As a northern Italian, when I think about the south of my country I see good pizza and beautiful beaches. But such idyllic places are also home to one of the most serious environmental disasters in recent memory.
I am talking about a group of towns between the cities of Naples and Caserta, in Campania, southern Italy. This area is known – sadly – more for its criminal organisation named Camorra than it is for its natural and cultural beauty. It was recently described in local media as a place of devastation and death.
The area is nicknamed Terra dei Fuochi, or Land of Fires, and not because of its hot summer weather. Police have suspected criminal organisations of spilling, burying and burning toxic waste from the north of Italy and elsewhere in Europe since the early 2000s. Bosses from the so-called ‘eco-mafia’ are often being arrested for related crimes.
Because most of the illegal waste is burnt – especially during the waste management crisis of 2008 – the area was named Land of Fires. Needless to say, this reckless practice has had devastating consequences on the environment and the Italian people.
In 2003, environmental NGOs pointed out that many people in the region were being diagnosed with cancer – especially in an area around three towns now named the ‘triangle of death’. The region has the highest rate of liver, bladder and brain cancer in the whole of Italy. Shortly after, a study published on the medical journal the Lancet, called Italian “Triangle of death” linked to waste crisis, put forward the link between the high number of cancer patients and the illegal activity of waste disposal.
The waste – usually residue and chemicals from various industries, but also tyres and nuclear waste – is buried or burnt, releasing toxic substances like dioxin into the soil or the atmosphere. Sometimes, it is sent to African countries where it is buried, while on other occasions, it is thrown into the sea.
In 2008, dioxin traces were found in one of the most famous Italian products: buffalo mozzarella. The news caused international panic. In the same year, the first arrests in relation to illegal dumping were made. A total of 20 people got caught dumping and burning toxic waste near the towns of Marigliano, Afragola and Arzano. A subsequent investigation revealed that often behind the activity were metals businesses, which burnt cables to recover copper which was then sold on.
Meanwhile only last year, a former member of the Camorra, Carmine Schiavone, told the press that the region was set to become an open-pit landfill site for chemical, toxic and nuclear waste. He revealed the location of some of the spills, giving an idea of just how widespread the phenomenon was.
Schiavone estimated the amount of toxic waste – including from nuclear – to be at least 10,000 tonnes, disseminated beneath roads and agricultural land.
Naples citizens have called on the government to act and stop the devastation. Their attempts have so far been in vain; mafia organisations are simply too powerful. People marched in Naples and Caserta to demand action, while other forms of protest and campaigning also started online many years ago (there is an interactive website where people can send alerts of ongoing fires and dumpings).
The Italian government recently approved new measures to forbid new fires, assess the extent of pollution and do health checks on citizens. However, many fear these policies will do nothing to solve the problem of illegal dumping.
Meanwhile elsewhere in the country, another study of people in Crotone, Calabria, said one in four families include someone with cancer. This was linked, again, to massive amounts of industrial toxic waste buried under buildings and schools. In fact, hundreds of students were found to have levels of cadmium, uranium and nickel in their blood, which were three or four times higher than normal.
Naples and the Italian south have become an international landfill for someone else’s garbage, with help from one of the richest and most powerful criminal organisations on the planet. The crisis that is going on in the Land of Fires is poisoning people, animals and the environment. The economy of a whole region is at risk of collapsing because of the toxic contamination of agricultural products.
Like in many scandals before it, people in Italy protest, talk shows mostly flirt with the issue and politicians argue about who is to blame. All the while, people are dying and the beauty and prosperity of an entire nation is being scarred. We can only hope the damage is not permanent.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.
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