in questo sito vengono usati i cookies navigandonel sito accetti.



by Patrizia Marani

Scientists worldwide are increasingly aware that, rather than a genetic one, today’s most common diseases have an environmental cause: polluted air, food and water. Indeed, air pollution has even surpassed dirty water in this dismal ranking. Do we have to keep choosing between wealth and health or is it possible to live in a prosperous green world? Several countries have bet on the green economy to power their growth. Do they have a point?

Impianto a carbone Courtesy Public Domain PhotosThe Yale University Environmental Performance Index 2016 (EPI) reports that “More deaths globally occur due to poor air quality than water. In 2013, unsafe water was responsible for 2 percent of global deaths (~1.24 million), while poor air quality was responsible for 10 percent of all global deaths (~5.52 million). Moreover, “More than 3.5 billion people – half of the world’s population – live in nations with unsafe air quality. Dangerous air pollution is not confined to any one country or group of countries – it is a global issue.”

Drinking water in industrialized countries has also stealthily become a source of illness as “Experts estimate that industrial and domestic waste water introduces up to a million of different pollutants into natural waters.” Not only has the use of pesticides in agricultural areas become a source of air pollution, it pollutes aquifers as well. Thereby, in the developed world, albeit bacteria-free, drinking water – from both the tap and the bottle - may be replete with pollutants present at trace levels that water depuration systems are unable to detect.

Our bodies' natural detoxification systems have a limited capacity, beyond which toxins start to build up. The resulting toxic body load brings about chronic states of inflammation that may eventually trigger a disease.

So much for human health, but the planet’s health is not any better. About 97 percent of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening. So far, temperatures have increased by .8° Celsius above preindustrial era, that is, where we were before we started to fuel our economy with coal. At the Copenhagen summit and, in 2015, in Paris, leaders worldwide signed nonbinding agreements to keep temperatures below a 2° Celsius increase. However, governments can ignore their commitments the above agreements being “not binding.” This, however, would spell disaster for the planet as, with present emissions, we are headed for “4° C, or even 6° C” of warming.

In a 2012 report, the World Bank warned that “we’re on track for a 4° C warmer world marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life threatening sea level rise…there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4° C world is possible.” And there is no sign in the offing of a turnaround, quite the opposite: with the corporate globalization process in full swing,” in the 1990’s, global emissions were going up an average of 1 per cent a year. By the 2000’s, , emissions growth had soared “to an annual rate of increase reaching 3.4 per cent for much of the decade. That rapid growth rate continues to this day, interrupted only briefly in 2009 by the world financial crisis,” but “global emissions surged by a whooping 5 per cent in 2010” (Naomi Klein, “This Changes Everything).

In 2011, Fatih Birol, the chief economist of IEA said to the Wall Street Journal: “The door to reach two degrees is about to close, in 2017 it will be closed for ever.” In the present year’s report, IEA’s expectations for renewable energy generations are growing, especially in emerging countries, thanks to an increase in governments’ support.

Modern society’s levels of production and consumption have been made possible by fossil fuels, especially coal and oil. Our industry and farming are powered by these dirty sources. It is evident, however, that developing sustainably is a matter of life and death for humankind and planet Earth as a whole and fossil fuels, besides being finite and decreasing sources, are not sustainable. The question is: will renewables be able to take over? And if they will, when?

In the introduction to “This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs the Climate” its author Naomi Klein calls the climate crisis “a civilisational wake-up call to alter our economy, our lifestyles, now – before they get changed for us”. It’s “a powerful message – spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions – telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve.” And indeed, the climate change warning is being heeded by some of the most civilized countries on earth, which are aware that getting off fossil fuels to power our economies is at the heart of the whole issue.


According to 2016 Environmental Performance Index, Finland ranks first for environmental performance, followed by Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Slovenia, Spain, Portugal, Estonia, and Malta, the world’s nine most environmentally virtuous countries, at least until now. “Finland’s top ranking stems from its societal commitment to achieve a carbon-neutral society that does not exceed nature’s carrying capacity by 2050, a vision replete with actionable goals and measurable indicators of sustainable development. Finland’s goal of consuming 38 percent of their final energy from renewable sources by 2020 is legally binding, and they already produce nearly two-thirds of their electricity from renewable or nuclear power sources.” Well, nuclear power is regarded as a clean energy source by the EPI! Quite questionable isn’t it?

The other countries in the ranking are committed to the development of truly sustainable as well as renewable sources of electricity. The EPI’s scientists claim, “Only well-functioning governments are able to manage the environment for the benefit of all.” Indeed, a link between genuine as well as functioning democracies and good environmental management for the public interest is emerging clearly, a synergy most likely to be found in Northern European democracies, but not only.

RENEWABLE ENERGY Therefore, Among the EU countries, the European Environment Agency reports, in 2013, the highest shares of photovoltaic panelsrenewable energy were attained by Sweden (52.1 %), Latvia (37.1 %) and Finland (36.8 %). Luxembourg (3.6 %), Malta (3.8 %) and the Netherlands (4.5 %) realized the lowest shares.

Renewable energy in Europe 2016, source: EEA report 1. Sweden 2. Latvia 3. Finland 4.Austria 5.Denmark 6.Portugal 7.Estonia 8.Romania 9.Lithuania 10.Slovenia 11.Bulgaria 12.Croatia 13.Italy 14.Spain 15.Greece 16.France 17.Czech Republic 18.Germany 19.Poland 20.Slovakia 21.Hungary 22.Cyprus 23.Belgium 24.Ireland 25.United Kingdom 26.Netherlands 27.Malta 28.Luxembourg

In 2016, Sweden's prime minister announced his country will work towards becoming 'one of the first fossil fuel-free welfare states of the world', and indeed renewables already account for 52 pc of Sweden’s energy, according to data from Eurostat and the Renewable Energy Directive. The goal is set by 2040 to go wholly renewable by increasing wind power, while phasing out nuclear power, too expensive to run, catastrophe prone, and with a huge waste materials disposal issue.

Denmark, which has a 27.8 renewable energy share, is a leader in the production of renewable energy from the wind and is already exporting wind power to Germany, Norway and Sweden. Of course, the government is playing a big role in all of this: the public interest is to live in a clean environment to prevent rather than treat diseases and they’re going all out for it.


Geyser Crediti VeritasnoctisBut other non-EU countries are doing even better.

ICELAND About Iceland, the Magazine of the United Nations reports: “Today, Iceland’s economy, ranging from the provision of heat and electricity for single-family homes to meeting the needs of energy intensive industries, is largely powered by green energy from hydro and geothermal sources. The only exception is a reliance on fossil fuels for transport.” Thus, “almost 100 per cent of the electricity consumed in this small country of 330,000 people comes from renewable energy. In addition, 9 out of every 10 houses are heated directly with geothermal energy.

The story of Iceland’s transition from fossil fuels may serve as an inspiration to other countries seeking to increase their share of renewable energy. Was Iceland’s transition a special case that is difficult to replicate, or can it be applied as a model for the rest of the world?” To this question, the answer is a resounding yes! While Iceland is evidence that renewable energy can power a modern industrial economy, local conditions in each country will determine which renewables are the most efficient and how they will be best exploited.

GREEN JOBS Iceland shows what can be done when a nation puts its mind to the task of eliminating fossil fuels and becoming self-sufficient in energy generation. Not only can the planet’s and people’s health benefit, the economy too. Indeed, as to jobs, a Statista chart emphasizes renewables’ job creation potential: in the US more workers work in solar than in fossil fuel power generation, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy. Solar power employed 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation sector’s workforce in 2016, while fossil fuels combined accounted for just 22 percent.

CHINA  China too, which is in the throes of a transition to developing a huge green economy, foresees that investing in green economic sectors can create millions of new green jobs and is therefore committing to renewables, hybrid and electric transport, reforestation and forest-park tourism. 

"China also has great potential to expand its niche sector of forest park tourism, as the country is home to more than 2,000 forest parks nationwide. We estimate that by 2020, this relatively new green sector could provide 392,000 direct jobs and 607,000 indirect jobs, or nearly 1 million green jobs in total...Although China does not have abundant forest resources, government-led forestation efforts have led to an impressive expansion in nationwide forest cover. Based on our estimation, the forestation sector employed as many as 1.8 million full-time workers in 2010 alone, or an average of 1.6 million workers annually during the 2005–10 period. To achieve its 2020 goals, China’s forestation activities could offer as many as 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs annually during 2011–20. Managing the newly added forest area during this period would bring another 1 million jobs. "

COSTA RICA A country that ranks 42nd on the EPI, but first on the Happy Planet Index is Costa Rica. Compared to Norway, its first industrialized competitor for the happiest country, the tiny Central American country does so with nearly half the Scandinavians’ ecological footprint. The Costa Rican success story is a mixture of funds reallocation from the army (abolished in 1949) to health, pensions and education.

“In 2012, the country invested more in education and health as a proportions of Gross Domestic Product than the UK. Professor Mariano Rojas, a Costa Rican economist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, attributes Costa Ricans’ high wellbeing to a culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods.”

Costa Rica has made itself a name as a global leader in sustainability. Its goals are hefty: becoming carbon neutral by 2021. A world aleader when it comes to environmental protection, the Costa Rican government uses taxes collected on the sale of fossil fuels to pay for the protection of forests.

Costa Rica set off in the ‘70’s to promote ecotourism and create national parks - its protected areas cover 25% of the territory and serve as an international tourist attraction, one of today’s main income activities for the country. The forest cover in Costa Rica has grown from a 21% low in 1987 to an impressive 52% in 2005.

The country boldly states to be “ looking into becoming a laboratory for the world’s economy deep de-carbonization process.” But how does it mean to achieve this objective? Costa Rica’s greatest achievement is in energy production. “In 2015, the country was able to produce 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, and the government continues to invest in renewable energy generation in an effort to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021.” Again, according to the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, in 2016 the country has been able to meet its electrical generation needs for 255 days without fossil fuels. Hydropower provides approximately 80%, and the remaining 20 percent is made up of solar, wind, and biogas from organic waste.

Costa Rica is a small developing country, but on May 16, 2016 clean power supplied almost all of Germany’s power demand for the first time (renewables supplied 45.5 gigawatts as demand was 45.8 gigawatts), an important success for a policy aiming to boost renewables while phasing out nuclear and fossil fuels. Windfarms in the northernmost states are producing so much energy that in some cases the state has to pay renewable energy companies to switch off their turbines to stop congesting the power grid, which is not ready yet to take in all that good energy. Overall, about 35% of Germany’s electric power comes from renewable sources.


The Costa Rican government has also encouraged organic agriculture, which today has become a handsome source of income as 69 percent of the 2,159 organic producers’ production is exported, especially to Northern European countries, while the remaining “31 pc was sold locally”.

Indeed, the demand for organic foodstuffs is far outpacing the supply. Why? Besides pollution, the lack of nutrients in the food we eat because of the industrial way they are grown, processed, and distributed is another contributor to the present burden of disease. For this very reason, the supplements industry has grown into a multimillion dollars industry, “local” is the new mantra and restaurants based on organic, foraged foods or “superfoods” are being opened in all the major European and North American capital cities. Therefore, there is a host of brave examples worldwide embracing organic farming and they are not doing it for charity.

DENMARK Denmark is taking bold steps towards becoming 100% organic as soon as possible and double its share of organic by 2020, with a government’s action plan investing heavily in promoting organic farming and food in both the public and private sectors. It allocates grants to farmers’ conversion, to public lands, canteens of public schools and hospitals for them to go organic. And has asked the Ministry for Education to run more courses on organic farming and food in schools and universities. Is the Danish government embarking on a loss-making enterprise?

At present, nearly 8 percent of all foodstuffs sold in Denmark is organic, the highest percentage in Europe, but how many more Danes would buy organic if they could find more of it on the market? The demand for organic food has been soaring. Indeed, last year the demand for organic products in Europe hit a new record, but the production couldn’t keep up with its pace. Everywhere the demand for organic food is faster than the supply. Denmark is one of the largest producers and Danish export has risen by more than 200 percent since 2007. In the US, consumer demand for organically produced goods has shown double-digit growth during most years since the 1990s, according to the US Department for Agriculture. American consumers are buying more organic food but, alas, there are insufficient organic crops within the US, so imports are on the increase too.

BUTHAN Another country that has embraced green development since the 1970’s is the tiny Kingdom of Buthan. The country does not pursue an increase in the Gross Domestic Product but the GNH or Gross National Happiness. There is more to it than meets the eye. It is by now established that high GDP does not translate automatically into high levels of happiness. So, the Himalayan kingdom of some 745,000 people has decided to aim straight at happiness as a domestic goal. In practice, it seeks to preserve the environment (which means maintaining health and preventing disease by removing its environmental causes rather than by early detection) and its own identity by promoting its culture and tradition. Ah, and they don’t mean to live in the Middle Ages to pursue those goals. Rather, “The Vision of the Economic Development Policy” is “To promote a green and self reliant economy sustained by an IT enabled knowledge society guided by the philosophy of GNH.” How do they mean to do it?

By diversifying the economic base with minimum ecological footprint; harnessing and adding value to natural resources in a sustainable manner; increasing and diversifying exports; promoting Bhutan as an Organic Brand; promoting industries that build the Brand Bhutan image. Plus the usual recipe to support research, farmers’ conversion through funding, guidance and training, and promote it in schools and universities. Their idea also stems from the fact that traditional farming is similar to organic.

So, by 2020 the whole country should go fully organic. The tiny country’s policies are already paying off: according to the World Bank’s Buthan Poverty Analysis 2012 “an estimated 12 pc of the population is found to be poor. Thus, poverty has declined by about half from the estimate of 23.2 pc in 2007”. Albeit high, the trend is opposite to that in the Euro Zone where, in Greece, for example, “at risk of poverty or social exclusion” are 35.7 pc of people, in Cyprus 28.7 pc, and even Luxembourg, hardly known for being at risk of deprivation, is at 18.5 pc. Buthan’s amazing growth has been brought about by successive government plans that aimed at a “sustainable use and management of natural resources, and were focused on enhancing “ economic expansion and diversification, promoting export, developing cottage and small industries, accelerating hydropower development and promoting alternate renewable energy”. Thus the country ‘s motto is “not only is small beautiful, it's also green,” echoed also in the choice of going fully organic by 2020. Quite ambitious, but the Buthanese are pragmatic and don’t fail to notice that the global trends of consumption of organic products are soaring.


As previously indicated, ecotourism in Costa Rica is one of the key activities of the tourism industry and one of the main sources of domestic revenue. “By the early 1990s, Costa Rica became known as the poster child of ecotourism.” The country looks to ecotourism as a way of cashing in on the growing demand for this popular trend of travel. “Costa Rica has also managed to implement one of the most advanced environmental protection systems of any country in the world through the development of a strong ecotourism industry and of progressive and innovative legislation linking conservation and reforestation to economic growth and incentives. The country now protects 27% of its land in National Parks, wildlife refuges and over 100 private reserves, and has become the first tropical country to radically reverse the process of deforestation, with forest cover increasing from just 21% in 1990 to 52% in 2005.”

albergodiffusoITALY In Italy, this concept has been developed into a new eco-tourist enterprise called “albergo diffuso” or “scattered hotel,” created by “Alberghi diffusi Association. The albergo diffuso was born to bring back to life deserted old houses in ancient borghi or rundown historic buildings. As people moved to cities to seek jobs, whole areas – enchanting picturesque places - turned into ghost villages. The idea was to do up the buildings preserving as many original features as possible - a stable remained a stable, even though quite a comfy one – and using exclusively ancient local materials. The “hotel” rooms are usually placed in different buildings of a village. A manager is available in a “reception hall” - it can be in a café or a shop – for the check in and to help with questions, recommendations, or bookings. A traditional, 0mile breakfast may be served at a local cafe or in the kitchen of one of the local houses, or delivered to your room.

Reconverting existing rooms and buildings into hotel rooms is cheaper and far more sustainable than building a new hotel, as it curbs land use and overbuilding.

Albergo diffuso makes it possible for local administrations to put to renewed use and revenue former old or ruined buildings, and for travellers to have meaningful local life experiences, interact with locals, and know a different culture in-depth. Compared to holiday flats or cottages, albergo diffuso has an edge, basic hotel services, and moreover is a responsible tourism initiative that fits in well with the Italian “borghi” as it preserves their architectural beauty. By being community-wide, brings wealth to the community as a whole: locals may contribute catering for the travellers and all sorts of services.

We like to conclude with Naomi Klein's words: “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or (rather)..our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction of humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.” A new economy is possible.


On line

Alberghi Diffusi, a way to live as a local in the most beautiful italian villages

Organic Action Plan for Denmark 

Will Denmark Become the first 100% organic country? 

Buthan Oganic by 2020

VOX CEPR's Policy PortalResearch-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists GDP and life satisfaction: New evidence Eugenio Proto, Aldo Rustichini 11 January 2014 


The Yale University Environmental Performance Index 2016 (EPI) report

Iceland: A 100% renewables example in the modern era

World Energy Outlook 2016, IEA 

UN Chronicle: Iceland's sustainable Energy, Story Model for the World

Forbes, Solar Employs More People In U.S. Electricity Generation Than Oil, Coal And Gas Combined 

U.S. Department of Energy: US Energy and employment report 

Worldwatch, Green Economy and Green Jobs in China

Costa Rica, a leader in sustainable practice and policies


This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs the Climate, Naomi Klein