Learning about technology and sustainability with Roberto Cingolani

04 December 2020

Technology innovation, progress, major global transformations and sustainability. These are the central themes of the free virtual lesson entitled “Technologies” held by Roberto Cingolani, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer at Leonardo, for the Siena Advanced School on Sustainable Development 2020, the advanced training school specialising in environmental, economic and social sustainability, set up by the Italian alliance for sustainable development (Alleanza Italiana per lo Sviluppo Sostenibile, or ASviS), in collaboration with Leonardo, Fondazione ENEL and other leading partners.

Below is an extract of Roberto Cingolani’s lecture.

“The concepts of technology and sustainability are closely linked, but this connection is something that has become apparent quite recently. Homo Sapiens progressed at a very slow pace for about 16,000 years, and it is only in the last few centuries that we have notched up a series of discoveries and inventions that have revolutionised our relationship with the ecosystem and its very existence: if our story were to be concentrated in one day, these discoveries would have been made in the last twenty minutes!

“Progress has undoubtedly made Homo Sapiens the dominant species and lengthened human life expectancy. Improved nutrition and living conditions, the ability to move, interact and communicate have enabled us to develop the civilization in which we now live. But these extraordinary successes have also created rising inequality and major problems, such as pollution, global warming, over-population, water shortages, and loss of biodiversity. The paradox of progress is that it has made us increasingly stronger, but at the expense of the ecosystem in which we are forced to live, thus generating new vulnerabilities.

“This, in a nutshell, is the idea behind the three debts run up by Sapiens in its recent evolution: an economic debt, an environmental debt and a cognitive debt (which will become increasingly dominant in the coming years). In such a complex framework, sustainability plays a key role on a global scale.

“The United Nations have taken action with their 2030 Agenda comprising 17 goals for sustainable development, while the European Commissions’ European Green Deal has raised the bar even higher. The system is moving, but there are certain key challenges and cross-cutting issues that do not have a unique solution: environmental pollution, for example, which affects the health of the planet and of us humans, but also fairness and economic sustainability. Pollution also has effects which may at first seem disconnected: damage to the food supply chain, new diseases, ecological and systemic changes, loss of biodiversity waste disposal in urban agglomerations. All this is causing sudden environmental disasters that have cost $14 trillion over the last decade. These are phenomena that we did not take into account when we began implementing our growth model.

“Another problem is gender equality, the empowerment of women, which in least developed countries should act as a major sustainability multiplier. And then there are urbanisation, an issue that has not yet been fully addressed, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and the food system, currently under pressure from high food demand and enormous waste. The health of the planet, and that of us humans, is becoming increasingly interconnected, and every aspect of global sustainability interrelated.

“That is why technology’s biggest challenge today is to develop solutions capable of producing multiple benefits - solving one problem at a time is no longer enough. Sustainability is and will always be a compromise. Technology offers solutions with a limited lifespan. Perhaps the only real solution is for Homo Sapiens to become more aware. The first investment in sustainability lies in education, the aim of which should be to create informed citizens, people capable of developing cross-cutting solutions. Only at that point will technology be able to generate solutions that, while limited, will be longer lasting, and compromises that are more acceptable.”

Watch the video of the lesson (only available in italian)

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