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Deep Ecology Almost Unknown In Italy

By Guido Dalla Casa
June 2008

Milan, Italy — The political situation of the green movement in Italy is not good. The Italian Green Party has nothing ‘deep green’ about it – not even a tiny grass-shoot of green in a barren, brown meadow. Green Party publications do not mention Deep Ecology, their only reference being to its origins in the Italian Communist party.

This isn’t unusual in Italy: there’s almost no mention of the environment in Italian political discourse and the concept of Deep Ecology is almost unknown in my country. The last Italian elections were a disaster for the Green Party, and with no green representative in the Italian parliament there is little hope of any deep or even shallow greening coming from the political sphere.

Italians are generally divided between the majority with a secular and mechanistic view of the world, and a minority who follow the strict doctrines of Catholicism. Practically there’s no difference, and only one aim: growth, growth, and more growth. The economic worldview is always present, with very few exceptions. The common behaviour is consumerism, as in both tendencies there’s no concern about natural ecosystems, or that animals are sentient beings who have a right to exist in a free and autonomous way, or for the need to maintain ecological complexity.

Last winter and spring I gave a series of lectures and classes on Deep Ecology at two UNITRE (adult open universities) and several high schools. Despite the fact that my audiences showed a high level of interest in the concepts of Deep Ecology and had no real opposition to them, for most it was the first time they had heard anything about it. Many could not at first imagine a non-anthropocentric view, but, after some explanation, most of my listeners at least could grasp the concept.

The Catholic Church and the Earth Manifesto

At the beginning of 2007 the Vatican requested a copy of Manifesto for Earth by Mosquin and Rowe, as representative of the ecocentric viewpoint. Afterwards, J. Navarro-Valls, a high-ranking Catholic Church speaker, became active in the debate about Deep Ecology, especially concerning the Manifesto.

An article by Navarro-Valls entitled The Ecological Question was printed in the front page of the 13th May, 2007 issue of the important Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica. Professor Paolo Scroccaro, president of the Eco-Philosophical Association (Treviso-Veneto) wrote an article Ecocentrism by Mosquin and Rowe – Anthropocentrism by J. Navarro-Valls in answer.

Professor Scroccaro’s response:

“This is the first time such a kind of attention is being paid to this subject in Italy. This is a good signal, even if the author is critical of Deep Ecology. Let us list some points about Navarro Valls’ writing. In his opinion: 

  1. the Manifesto for Earth is too critical of modern Western culture and its anthropocentrism;
  2. the Manifesto is right when in contrast with Cartesian scientism, which is responsible of a reductive concept of nature and its consequent unlimited destruction;
  3. anthropocentrism and technological science cannot be over-criticized, because nature must be exploited by mankind, that is on a superior stage.

In point c), Navarro assumes that all Greek and thus western philosophy is human-centeric, but this is not true. He thinks Ecosophy is only a fad imported from the East by some “strange” contemporary thinkers such as Mosquin and Rowe. He forgets Bateson, Devall, Sessions, Capra, Naess, Snyder, Bonesio, and many others. Deep Ecology is not only made by exotic eastern ideas!

With reference to b), Navarro agrees with deep ecology, that is, Nature cannot be reduced to the Cartesian mechanistic view. This appears as a good foreword, but the statements following mark the great chasm that divides Navarro’s thought from any form of Ecosophy.

Navarro claims intelligence as characteristic of mankind and views as “obvious” the “greatness” of man over all other beings. His perspective this remains completely anthropocentric, with only a small supplement of responsibility! According to Navarro, man must exploit Nature, which always is at his service.

Also according to Navarro, any economic policy must pay attention to the side-effects of growth and control them. The only differences among political parties are on the ways to control them in the obvious aim to maintain perpetual economic growth.

Some small (shallow) ecological devices do not change the basic background of  the present Catholic and scientific thought that has economic growth as a basis: the result is the so-called “sustainable growth”, that appears also in Navarro’s words, in which we cannot find any hope for real change.

Navarro’s views have nothing in common with the of spirit Deep Ecology, which:

  • is based on ecocentrism
  • views an intrinsic value in any natural entity
  • promotes a universal ethic of compassion
  • recommends cooperation, not imposition
  • thinks that human world cannot be self-referenced.

Deep Ecology seeks to learn from the wisdom of Nature.

Ecosophy is not in contrast with shallow ecology, which is unable to save the world, especially in our present situation. The only hope is a deep change in cultural ideals, a reverse of contemporary trends, beginning in our deepest soul.

Ecosophy has traditions with roots in very ancient times, while anthropocentrism is a recent, dangerous, and terribly expansive exception. Navarro does not think so, he does not know of (or recall) the ideas of Raimon Panikkar, a Catholic priest with a non-anthropocentric view.

Navarro’s viewpoint is not only that of Catholic world, it is a characteristic of both Italian the environmental movement and secular environmentalism. There are sometimes a few differences in tone but they have no practical influence. Substantially, Catholic and secular people take shallow ecological positions, with small differences. They see their task as to continue economic growth with some attention to side-effects so as not to compromise further growth, changing all problems into simply a new business opportunity.

Shallow ecology has become a necessary ideology for “developers” and “growth-lovers” who march behind the nonsensical banner of “sustainable growth”. This latest continuation of the anthropocentric and pro-growth perspective is destroying life on Earth: Navarro-Valls’ words are a further confirmation of the persistence of human-centrism.

If our home is flooded, we cannot bail out the water by a pot while leaving open the source: that is what anthropocentrism and shallow ecology seek to do. Ecosophy is the position of those who know that we must immediately stop consumerism and growth, twin forces that for so long have kept the floodgates wide open.”

Associations and cultural activities

Many environmental associations are active in Italy, but only two espouse the principles of Deep Ecology:

Associazione Eco-Filosofica www.filosofiatv.org, president professor Paolo Scroccaro, is based in Treviso in north-eastern Italy. Its philosophy is based on a complete adherence to Deep Ecology principles and its principal activity is the organisation of lectures, meetings, and courses especially in the Italian region of Veneto. The group publishes a good monthly revue reflecting a eastern spiritual world view plus a strong understanding of western and indigenous people’s philosophies.

Associazione Progetto Gaia has its office and natural products shop in Milan. President Manlio Massi has a materialistic but systemic worldview. Its nearly a thousand members are scattered throughout Italy and the group adheres to the Lovelock-Margulis’ Gaia Theory that accepts nearly all the principles of Deep Ecology. A vegetarian or vegan diet is recommended although non-vegetarians are accepted. Its website is www.progettogaia.it  and email posta@progettogaia.it It also maintains the website www.concezionedelmondo.org, which has some material in English.

Websites

About Deep Ecology:

www.ecologiaprofonda.com is the only one exclusively dedicated to Deep Ecology. Mario Spinetti is a naturalist-writer very fond of Nature, who now lives in northern Finland. He wrote some books about eagle, bear and wolf.>

www.naturalspirit.it  Stefano Fusi is a writer-painter who writes about deep ecology and native cultures. He lives near Milano and holds meetings about the subjects.>

About Eco-psychology:

www.ecopsicologia.it and www.inventareilmondo.it The Italian Eco-psychology School is at Osnago (Lecco–Lombardy). Marcella Danon is the best representative of ecopsychology in Italy: she wrote a good book on the subject. She is in contact with Fritjof Capra and Joanna Macy.

www.filosofia-ambientale.it carries the most complete information on Italian ecological and green positions. It is run by Piergiacomo Pagano, a scientist of ENEA.

Other sites:

About the Author

Guido dalla CasaGuido Dalla Casa is an ecologist and writer in Milan, Italy. An updated edition of his 1996 book Deep Ecology will be published this July by Arianna Editrice as a 270-page e-book Deep Ecology: Steps To A New Worldview. An abridged English translation of the original can be downloaded as a PDF at Steps To A Deep Ecology.

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4 comments

1 Suzanne Duarte { 08.01.08 at 4:37 pm }

Dear Guido,

Thank you very much for this snapshot of the state of ecological thinking in Italy. It’s discouraging, although not very different from the situation in Holland. However, I find it interesting that three people from Italy are traveling all the way to Holland for the Council of All Beings here later this month – thanks to you for connecting me with Marcella – while we are having a hard time getting Dutch participants. We have as many people coming from Germany and Italy as we have Dutch participants!

So it is good to have this summary of deep ecology’s position in Italy as a reference point. I wonder if you have sent this to Marcella. If not, I will send it to her.

Blessings to you and Professor Paolo Scroccaro!

Suzanne

2 Guido Dalla Casa { 08.02.08 at 12:34 pm }

Dear Suzanne,

I have just sent this link to Marcella. I am now leaving again to the Alps (this time western) but I think to see sometimes the mails.

All my best wishes for the Council of All Beings.

For the Earth, and all sentient beings.

Guido

3 Ian Whyte { 08.07.08 at 12:45 pm }

Wow it certainly looks depressing! However, I’m not sure how much difference it makes; here in Canada there are more aware people, but the destruction continues unabated.

I really like the dandelion picture at the top of the article.

Ian

4 Anna-Maria Galante { 04.07.09 at 7:49 am }

Molte grazie.

I am planning a trip to Italy in the fall – am hoping see my family in Vercelli. I am also hoping to assist my aunt with the olive harvest in Buonpensiere. It would be nice to attend or plan some green events.