Monday, September 13, 2010

A few observations about environmental matters

From the first day of our visit, we were aware that things are different here.  Lorenzo, our apartment manager, mentioned that we would want to turn off the air conditioner when we were away, saying that "it's not like the U.S.- electricity costs three times as much".  As an economics major, I still believe in the power of price to regulate human behavior.  I've just now looked up per capita consumption of electricity, and Americans use 2.4 times as much electricity as Italians.  Our washing machine here is a little front-loader that seems very efficient, as it cycles on and off repeatedly and takes about 2 hours to complete its cycle.  Lorenzo then mentioned that of the 140 apartments he manages, only 2 have clothes dryers.  Hanging up clothes with clothespins brought back childhood memories for both of us, and we realized that it was something our girls never learned. 

We have inadvertently saved natural gas also by having a semi-functional hot water heater!  The setting for being "always on" does not work, so we just use the booster setting meant for the heating system when we are ready to take a shower.  And you really can wash dishes with just detergent and lukewarm water.  No big deal.

As for waste generation and recycling, there are pluses and minuses.  We love to shop for groceries wherever we travel.  And there seems to be just as much excess plastic in packaging here.  But the grocery store charges 3 cents for each plastic shopping bag.  And those bags are the size that fits into the tiny wastebaskets in the apartment.  Small waste containers do encourage compaction of waste.  And at least here in the inner city, we can take our little bag of garbage down to the alley any night after 8 and it has disappeared by the next day.  I was tickled by the street in Venice where everyone put garbage outside their door in Gucci or Armani gift bags.  There are also large blue dumpsters of course in some alleys for the restaurants and regular residents.  But I have seen only a few plastic-only or glass-only recycling bins.  I did see those containers in the railway stations.

And speaking of the trains: our tickets on the high-speed (125 mph) to Venice stated that "this trip saved about 26 kg of CO2".  Isn't Google Translate wonderful?  It doesn't say compared to what....

Italy consumes half  as much oil as the U.S. does per capita.  Taxis, electric mini-buses, police and service vehicles are the only ones allowed in our (tourist-oriented, within the 1175 A.D. city walls, or most of the 1268 walls) section of Florence.  But there are lots of bicycles and motorcycles and a bus system that is heavily used.  Commuters of all types, including ladies in sophisticated office dress, use bicycles and motorcycles.  There are a couple of electric vehicle recharging stations, including one just off the piazza outside the Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi.  The street sweeper vehicles and many of the garbage trucks that ply the inner city are electric powered and no bigger than a minivan.

And one final observation.  Italy built quality structures starting hundreds of years ago, and they are still here!  It is interesting that some of the fanciest hotels are in the stone towers built by families in the 12th and 13th centuries.  Our little rooftop loft and terrace has a 360 degree view that includes the Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Orsanmichele Church, and Duomo.  This building was rebuilt after the World War II bombings;  when the Germans pulled out they tried to wipe out all of the bridges across the Arno except the famous Ponte Vecchio, one block from our building.  They knocked down buildings to block access to the bridge, but most of the towers were too strong and survived.  There are lots of antennas and satellite dishes and a cell phone array near us, but all of the construction cranes are on old buildings, and they're not building junky new stuff. 

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