“Investigating causes is one of the main missions of science. We decided to make this festival about the environment and specifically about plastic pollution, a particularly sensitive topic.”
Saving the Oceans
One star of the Festival was Sylvia Earle, “Her Deepness”, in the words of the New York Times. What else to call an ocean explorer like her, a woman able to dive underwater for more than 7,000 hours? Earle, who is now 82 years old, has made over 100 expeditions between the Pacific and Indian oceans. She first explored the oceans in 1964. Since then, she has seen the ocean change, due to climate change, overfishing, drilling and plastic and micro-plastic pollution.
An oceanographer and explorer, Earle has become, over the years, an ambassador for the oceans: she participates in conferences and events and never turns down an interview to raise awareness about environmental pollution.
“The oceans are under attack, but we’re still in time to save them. The ocean keeps us alive. We, unfortunately, have the power to destroy it, but we also have the power to protect it: we must use our strength to preserve it.”
Sylvia Earle created an association, Mission Blue, with the aim of identifying "hope spots" in the seas, as she calls them, which are literally places of hope to be preserved in order to ensure biodiversity and the health of the oceans.
On this topic, Sky Europe and National Geographic gave three scholarships to young female researchers under 30, who presented projects aimed at concretely reducing plastic pollution in the seas. One of the winners was an Italian student, Martina Capriotti from the University of Camerino, who presented an integrated study between chemical pollution and micro-plastics in the Adriatic Sea. The other two scholarship winners were Imogen Napper, from the University of Plymouth (UK), and Annette Fayet, from Oxford University (UK).
The Power of Photography
A free exhibit for the entire week featured Fabiano Ventura, entitled “On the Trail of the Glaciers: In Search of the Past for a Sustainable Future”. The public was impressed by the power of its photographs. Landscape photographer and creator of the project, Ventura has taken five expeditions to the biggest mountain chains on the planet to document the erosion of the glaciers. He does this by comparing photographs, his and those from past explorers, taken up to one hundred years apart, maintaining the same geographical vantagepoint of the photograph, a technique known as "repeat photography".
Fabiano Ventura’s adventures started in 2004, when he was chosen as the official photographer for the 50th anniversary of the climb to K2, a peak of 8,611 meters first accomplished by the Italian explorers Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli on 31 July 1954. “At that moment, I knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to the topic of climate change, using photography”, said Ventura.
“After Karakorum, the Caucasus, Alaska and the Andes, the fifth expedition of the the Italian photographic-scientific project has set off for the Himalayas. The sixth and final edition of the project will take place in 2020 in the Alps.”
As much as one can be aware of the phenomenon of melting glaciers, the comparison between these shots provides a much stronger message than any words can. The power of photography, in this sense, allowed the public to understand how important it is to take concrete actions to fight climate change.
A Festival Based on Education
Many children participated in the Science Festival. The most exciting workshop allowed the smallest visitors to produce energy by walking on a treadmill. The children’s faces lit up when they discovered the magic of research and technology, seeing that, by walking on the treadmill, they managed to produce the energy needed to light up the bulb.
The educational approach was the so-called “Fablab”, a “fabrication laboratory”. Children from Roman schools took part in workshops where they built robots, did their first electronics experiments and interacted with machines of various types. They learned about the careers of the future, rising to be the real stars of the festival, thanks to their curiosity.
What’s the Future for the Earth?
The final event of the festival was held on the evening of Earth Day. “What’s the Future for the Earth?” was the title of a panel that featured, among others, Andrea Fantini, the skipper of the Class 40 vessel, a sailboat that is 100% energy sustainable. The speakers discussed the protection of the forests, the damage caused by overfishing in our seas, and especially the enormous quantity of plastic produced, about 8.3 billion tons since the invention of this material.
Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic end up in the seas. Enormous patches of this material float in the oceans and are eaten by animals and marine birds. Some estimate that 100,000 animals die each year from swallowing plastic.
“The lifestyle that we practice during our ocean crossings, using renewable energy and eliminating excesses as much as possible, minimizing food packaging, for example, is easily doable on land. It’s important that this lifestyle is passed on to children.”
The panel’s final message for Earth Day was not to be “the causes”, the theme of the festival, which in this case meant for us to avoid being the cause of the planet’s ruin. “We have a future ahead of us and it’s up to us to decide what path to take to preserve it”, said Peter Brannen, a journalist and author of the book “The ends of the world”, a panel participant.
The National Geographic Science Festival had over 51,000 attendees, including about 18,000 students. The dates and theme of the next addition have already been announced: from 7 to 14 April 2019, again at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, to celebrate a double anniversary: 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci and 50 years from when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.