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OPINION: Why Italy lags behind Europe on green policies - and things aren't changing

Silvia Marchetti
Silvia Marchetti - [email protected]
OPINION: Why Italy lags behind Europe on green policies - and things aren't changing
Students march during a Fridays for Future climate protest in Turin on April 19th, 2024. Young Italians may want change - but is it likely to happen? (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

With climate protests by young Italians and talk of clean energy policy, will Italy finally change its ways and catch up with other European countries? Silvia Marchetti argues a much bigger cultural shift is needed before Italy could truly go green.

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There’s a lot of talk about environmental-friendly practices and spreading awareness on climate change, but I must admit Italians are perhaps the least eco-conscious of all Europeans. 

We struggle to keep up with the rest of Europe. From buying more bottled water than almost any other country to repeatedly delaying a ‘plastic tax’ and dumping on beaches and in parks, it’s part of a general cultural attitude which has very little ‘green’ in it, even though the pandemic and soaring energy costs have pushed a minority of Italians to become perhaps a bit more careful. 

Too many Italians just have that ‘che me ne frega’ approach (meaning ‘I really don’t care’), which gets on my nerves and is quite ingrained in the general mentality. 

When I used to live in Holland back in 2002, there were drinking water fountains everywhere, people filled their own portable insulated bottles which were not made of plastic, and which seemed to me so cool and fashionable.

While in Rome we have the famous fontanoni (historical water spouts), locals either use their hands to drink, or still buy glass and plastic cups and bottles to fill and then throw away. 

When it comes to recycling waste, only half of Italy does it properly, while the Baltic countries are the most efficient waste-wise among the 27 members of the European Union. 

I live north of Rome, in the countryside, and differentiated waste disposal services arrived in my comune just six years ago, while at my seaside house south of the capital, this happened only last year. In Rotterdam, where I lived during university, citizens had been recycling waste since at least a decade earlier. 

READ ALSO: Why Trento is ranked as Italy's 'greenest' place to live

Some 25 years ago, when I was in Geneva, people walking their dogs would scoop up their pets’ poo with recyclable gloves and place it in neat plastic bags; that’s something you'd see hardly anyone do even nowadays in Italy.

I’m at times ashamed of saying so, but we have really bad habits - like keeping the tap water running even when you don’t need it, such as during one-hour showers or while brushing teeth, turning the lights on at night in the garden when everyone is at home and no guests are expected, and buying endless motorini (scooters) for the kids and then one car per adult family member.

The Italian love of cars results in heavy traffic and dangerous levels of pollution - but will this ever change? (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

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I think this is all due to the fact that most Italians are very showy, even in energy consumption. Keeping house lights or car usage down to a minimum would imply to neighbors a state of precarious wealth, if not almost poverty. 

There’s another factor that plays a major role. Italy, as opposed to other European countries, has always heavily relied on gas and oil consumption, not on alternative green energy that still sounds quite futuristic. This dependency on fossil fuels will likely lead to our demise if we don’t act.

READ ALSO: Italians and their cars are inseparable - will this ever change?

The post-pandemic funds given by the European Union should boost investments in alternative and green energy, but the effects will only be seen in the long run.

In order to have a positive impact, the money must be efficiently spent. Almost 37 percent of a total €191 billion of European aid is expected to go into funding green investments in Italy over the next few years. 

But it all reads very vague at the moment, and I’m afraid the Italian approach might change only slightly, no matter the ambitious government plans. It’s more wishful thinking. 

In the rest of Europe children are taught about climate change and how to adopt good practices in everyday life. I have friends in Belgium whose kids read about recycling plastic and reducing weekly the number of plastic water bottles they buy.

READ ALSO: What is it with Italians and bottled water?

In order to have a radical change in Italians’ attitudes, environmental awareness must be spread inside schools and among children. It really depends on the future generations.

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The younger generations, born in an era already marred by environmental damage, are the only ones in Italy who can really 'go green’ in everything they do and consume.

Recent protests by student climate change activists in Italy, even if small compared to those staged across Europe, are a sign of a changing mentality among youth.

But in order to further spread awareness, a more pro-environmental education is paramount.

Unfortunately though, there is no political debate around improving education on environmental issues in Italy, mainly due to a lack of political wisdom or forward-looking strategy.

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Lisa Orlando 2024/05/16 19:27
This article appeared just as the thoroughly Italian Ron DeSantis announced his new anti-green policies for Florida. Now I get it! https://apnews.com/article/florida-desantis-climate-change-environment-b8230e47da342b9379fa054d197b278a

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