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  • It's Not Easy Being Green
    Italians are slow to take a stand on environmental issues, but if it hits home, they'll be the first to do something about it
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    OCTOBER 21, 2007 - The whole world is going green and trying to combat global climate change and other environmental enemies. Politicians who once ignored these issues are forced to take a stand now - except in Italy. Global climate change, reported the Washington Post in October, is not a major political issue in Italy despite being ultra important to others in the European Union (EU). In fact, the newspaper also reported that Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, which brought global climate change to the forefront of political conversation in other parts of the world and led the former U.S. vice president to win the Nobel Prize, received only limited distribution in Italy.

    Why the resistance in Italy? Just what are Italians doing to protect the environment? Anyone who keeps up with these issues through newspapers, magazines, and Web sites would realize that Italians show concern for the environment - but certain issues tend to hold more weight than others.

    Europe as a whole sees itself as a leader in the green movement, far ahead of the United States, especially since President George W. Bush has held power. Europe sees climate change as an undisputed fact, according to the Washington Post. Italians are not opposed to that statement. In that same article in the Post, Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Gore's selection as Nobel Prize winner "underlined the need for 'everyone to combat climate change.'" It's just that the Italians don't pay much attention to that issue when they head to the polls and consider candidates running for office.

    What Italians have noticed is the fact that certain corporate entities are bringing ugly into their land. For instance, when McDonald's was going to open a fast-food eatery near Pompeii's ruins in 1992, people were outraged. They didn't want a hamburger joint, which some Italians I know say is poisoning the world with its concept of food on the go and greasy dishes, amid relics of history. They were willing to protest that type of charge against the environment.

    More recently, in 2005, Italians protested when the Treno ad Alta Velocita (TAV) was to begin construction on a railroad in Venaus, Italy for a train that would link Western and Eastern Europe. They felt the land was being ravaged, according to the International Herald Tribune and that the construction would make a serious mess and release pollutants into ground water and harmful dust into the air. The residents of the area collaborated to protest the railroad.

    If you've been paying attention, you noticed a pattern. Italians turn environmentalists when the issue strikes close to home and could disrupt their everyday life. They haven't yet truly felt the consequences of global climate change, so it isn't as important. A few more sweltering summers that last into November and December and do damage to the country's wine grapes, and you'll see a new attitude.

    In the meantime, Italy is a nation of brilliant and creative minds. And scientists and businesspeople there have started to address environmental issues in their work. Chemist Enrico Borgarello was recently praised in Time for his work researching and developing TX Active, an additive for cement that "eats surrounding smog." As the head of R and D for Italcementi, Borgarello and his colleagues predict that the product, which can be used in the construction of new buildings, could reduce local air pollutants from 20 percent to 70 percent, depending on sunlight levels and wind, according to Time. Although costly - the price of this cement could be 20 percent higher than the traditional kind - folks have high hopes for it. Of course, the cement can be used to create the wondrous architecture found all over Italy.

    Italy has long been known for its beauty - from the blue of the Mediterranean to the golden sunflowers of Tuscany, so it's not all that surprising that the green movement in Italy is strongest when the issue at hand is protecting natural wonders that affect the everyday life of Italians. Anything that can beautify the country - and keep it beautiful - is glorified, accepted, and touted. Environmentalists in Italy can make inroads with the general population and politicians by stressing the importance of saving Italy's aesthetic - not to mention its history, agriculture, and atmosphere.

    For more information on all things Italian, visit www.francescadimeglio.com.

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