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Italian Political EcologiesSeries

What about the fall? Reflections and perspectives of the climate justice movement in Italy (part II)

By Salem Ghribi.

The previous post, focused on the summer: very hot and full of moments of struggle. Now, the fall with all its revindications! From the summer camps to the converging demonstrations.

There is no doubt that it is a crucial time to understand the role of the climate justice movement for society and towards the future, starting with the global strike on September 23. The strike occurred only two days before the national elections confirmed the rise of the extreme right-wing coalition. In the international arena, Giorgia Meloni promises compliance with international climate parameters and then, like its predecessors, aims at domestic gas extraction and “strategic” domestic hydrocarbon exploration missions in autocratic countries. For the umpteenth time, the major parties have set up the election campaign by filling their mouths with slogans and promises – forgetting that, when it was time to decide, they always rowed against a real ecological transition, to push it away and turn it into a ‘green’ companies’ opportunity for new profits.

It seems clear today, considering the evolution of global emissions, that thinking of incentivizing private investment with public money in the hope that it will naturally lead to the resolution of the climate crisis is obtuse and short-sighted. Just as it is short-sighted to believe that financializing pollution, with carbon credits, will virtuously stimulate the market. This recipe, initiated by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, had more than two decades to be tested out, but we find ourselves with an even higher growth of global emissions than in the past. We need a change of direction, we need a bold, forward-looking climate agenda that is supported and shared by working-class people, in the North as well as the South. The Fridays for Future movement, in this regard, has written a rich climate agenda directed at the parties, which touches on many of the points I discussed in the previous post. Unfortunately, many of these points have already been disregarded by the major parties’ agendas and will be even more so in action.

Based on this realization, there has been a change of pace in the climate movement: from an opinion movement to a collectivity ready to organize a counteroffensive that will force, through new power relations, those who have enriched themselves with environmental devastation, to let go of the rudder and pay the cost of the green transition.

A major driving force in this paradigm shift is the reaction to the European Parliament’s vote (July 2022) to include gas and nuclear energy in the European taxonomy of green sources. Initially, the European institutions enjoyed trust from young activists. But after such epochal betrayal and following gigantic demonstrations, there remains disappointment, on the one hand; but also, a new strength, on the other. The strength is rooted in the realization that a change of direction can only start from one’s own struggles, ideas and mobilizations. The movement realized that there are multiple versions of ecological transition, but only one has any hope of succeeding. There can be the regressive transition of the rich and powerful, who want to change everything to change nothing. While there is, a democratic, socialist transition that caters to the majority of people, not only to save this world but also to radically change it, along with the living conditions of those who inhabit it.

The proposals are many and very concrete, but all based on the need to redistribute wealth and implement energy democracy, to make the majority of the globe understand that the ecological transition is not only necessary, but an opportunity to improve their lives. Free transportation, reduced working hours, 100 percent taxation of the extra profits of multinational energy corporations, cancellation of the climate debt. These are all issues that address not only institutional politics, but directly the people who, like nature, have suffered only devastation and misery from this deadly system.

In this perspective, the national dates of October 22 in Bologna and November 5 in Naples, called by GKN in collaboration with Fridays for Future and many other national and local experiences were crucial steps of the #insorgiamo process. These events proposed, as it already happened in Florence, a richness of themes starting with labor, continuing with the need to take care of our planet, and was intersected by many subjectivities: poor and working-class people, racialized groups and the transfeminist and LGBTQIA+ movements. Convergence can mean coming together for a shared project, building a movement that represents different subjectivities. Converging for a common purpose, still under construction of course, but the foundations of which have been laid in the collective work of climate movements, social justice movements, labour rights. These very foundations were discussed and sedimented in the camps of last summer and the first events of this fall.

Getting involved this fall is all the more important because of the ongoing energy crisis, which threatens to be a pressure cooker for social anger. It would be desirable for movements to be able to turn that anger towards those who are speculating and profiting on this energy crisis and war, and not instead, as some are attempting to do, against the seemingly doomed environmental claims of rising gas prices. The issue of extra-profits also raises the question of who should pay for the ecological transition: everyone is invited to change lifestyles, but not everyone has enjoyed and is enjoying the fruits of collective labor and the earth. Some have enriched themselves more than others, and today is the time to call them to the counter and make them pay the bill. Alternatively, if we fail to coalesce the social forces and needs of the majority towards common interests and shared agendas, we run a serious risk.

On the one hand, the political groups have no intention of taking any real steps towards the ecological transition, and on the other, there are those who have been stuffing their mouths with rhetorical arguments for years, while seeing the powerful forces as the only ones in charge of the ecological transition. These tendencies risk to incentivize a popular opposition to environmental issues, relegating the ecological cause to an elite of conscious but powerless intellectuals who are not supported by the majority of people. This autumn, those who pursue climate demands must choose between being an elite movement or a people’s movement, not only to save their own existences but also to radically change them.

"No to wars on our bodies. Self-determination income for all" Mo Bast' Insorgiamo demontration, November 5, 2022 Napoli. Credits: Non una di meno - Napoli.

“No to wars on our bodies. Self-determination income for all” Mo Bast’ Insorgiamo demontration, November 5, 2022 Napoli. Credits: Non una di meno – Napoli.

Along these lines, the tactics of the movement must also be tested: should its impact on the world be through pious work to convince the powerful, or through building power relations that can force them to take responsibility? It is widely assumed that the ecological transition is not happening as a result of ignorance on the part of the powerful. But what if we look at it as a result of a structural divergence of interests?

The climate justice movement seems ready for these challenges, with the major leaps that have been revealed in recent months, from theory to practice, from territories to national organisations.  The climate justice movement will succeed in being a constant and unique force only if it is able to grasp and intercept all social contradictions, and not close itself off, as it has sometimes done in the past, with claims exclusively related to the non-disruption of the 1.5° threshold, thus finally succeeding in reconciling ‘scientific ecology’ and ‘political ecology.’ It will succeed, if it can be understood by the majority of people and be grasped as an ally to the solution of the daily misery that rages in the lives of many. It will succeed if it will challenge everything that has been told about this economic system, especially to my generation, Generation Millenial. We have known no other possible world during our lifetimes but the very beginning of the so-called ‘end of history’. The trend seems clear: we have realized that market solutions did not and will not work; there has been plenty of time to experiment with them, but now is the time to rethink the whole idea of progress, growth and welfare (of the few) that has been hegemonic for the last fifty years.

And if we don’t do it, no one will.

Salem Ghribi is is a doctoral candidate at CNR – ISTEC. He is currently an activist with Ecologia Politica Network and has been active in Fridays For Future as well as in struggles for the right to education, labor and housing. He has written articles on the pandemic and the climate crisis for Jacobin. This piece was firstly published in Italian on Le Parole e le Cose.

Top (feature) image: Insorgiamo flyer. Artwork by Zerocalcare.