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No Ecology In Italian Politics

By Stuart Hertzog
August 22nd, 2008

Deep Green thinking is absent even from Italy’s Green party

Country Report by by Guido Dalla Casa


MILAN, ITALY — The two mainstream Italian political coalitions, the centre-right and centre-left, both claim vigorously to pursue the path of sustainability, but their real goal is continued economic growth, with only lip service being paid to the environment.

Both mainstream coalitions support essentially the same programs, the only difference being in their rhetoric. Each claims that it would achieve economic growth more quickly than the other.

Only two Italian political parties claim to have a real interest in ecology: the Federation of the Greens (the Italian Green party) which in the 2008 election was in the Rainbow Left coalition together with the two Communist parties, and the Radical Party, which claims not to be associated with any other group or coalition and only adopts a pro-ecology position from time to time.

The centre-right coalition won the most seats in the 2008 Italian general election, a disturbing result that elevated concern about the state of the environment in Italy. The elections were particularly disastrous for the Green Party: the “Rainbow Left” list attracted only 3% of votes, which gave it no seats in the Italian Parliament. It’ was estimated that the Green Party alone accounted for less than 1% of the total votes (0.7%-0.8%).

With no Green representation in the Italian parliament there is no hope of any deep or even shallow greening coming from Italy’s political arena.

Green “In an Italian way”

Unfortunately, the Italian Green Party has nothing ‘deep green’ about it. Green Party publications do not mention Deep Ecology, their only reference being to the Green party’s 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 unknown.

An Italian journalist who writes about demographic issues believes that the Green Party is “Green in the Italian way,” and that its members are a failed product of the ’60s movement. They care for the “small Nature” of forty years ago and don’t know the meaning of an ecosystem or of the whole Earth as a system, or as a living being.

While the Green party suffered a terrible defeat in the last election, the Radical party maintained its position. But only a small minority of its members are really interested in ecological problems. Its Rientrodolce Association, whose name comes from its call for a “soft coming back” to two billion people on Earth, does not reflect the Radical party’s true position, which once again is support for ‘progress’ and growth.

Secular and Catholic alike

Italians are generally divided between the majority with a secular and mechanistic worldview, 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 few exceptions. The common behaviour is consumerism, as in both tendencies there’s no concern about natural ecosystems, or on thought that animals are sentient beings who have a right to exist in a free and autonomous way, or on the need to maintain ecological complexity.

Both Catholic and secular Italians have either no ecological understanding, or just a shallow one. They think their task is to continue economic growth, with some attention to its side-effects so as not to compromise further growth, changing all problems simply into a new business opportunity.

Most Italians are materially prosperous. Almost nobody makes the connection between economic growth, consumerism, and the continuing rise in crime, mental illness, road accidents, and drug consumption. Some people have grasped that sustainable growth is a contradiction in terms, but the presence of the word ‘growth’ works the magic of acceptance: the god of consumerism is safe. Very few realise that overpopulation and an unsustainable level of consumption are the primary reasons for the problems that affect the country.

Few genuine friends of the Earth

Terrible strategic problems face the very few genuine friends of the Earth. Italy’s independent mainstream environmental groups (WWF, Legambiente, and others) devote little thought to green philosophic ideas. They make only minor, local demands for the preservation of bits of land. Truly ‘green’ thinking is present only in some cultural associations not associated with a political party or the political debate. Among these are Associazione Eco-Filosofica, and Associazione Progetto Gaia.

Many people are concerned about climate change, but clearly they are not prepared to think about the reasons for it. Others must provide the solution, as automobiles and air conditioning are seen as a sort of deity. Recently there was a revival of plans for nuclear power, which is viewed as if it is a future certainty and the only way to satisfy the ever-increasing demand for energy. Any perception that the energy problem is a clear indication of the unsustainability of growth, is completely absent.

Eco-shallow mass media

Italian TV broadcasts nearly nothing serious about ecology; only one materialistic-Cartesian scientist is aware of situation but speaks with prudence. In a country with 200 people per square kilometre, nobody can talk on TV about the problem of overpopulation, while the authorities complain of not enough Italian births! Some academics and television hosts (usually women) lead occasional ecological discussions, but on a shallow basis so as not to offend conventional thinking. They focus only on acceptable ecological topics, often from the perspective of tourism.

A while ago a political exponent of the far left, speaking on a talk-show, dared to say that he could agree with the host’s ideas, but would never express them because he could lose all his votes. He lost them, anyway.

Hope in the Catholic Church?

Italy’s two mainstream political coalitions are competing to support Catholic religious edicts in the hope of capturing the Catholic vote. For this reason the Catholic Church exerts a heavy influence on Italian politics. But there may be hope of a possible future alliance between followers of Ecosophy and Catholics.

Even though Catholic doctrine is completely anthropocentric and against any kind of birth control, a faint hope is emerging that perhaps the Catholic hierarchy is slowly distancing itself from consumerism and the scientific-mechanistic worldview, with which there was an informal alliance based on a strict division of responsibilities. The hope is that over time, Catholicism will withdraw further from consumerism and material growth, so that Deep Ecologists can reach a kind of arms-length friendship with the Church on the basis of non-materialistic spirituality.

But the major philosophical difference remains is that Ecosophy sees spirituality as being within Nature, while the Catholic Church and Judeo-Christianity in general put spirituality in a God who is either out of the world, or only in mankind and not in Nature. That major difference may be impossible to reconcile.

Towards ecological collapse?

The ecological consequence of recent trends in Italy seem likely to give the spiral of ecological breakdown a faster spin. The result of ‘sustainable growth’ is less hope for real change. The opportunity to stop climate change is passed. The pollution caused by CO2 emission are ever-growing, despite the Kyoto protocol and similar efforts. Government money flows into massive engineering projects that use mountains of material and scads of energy, accelerating global warming and the death of Nature.

More roads will be built and more green field sites buried under housing estates and industrial buildings. Of course, developments like leisure and tourist facilities will be encouraged to ‘get the economy going’ wherever possible, as mass media advertising unceasingly exalts cars, speed, shopping, and so on, sometimes subliminally.

In Italy as in other countries, ecological collapse seems unavoidable. Demographic and economic growth are the reasons for the looming catastrophe. There’s no time to change the nation’s underlying industrial philosophy. The Earth cannot support so many consumers!

One thing is for sure: any solution will not emerge from Italy’s political arena.

About the Author

Guido dalla CasaGuido Dalla Casa is an ecologist and writer who lives in Milan, Italy. An updated edition of his 1996 book Deep Ecology has been published by Arianna Editrice as a 170-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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