The state of climate change in Italy

We took a ferry from Turkey to Italy, where we had not one, but two, friends getting married on the same day. What to do? We ended up staying with Vivianna and Pietro in Perugia for several days before their wedding, and high-tailed it to Padua in time to see Giovanni and Elisa's ceremony, where we met up with Charlie once again.

Unlike us, the sari and kurta we wore at Giovanni's wedding flew. A lot. More than 95% of the people in the planet will do in their lifetimes. We didn't have space in our backpacks for nicer clothing, so we took the clothes we got in Bangladesh and India to China, where we handed the bundle off to Charlie in March. Charlie flew home to San Francisco with our clothes, and then flew back to Rome in May (our wedding duds in hand) for our friend Giovanni's wedding. After the ceremony, he took our clothes back with him again to California. This is either funny or sad, amusing round-the-world hijinks, or a telling story of how people like us are able to exploit the artificial cheapness of long-haul flights, while the other 95% see only rising seas and a changing climate.

In between the weddings, we found our way to Rome, where we met up with environmental journalist Gabriele Salari, who helped us get a picture of the face of climate change in Italy. Gabriele traces his environmental action to when he started a youth environmental group when he was just twelve. Since then, he's written several books, worked as an press officer for Greenpeace, and has been a widely-published freelancer who's won several awards for his work. He's also a connector in the Italian environmental journalism community.

IMPACTS: Gabriele described Italian regions impacted by climate change: coastal areas (most strikingly, Venice); the river Po between Venice and Ravenna; the wetlands of lower Tuscany; flat areas between Rome and Naples; desertified areas in Sicily, Sardinia, and Basilicata. Gabriele explained how in this nation of farmers and foodies, the impacts of climate change on agriculture were being closely studied. Olive trees, for example, were now growing further north than before; farmers in Piedmont had started seriously growing olives for the first time. Several wine regions were moving north. (Per one study we found, the ideal growing zone for Chianti may leave Italy altogether, moving north to Germany.)

NUCLEAR: As in so many other places, the environment isn't a major issue in mainstream Italian politics--with the exception of an ongoing public debate about nuclear energy. In the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, the Green Party gained strength, and a referendum led to a moratorium on new nuclear facilities. The Greens were part of the government on and off until 2001. Gabriele described how their presence helped compel other parties to start talking about environmental issues. But this was largely a blip; as he describes it, "Italians are more disturbed by other things the government is doing, compared to environmental issues." After Silvio Berlusconi's election in 2008, the government lifted the nuclear moratorium, so Italy can replace its reliance on French nuclear power with domestic nuclear. The biggest domestic environmental debates are around where new nuclear plants should be located.

COP15: Before the 2009 COP15 climate conference, President Berlusconi's  climate policies were largely aligned with those of George Bush, i.e. dismissive and denialist. It took European planning around COP15 to move the Italian position closer to the European mainstream. At the conference, the delegation included both the minister of environment and the minister of foreign affairs. But more importantly, there was significant participation from groups like city administrators working with the international Agenda 21 network. As for Italy, it participated within the European negotiation process, but didn't otherwise distinguish itself. (Read Italian Adopt-a-Negotiator Tracker Andrea Cinquina's notes from COP15 for more details.) The good news? There was a host on new climate legislation passed in 2009, though analysts warn that they won't hit targets.

CIVIL SOCIETY: As a long-time environmental journalist, Gabriele has a sense of what his readers think they know -- most Italians feel as if they're relatively aware of environmental and climate issues, and environmental NGOs see some level of support. There are three large green NGOs in Italy. WWF Italia, founded in 1966, is very independent, and relatively well-liked because of a history of popular projects like the protection of environmentally sensitive lands. The second largest is Legambiente, which is more linked to electoral politics. The third largest is Greenpeace Italia, where Gabriele used to work. Other civil society players have less to say. The Italian slow food movement is still not very politically engaged, but Gabriele sees sees scope for change. The Vatican, a significant player in Italian life, has solar panels on its roof and occasionally takes stances on domestic environmental issues (e.g. green energy, GMOs), but has yet to take on a strong activist role.

Next post: A stalker's walk through Rome

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We're a landscape architect (Barnali) and tech geek (Anirvan) from San Francisco spending a year trying to travel across continents aviation-free while talking to people exploring solutions to transportation and the climate crisis.

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