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TEDxBologna - Gianumberto Accinelli - Le oasi in città (Oasis in the city)

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Good morning. I am an entomologist. An entomologist is someone who studies insects. So, every morning, I wake up, I go to the lab and I study these little six-legged animals. Probably many of you think -- and I believe rightly so -- that my profession is a little bit strange, but I am also sure that some of you think that it is a profession, a bit useless, for people who, in their ivory tower, study things totally detached from reality -- -- from daily life. -- Well, I want to show you in my short talk that it's nothing at all like that, that my profession can give a great contribution to our society and to our daily lives. So I want to start -- by taking your mind to a nice summer day, maybe a vacation day which you probably spent at the seaside or at the mountains. And you certainly would have seen an idyllic scenery of little birds, in this case swallows circling above you in the air -- Air perhaps filled with the warm light of the sunset as these birds like to fly at sunset. If we look at this scenery with the eyes of an aesthete we could talk about or rather say words like beauty, joy, poetry. If we looked at the same scenery with the eyes of a natural scientist then we would use completely different words. And indeed for a natural scientist, this scenery is a real hunting ground and a very efficient one. The quick flicks of the swallows are nothing but hunting flicks with which they catch animals, insects. I would call it a miniature hunt. The screams and shrills they utter are actual battle cries. But if we compare this scenery even more and we look at this flight of swallows with the eyes of an environmental scientist still we would have to use other words. Indeed the environmental scientist only sees a passing of energy from a living being to another in a way that we could even define democratic. What is the energy that flows through -- the animals? Roughly speaking, we could say that the only energy, at least on the surface of the Earth, is the energy of the Sun. So, the energy that I am now using to talk to you, the energy you now are using to -- hopefully -- listen to me is the energy of the Sun. We are all solar machines. Obviously we don't go around with photovoltaic panels on our backs. So we indirectly benefit -- from the Sun. This is the sun reaching the earth and giving energy to all living organisms. It is an incredibly great and powerful energy. Consider that it amounts to an explosion --- the very same energy of a million of explosive devices that could --explode on Earth. -- an enormous power. Most of this energy dissipates as heat and so we can enjoy days like these ones, so warm even in autumn. However, part of this energy is encompassed in special organisms. Perhaps many of you don't know that among us live some sort of alchemists. These organisms are actual alchemists. It's them: plants. They take the energy from the sun, they associate it to water and mineral salts and -- let's put it this way -- they blend them with chloroplast -- I am oversimplifying here -- to obtain sugars from the inorganic substance. These sugars are then entered in all the flows of energy and they give nourishment to all organisms and particularly to us who cannot -- directly exploit the energy of the sun. The herbivores are the connecting link between plants and other animals. This is a rather large category of animals known as herbivores. Now if you have in mind a quiet cow nibbling grass, or if you are imagining a horse that, after a gallop, starts eating, stops and eats the grass, you've got it wrong. The real herbivores that is the real link between plants and the other beings or organisms are the insects. Insects, despite their small size, are extremely voracious animals. Also, while herbivores, of the class of mammals, eat leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. Insects behave a bit like we do with the pig in Emilia, they do not waste anything, they use everything. So they eat roots, leaves, wood, nectar, cups and buds, I mean everything, they eat everything. If we then look at this world -- suppose an alien comes and he has only some notions of statistics, he would round up and say that the world is only inhabited by insects. Consider that more than 70% of the species living on earth are insects. Not to mention the mass, the numbers, the millions, the billions of insects living around us. we don't see them because they are very tiny but they have a huge biomass. And an expert in statistics would assume our world is only inhabited by them. So, the energy withheld, the solar energy withheld by plants is passed on to the rest of the world through these tiny creatures that are - generally and unfairly - considered like animals to squash or to ignore. That's why insects enter in the so-called flows of energy. This is a thousand-year-old dance, and it is a link that is now undergoing a crisis. Just think that at the beginning of 1900 the extinction rate grew about a thousand times. And we are the ones who accelerated the destruction of the biodiversity and the habitat on one hand, and polluted our planet on the other. I believe that one out of five plants is at risk of extinction forever. One of the main culprits is agriculture because of the preference for some plants over others which are deemed as weed -- unwanted plants. So insects, bees are undergoing a demographic drop never seen before in the history of nature. What can we do about it? There are many solutions, of course and fortunately. The slide you are watching is one of them. It's called a biodiversity hotspot. These are small areas Cultivated with a particular biodiversity density, in order to benefit a certain insect rather than another one. Here you see the first time this technique was actually used. It consists in covering a certain area with many biodiversity hotspots. This is a map of California -- these microspots have been created here to save a butterfly known as - fortunately it IS known --- Mission Blue. Towards the end of the Seventies it was listed as a threatened species. But thanks to this technique if you now go to California and if you go to the beach, you can find yourselves surrounded by these beautiful blue butterflies. So it actually consists in covering an area with these microspots and these spots will be networked by nature. And a large ecosystem is created, as Odum's axiom states - Odum was a famous ecologist - "Many small ecosystems make a larger one." This is the little butterfly, Mission Blue, the first insect saved thanks to this technique. Now, after the initial summer day I want to take you to a big city, the concrete jungle, and I want you to look at it with the eyes of a naturalist and an ecologist. For a naturalist and an ecologist, the city is an environmental disaster. It's a grey blanket which destroys biodiversity, it destroys whole areas of nature. And it destroys very large areas. Just think that since 2007 most of the human species on Earth live in a city and not in the countryside as they used to do. And since the early Nineties in our peninsula, our beautiful country, concrete areas have been built up equivalent to the region of Lazio, so a very large area. But if we looked at the city with the eyes of an agronomist, the scenery would look a whole lot different. The agronomist would see many potentially cultivable spots, lots of places -- Think about the city: how many window ledges, balconies, terraces -- green areas are there. City corners where you can grow your own green stuff. And who knows how many farmers, budding farmers -- I should say -- would see the agronomist: so many people who also have an ecological sensibility, and who usually have a high level of education. So they would be excellent farmers. Drawing inspiration from all this, a project of the University of Bologna came to life and subsequently became a spinoff of the same university -- It's called Eugea which stands for Urban Ecology, Gardens and Environment. Our proposal -- what we intend to propose to these potential farmers, that is to you, are biodiversity microspots, small corners where you can grow, maybe next to your beautiful ornamental plants, Other plants with an ecological aim. So, you have the butterfly spot, the spot for useful insects, the pocket version. There are many of them. We want as many people as possible to join in so we can create a network of biodiversity in the city. The project was born in 2007 and it was quite a success. Fortunately the range of what we call solutions for biodiversity in the city has increased. This is one of them: we try to combine nature and poetry. We also write books. We are also publishers. We write books where we combine poetry and plants. For instance, in this case in the book dedicated to Emily Dickinson one can read the poems and then can recreate the same setting described by the American poet using the same plants since inside you can find the plants described by the poet, these are plants which can also recreate the biodiversity spot. In short, what we aim to do is to involve as many people as possible to create a very large network in the city, So, one Monday morning we could wake up and on our way to work we could see fluttering in the air this beautiful butterfly: the machaon or swallowtail. It is the most beautiful butterfly in Italy. Unfortunately it is disappearing. If we could really get together and each one of us could take care of a microspot of biodiversity this dream that-- as Montale once said "lies under the shadows of reason" -- could become -- could change from a dream to a reality. Thank you. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 12 minutes and 50 seconds
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Producer: TEDxBologna
Director: Andrea Pauri
Views: 49
Posted by: paolalb on Apr 21, 2012

A social entrepreneur, at his startup he wants to help people to rebuild biodiversity in the most affected areas: the cities. An entomologist who graduated in Agricultural Science with a dissertation on biological struggle, he works for the Department of Agroenvironmental Sciences and Technologies at the University of Bologna. He also does research works in well-known universities in the United States. In 2001, he taught Applied Entomology at the University of Nôtre Dame, in the Republic of Haiti. In 2004 he received his Ph.D. in Agricultural Entomology with a thesis on the prospects in biological struggle. Next to his scientific activity, he has also developed an interest in meditation and ki-aikido, both of which he practices since 1998.

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