March 24, 2023
In Italy climate change is still considered an opinion and much of the media is responsible for it
Insight by Marco Biondi
Can we still seriously deny climate change or give voice to those who deny the climate crisis? On 23 January 2023, the group leader of Fratelli d'Italia in the Senate Lucio Malan, commenting provocatively on the arrival of snow in Ragusa, wrote on Twitter that "climate change does not forgive". A few weeks before, the journalist Vittorio Feltri, also on Twitter, wrote: "Summer was in fact too hot, now winter is polar. Climate change or not we complain now as 50 years ago". Even Carlo Calenda, senator and secretary of the Party “Azione”, referring to the goal set by the European Commission to achieve climate neutrality in 2050, declared that "the climate goals were given to 2050 because it sounded good".
Faced with these statements, the world of information remains a passive spectator. The media coverage of the climate crisis occurs in a discontinuous and superficial way, when tragedies such as the collapse of the Marmolada glacier last July or the landslide of Ischia occur. Another example of higher media coverage happens when a group of young people protests peacefully, like the activists of Ultima Generazione (Last Generation).
But how is it possible that the main channels of information continue to give space to voices and people who aren’t experts in the climate crisis? Why does much of the media confuse the right to be contradicted by giving the microphone to voices that are not based on scientific data? The climate crisis is not an opinion. It’s a fact. Facts need scientific and expert data. Not opinion makers.
Giorgia Ivan, a scientific communicator of the group "Scientists For Future - Italy", explains to Voice Over Foundation what are the impacts of this information model on people. «It happens often that people don’t believe in the climate crisis, despite the fact that I make them see data and reports from IEA, or IPCC, basically the leading experts in the field. Even the calm tones are useless, it is not easy. Not only it’s difficult to better communicate the climate crisis, it’s also difficult to counteract prejudices against the female gender».
During the Glasgow Cop, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech on the climate emergency which in Italy would be considered “leftist”: «We are in roughly the same position, my fellow global leaders, as James Bond today, except that the tragedy is that this is not a movie, and the doomsday device is real and the clock is ticking to the furious rhythm of hundreds of billions of pistons and turbines and furnaces and engines with which we are pumping carbon into the air faster and faster record outputs and quilting the earth in an invisible and suffocating blanket of CO2». The fact that a Conservative pronounced these sentences is a clear sign of the differences between Italy and other countries in the way these issues are treated in the world of information.
According to Ferdinando Cotugno, climate journalist and author of the book Primavera Ambientale (Environmental Spring), Edizioni il Margine, «it’s an Italian cultural limit to take the topic of climate change by the nose. One of the first conservative leaders to engage on the topic was Cameron in 2006, visiting the Arctic to raise awareness about climate change. The Swedish Minister for Climate and the Environment Romina Pourmokhtari, who is part of a right-wing government, has also placed the fight against climate change at the centre of the agenda. The main problem in Italy lies in television where climate change is still considered an opinion». In June 2022, the climatologist Luca Mercalli left the Cartabianca studio (Rai 3) following a discussion with Stefano Borgonovo, journalist of La Verità (The Truth), who was supporting the negationist thesis. The biggest paradox, as Cotugno explains, is that during the 2022 elections, none of the political parties had negationist content in the electoral program, as reported by the climate commitment index promoted by the Italian Climate Network. Unfortunately, talk shows are more political substance than political programs, because it is there that most of the time the opinion of the average voter is formed, and television is even more decisive than social networks since Italy is a very old country. When the news says that fortunately the good weather helped us save gas, they forget that 22 degrees in December it is not good weather, it's a catastrophe. Maybe it’s not negationism but a scientifically unacceptable grey zone».
According to Stella Levantesi, journalist and author of the book "I bugiardi del clima (The Climate Liars), Editori Laterza", the message that is often conveyed is that this crisis, in reality, is not an urgent problem: «Those who try to expose the problem and highlight the causes are accused of scaremongering, activists and scientists continue to be discredited. Another serious issue is the lack of accurate information on what are the causes of the climate crisis and on who are the players that helped create it. We know that a huge share of the responsibility lies with fossil fuel companies, but very often, when it comes to energy issues, this link is not made. One of the consequences is that the energy issue is then framed in a perspective that doesn’t include climate policies». This problem, explains the journalist, is directly linked to greenwashing, a strategy used by companies in the sector, by some politicians, also present in the sphere of information and communication especially where there is an intention to misinform for political, ideological, or economic reasons.
Just think of the sponsorship of fossil fuel companies of entire sections about climate and environment in some newspapers, such as those of Eni on Corriere: «these advertisements and sponsorships allow fossil companies to maintain a social legitimacy in the eyes of the public, making their activity appear as sustainable», says the journalist. The world of information has a great responsibility in communicating the climate crisis. By harboring denier voices, some newspapers or broadcasts carry the wrong message about the climate crisis because it seems that the debate about the existence of this phenomenon is still going on. This, explains Levantesi, «delays the process of forming solutions against global warming».
Observing the communication of newspapers and television on issues such as the pandemic or climate change, another dynamic emerges, calling into question the relationship of the media in Italy with the scientific and academic world. As Levantesi says: «very often experts who are not really experts are interviewed to express their own ideological position. In the case they are experts, they are not necessarily experts in the field they are talking about. For example, economists are interviewed to talk about climate science, letting the message pass that they can talk about it as accurately as a climatologist».
So why many unpresentable and anti-scientific statements made by politicians and journalists are tolerated and accepted without any consequences? According to Cotugno this depends on "climatic fatalism", the belief that the problem is disconnected from individual and collective responsibilities. For the journalist, a more effective awareness of climate change must come out of the logic of fear: «Fear has a very competitive market that has completed its historical cycle, the real challenge is to tell the possibility of how all this can be alleviated, mitigated and stopped. This type of content is important to bring into the public debate».
In order to achieve a less polluted debate and to train the citizens of tomorrow, it would be desirable to reduce the number of talk shows by giving more importance to scientific popularization programs, documentaries, and long insights capable of offering serious information of public interest. Landslides and extreme climatic events such as floods, heavy rains, and storms are the results of political and economic choices. These events must therefore be explained by putting at the center also the way we got here, the way we modified the landscape, and the way we destroyed the environment, focusing more on causes, consequences, and solutions.