European cows receive two euros and fifty cents per head per day in incentives, and their Japanese counterparts get no less than seven euros! Over a billion people worldwide, meanwhile, have to survive on less than a dollar a day. Aside from the moral unacceptability of this state of affairs, such imbalances also cause social tensions, which have been aggravated over the past 30 years by the ecological crisis, whose worst effects have been felt precisely in those parts of the world where people have to get by on less than 365 dollars a year.
This too will be a subject for discussion at Cersaie in Bologna, which will devote an entire programme of meetings to the subject of environmental sustainability, as part of the “Building, dwelling, thinking” series. If the “corrective” responses to this tragic scenario are mostly political and derive from the absence of a still far-off “worldwide government”, the industrial world can still make a major contribution via the opportunities at its disposal. But this, in turn, depends on the commitment and capacity to innovate in the arena of products, production processes, life-styles and consumer habits. This topic will be the focus of the meeting “Ecological crisis and sustainability” to be held on Friday 1 October at 2.00 p.m. in the Architecture Gallery.
The contributors will include Antonello La Vergata, Professor of History of Philosophy and War and Peace Theory at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Several of the major thinkers who have shaped Western thinking over the centuries – from Ancient Greece to German Romanticism – have already noted that “you can’t philosophise on an empty stomach”. It is therefore difficult to raise certain questions in contexts where desertification and the invasion of non-indigenous crops – which thus need fertilisers and chemicals that the local people cannot afford – have turned mere subsistence into a major challenge.
But the struggle for subsistence – when successful – still leaves questions of a secondary and yet higher order unanswered: questions, in other words, of how to put a proper roof over your head, how to educate your children and how to hope for a better future. Hence the other contributions on the agenda, from Jan Boersema, of VU University Amsterdam; Marco Missaglia, Professor of International Economics at the University of Pavia, and Giuseppe Ferrari, Secretary of the Peace and Sustainability Studies Centre at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
The big step forward made by the economic and academic worlds in recent years probably consists in having recognised the inextricable link between society, the economy and the environment. Talking about sustainable building, the optimisation of energy resources, the role of certain materials in energy efficiency – which will also come under the spotlight in a specific session belonging to the same series – therefore means viewing the world from this new standpoint, that is now also recognised by the European Union, which just a few weeks ago formalised the concept of “ecosystem services”. This complex term in fact denotes a fairly ordinary albeit neglected concept, namely the dependence of the whole of mankind on a series of “vital ecosystems”, which include soil composition and the nutrients cycle (support services), food production, drinking water, fuels and materials (supply services), control of climate and sea levels, water purification, pollination and control of infestations (control services); and lastly cultural services, whether aesthetic, spiritual, educational or recreational.
The next challenge for mankind – starting with the Western world, which can afford to philosophise – may be to forge an even closer bond between the three concepts of society, economics and the environment. The key to the issue is to reaffirm that environmental sustainability has, first and foremost, economic value, thus rediscovering and extending the literal meaning of “economics” as the study of the quantity and quality of relations between human beings, other living species and the environment – in a word, the eco-system.