drastic reduction in processing temperatures ("seventy degrees instead of a thousand" declares Desirè Farletti, co-founder): it consumes less, with cost and emissions savings. Levante, on the other hand, produces foldable solar panels, useful for contexts where a certain portability is required, such as boats, film sets or campers. Finally, Appcycled is a marketplace for sustainable fashion. For all, the Venetian semester will be an opportunity to exchange views, find mentors and contacts. Large companies will be involved and will provide support.

Far-right influencers who deny the climate crisis have multiplied. This is stated by a study on Twitter's online traffic carried out by 11 researchers from London, Rome, Florence and Venice

A fragile ecosystem

Some of these solutions could be used in a city as splendid as it is fragile, such as Venice. But there is another novelty: the Venisia innovation ecosystem is about to give birth to the first Italian biofoundry, on the model of Gimko Bioworks in Boston: it will be called Future Farming and will be a synthetic biology laboratory for products and materials. Twenty million euros are already on the table: ten come from the Miur as part of the fund for the national recovery and resilience plan, another ten from an industrial partner selected through a tender closing in January.

The construction of the infrastructure will start in the months immediately following: it will include a laboratory for large-scale production, an academy for dissemination and the Future Farming Studio, dedicated to the creation of startups from scratch in the sectors of food, biomaterials and sustainability. The potential impact of the commercialization of Future Farming solutions, the organizers estimate, would be around 700 million euros.

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