Italy’s scorching summer singes Giorgia Meloni
ANDREA GIAMBRUNO is a presenter for the TV network founded by the late Silvio Berlusconi. On July 18th, as temperatures in parts of Sicily and Sardinia soared to more than 45C, he began his daily programme thus: The news, if such it be, is that in July it will be hotand in December itll probably snow. But, according to the environmentalists, we members of the public are to blame. Such views are routinely aired in the Italian media. What was striking was that these should have been propagated by a journalist who is the partner of the prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, and the father of their child. Italy has suffered more than any other European country except Greece this year from extreme weather events: not only raging wildfires in the south, but devastating hailstorms and tornadoes in the north that have caused damage costing an estimated 100m ($110m) in the Lombardy region alone. But climate scepticismprevalent among Ms Melonis voterspresents the prime minister with an electoral quandary: a survey last year found the view that climate change is man-made is more widely accepted in Italy, by 82% of people, than in any other European country surveyed (in Norway it was 61%). Whether Ms Meloni shares her partners attitude is unclear. In a video message the following week, she acknowledged that climate-related emergencies would be ever more common, while avoiding saying why. She agreed that Italy had to adjust its environmental and energy policies, but argued that the priority was safeguarding the territory and announced a grand hydro-geological plan aimed at forestalling floods, landslides and coastal erosion. However, it subsequently emerged that her government was planning to delay the introduction of just such a scheme, for which 1.3bn in grants and loans had been earmarked as part of Italys programme for recovery from the pandemic. The head of the energy and environmental department of Ms Melonis party, the Brothers of Italy (FdI), Nicola Procaccini, denies that it includes climate-change deniers (though he acknowledges some debate over the contribution of human [activity]). Mr Procaccini, an MEP and co-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament to which the FdI belongs, says the Brothers policy is inspired by the thinking of the Catholic church and the British philosopher, Roger Scruton. At its core is the concept of humankind as the stewards of creation, a view the party sees as inherently at odds with left-wing environmentalist thinking, which wants to drive man out of nature, he says. That in turn argues for an adaptational approach and a more gradual transition to allow time for the development of new technologies for mitigation. Yet a national plan for adaptation, promoted by Mario Draghi, appears to be stalled. The current governments own energy-and-climate plan, sent to Brussels in July, includes a smaller cut in emissions than required by the EU Commission, but more ambitious targets for renewable energy than in the previous plan from 2020. The FdIs policy, as set out in its electoral manifesto, is to promote renewables, but with the aim of reducing Italys energy dependence on other countries. Differences exist within the government coalition. The FdIs chief whip in the Senate, Lucio Malan, has appeared to question even the reality of global warming, citing a winter snowfall in Sicily as evidence. But Luca Zaia, the governor of the Veneto region and a leading member of the Northern League, which is allied with the Brothers in government, has roundly condemned any form of denial. It just risks generating alibis, he said last month. When Ms Meloni took power last year, the existing ministry for ecological transition became that of the environment and energy security, while sustainable mobility was dropped from the title of the infrastructure ministry, to be replaced by transport. The previous head of the ministry, Enrico Giovannini, argues that two factors weigh on Italys conservatives. One is the prevalence of climate denial in the media, and especially on television, where three of the leading channels are operated by Mediaset (set up by Mr Berlusconi) and the remaining three, all publicly owned, are increasingly subject to influence by the government. The other factor, says Mr Giovannini, is economic: While many Italian companies have invested in [climate-friendly programmes], and have seen their market shares grow as a result, even becoming market leaders, others dont want to change. And the latter are very vocal. Inevitably, the critics exercise a greater influence on a right-wing government like Ms Melonis than they would if the left were in power. A young woman at a film festival in southern Italy last week wept as she told the environment minister, Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, that she did not know if she wanted to bring children into a world with such an uncertain future. The minister too was close to tears as he told her that he had a duty to you and to my grandchildren. But he prefaced his reply with an enigmatic comment: I have the power of doubt.