The area in Northern Italy known as Pianura Padana, extending from the Alps bordering with France, around Torino, then all the way East through Milan up to Venezia, is the most air-polluted region in Europe.
There is no need to explain the consequences: according to European Environment Agency, today air pollution in Europe causes 461’000 deaths per year, 20 times more than car accidents, of which roughly 25% only in Italy.
Data from ARPA, the Italian Agency for Environmental Protection present in every region, estimates that the main responsible for air pollution, and particularly for PM10 emissions in Northern Italy, are heating systems for 45% (97% of which only for wood and pellet heaters) and transport for 25%1. The impact from transport is not surprising, when we think that Italy has a statistic of 707 cars every 1000 inhabitants, 20% more than EU average2. On the other hand, it is not easy to say no to the comfort of owning a car, in a country where most of the population live in small town dispersed all around the territory. Cities in Italy are not big futuristic metropolis as in other countries, and the need of moving from town to town even on a daily basis, together with the the poor penetration of public transport, make the ownership of a car almost a necessity.
When my moment came to choose a car, I knew that the choice was delicate: I would own that car for years to come, and I had to consider carefully the impact of my choice on my finances and on the environment of my hometown. To make everything more difficult, because of my period of studies abroad that car would have been in co-ownership with my mother, who has always been quite averse to technological news, and therefore was very skeptical about the offer in the market of electric cars.
After long discussions and arguments, a compromise was found and I managed to convince her of the benefits of buying an hybrid car with an electric engine. I have never seen my mom so happy of driving as few weeks after our purchase.
New policies in many Italian town forbid the usage of older cars in the city centre many days a month, while hybrid cars can circulate basically anywhere and at any time. Also, the automatic gear relieves some stress in traffic jams, especially for less confident drivers. The fact that when the car is not moving only the electric engine is used makes the user experience amazingly silent and peaceful. But it was not enough for me. After winning the battle with my parents, I decided to keep facing the whole war with the people I knew.
Many friends of mine, initially making fun of my choice, began getting more and more impressed of it as I drove them around, proudly showing the features of how the future of automotive will look like. My dad started to borrow my mom’s car more and more often when she wasn’t using it. At the same time, our monthly expense for gasoline was becoming lower and lower.
Technological solutions for a more sustainable world already exist, they can be found on the streets, in shops, on the Internet. But advertisement and studies about their benefits are often not enough to convince people to exit their comfort zone, trying things that are different from what they are used to. Regardless of age, people tend to be averse from the unknown, which is seen as a source of risk. It is a mission to all of us to show to our familiars, friends, colleagues, that green solutions are not necessarily environmentally friendly at the expenses of our comfort or of our wallet, but that we can gain in all of those aspects even at the same time. Knowledge gives us the power to take better choices, and knowledge does not always come from “above”, but often from peer to peer. We should be aware of that and of the power that we have to influence our environment, inspiring others to give their best for our own collective interest, for our own planet.
Written by Marco Barbaro