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July 06, 2021
Environmental Justice


Insight by Sara Manisera, FADA Collective

"In the midst of the Covid-19 global emergency, one news story has gone completely unnoticed: the year 2020 was the hottest April in Europe since records were taken". This is the incipit of Stefano Liberti's book "Terra Bruciata. Come la crisi ambientale sta cambiando l'Italia e la nostra vita" (Rizzoli). The author travels from the north to the south of Italy, from the retreating Alpine glaciers to the coasts eroded by the rising sea level, from Venice ravaged by high waters to Sicily, in the process of desertification. As Liberti explains, 'the crisis is affecting our territories in a way that is not linear but geometric, i.e. it has socio-economic impacts that are growing disproportionately and catastrophically'. Moreover, the environmental and health crises are closely related because they question our development model made up of deforestation, uncontrolled urbanisation, intensive animal husbandry and agriculture, pollution and extractive industries. "If the species jump, the so-called zoonosis,' Liberti continues, 'is the result of deforestation, of intensive urbanisation, of the diminishing boundary between wild spaces and spaces inhabited by humans, global warming is the effect of the same extractive approach that in the last century has led to the deforestation of huge areas of the planet, overwhelmed eco-systems and exponentially multiplied climate-altering gas emissions". 

The environmental and health crises are not only affecting Italy. Both are global crises. The year 2020 has seen many environmental disasters around the world, including tropical storms, hurricanes, landslides, locust invasions, deadly floods, extreme droughts and fires. Thousands of people have been killed and millions more have been displaced by these disasters. Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uganda, Italy, Iran, Iraq, the United States, Turkey, Zambia, the United Kingdom, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand, Belgium and Lebanon are just some of the countries most affected by extreme weather and environmental events in 2020. But the consequences are not the same everywhere. 

The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR) is the United Nations' flagship report on global efforts to reduce disaster risk. The report states that "in terms of losses, serious inequalities persist between low- and high-income countries, with lower-income countries bearing the greatest relative costs of disasters. Human and property losses relative to gross domestic product tend to be greater in countries with less capacity to prepare for, finance and respond to disasters and climate change, such as small island developing states. More effort is needed to go beyond the analysis of direct losses and damages, to better understand impacts in a more holistic way. 


The report uses an important word here: holistic. From the Greek idiom: total, all, whole. While it is necessary and right to understand the impact in a comprehensive way, today, however, it is imperative and urgent to understand the origins of these disasters and address them in a holistic and integral way. And this means analysing all those phenomena linked to the contemporary economic model that is destroying the 'common home called Earth'. 

In his encyclical Laudato Sì, Pope Francis addresses this issue with lucid and visionary political foresight. 


"Politics must not be submitted to the economy and the economy must not be submitted to the dictates and the efficientist paradigm of technocracy. Today, with the common good in mind, we inescapably need politics and economics, in dialogue, to place themselves decisively at the service of life, especially human life. (...) The principle of profit maximisation, which tends to isolate itself from all other considerations, is a conceptual distortion of the economy: if production increases, it matters little that it is produced at the expense of future resources or the health of the environment; if cutting down a forest increases production, no one measures in this calculation the loss that implies desertifying a territory, destroying biodiversity or increasing pollution. In other words, companies make profits by calculating and paying a very small part of the costs. Only behaviour in which the economic and social costs of using common environmental resources are recognised in a transparent way and are fully borne by those who use them, not by other people or future generations, could be considered ethical". 

And it does so by giving a series of indications on how to rethink the current economic system: 


"For employment to continue to be possible, it is essential to promote an economy that encourages productive diversification and entrepreneurial creativity. For example, there is a wide variety of agricultural and small-scale food systems that continue to feed the majority of the world's population, using a smaller proportion of land and water and producing less waste, whether in small farms and gardens, hunting and gathering forest products, or artisanal fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing small farmers to sell their land or abandon their traditional crops. Attempts by some to develop other, more diversified forms of production are futile because of the difficulty of accessing regional and global markets or because the sales and transport infrastructure is at the service of large companies. The authorities have the right and the responsibility to adopt measures that clearly and firmly support small producers and the diversification of production. In order for there to be economic freedom from which everyone actually benefits, it may sometimes be necessary to place limits on those with the greatest resources and financial power. Simply proclaiming economic freedom, but when real conditions prevent many from having real access to it, and when access to labour is reduced, becomes a contradictory discourse that dishonours politics". 

What Pope Francis is advocating is a collective effort on the part of politics, economics and intellectuals to rethink a new culture of humanity and re-evaluate the obsolete criteria that continue to govern the world. No longer a culture of profit and waste, but a culture that puts human beings and the environment back at the centre. A humanistic culture, combining human rights and environmental rights, aimed at the common good. And on the basis of this culture, build a new economic, life and consumption model. What is happening to our 'common home' confronts us with the urgency of moving towards a courageous cultural revolution. And it can only happen with a new vision that the pontiff calls "Integral Ecology", based on the profound conviction that the whole world - nature, vegetation, animals and man - is intimately connected. The Earth is our common home, not simply an object to be used and exploited.  





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