April 04, 2023
Where hope doesn’t arrive, activism does
The voices of Maria Letizia Ruello and Michela Spina interviewed by Michela Grasso, SPAGHETTIPOLITICS
The voices of Maria Letizia Ruello, researcher and spokesperson for Ultima Generazione, and Michela Spina, student of veterinary medicine and spokesperson for Fridays for Future.
Q: Why is there a need for climate movements?
MLR: «There are many kinds of climate movements, and they all organize in different ways. Movements exist because people feel the need to take action to solve a problem, and right now we are facing the problem of problems. Therefore, there is a need for people to become active in any possible form, and there is a need for these different modalities to be connected to each other, in order to connect everyone. All activation methods are necessary, more or less pleasant, more or less impactful, more or less collective. But you need all of them to achieve success, without necessarily saying whose credit it is. There won't be anyone who can say they've won if we don't win all together».
MS: «Let's say that without climate movements, perhaps everything would be worse. Activism is one of the few good things in this world. The climate crisis does not affect just one sector, or just the environment or just our survival. Explaining why climate movements matter is personal. Maybe I see the climate issue from a more trans-feminist perspective, so for me, fighting for the climate equals fighting for female leadership. Or, the climate struggle can be seen from the perspective of supporting indigenous people, and therefore be linked to issues of intersectionality. It is fundamental and automatic to approach activism when you have certain knowledge that allows us to open up more. Climate movements can create spaces such as assemblies and marches, open to these kinds of conversations and reflections. Here arise opportunities for discussions on problems and solutions, which can somehow help us solve our doubts. I must add that it is also nice to participate, because each time we discover more about ourselves. I've changed a lot during my activism journey. And I believe that activism can also be carried on to feel better about ourselves. Obviously not only from a "selfish" perspective, but this aspect must also be taken into consideration. Feeling better about yourself, doing good for others. Activism becomes a mutual exchange, the beauty is also in taking to the streets, meeting each other. Since I've been doing activism I've met many people who have given me so much, and I hope I've also passed on something to them, ideas, thoughts..».
Q: Maria Letizia, do you consider yourselves a movement of hope or of denunciation?
MLR: «Hope is needed to take action. But at the same time, hope can be a rip-off. One may think: "Oh yes, now I'm doing this and things will get a little better and I hope that whoever governs understands." and “It is not possible for everyone to be this bad, if they are not acting then the situation must not be that bad.” This kind of hope doesn't make you react. There are two hopes; one is very insidious, and that's what I call soft denial. It is very dangerous because true denialism, the brutal one à la Bolsonaro or Trump, we recognize it, condemn it, oppose it ... soft denialism is that of those who think that, by behaving well, doing separate waste collection, signing petitions, going to clean up the beach from plastic… things are resolved. Unfortunately, given the particularity of the climate crisis, these are not sufficient actions. And in this situation, not doing enough is equivalent to doing nothing. We have this forecast, most likely true, which tells us that the goal is to stay within the limits of a 1.5° increase in temperatures, but we've already forgotten that. Hearing this data, people ask themselves, what will it be after all? 1.5°? Even I happened to think so, despite having a scientific background. 1.5° means an increase in the average temperature across the entire earth's crust and oceans. Let's imagine in certain areas of the earth, what will it be? It will be more than 8°! But what will this mean? Certain death. So hope has this double edge…».
Q: How do you educate about climate change?
MS: There is not one way to educate someone about climate change. The path of activation towards the problem of the climate crisis is very personal. We always say that to start doing activism in a critical and conscious way, the first step is to get informed. It's not so much about educating, but about self-training. Through recognized sites such as the IPCC or even the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Climate Change CMCC, or scientific journals. In Italy, the media does a poor job of addressing the climate crisis. For example, there are newspapers sponsored by fossil fuel multinationals, such as Eni, the first Italian polluter, among the first in the world. Getting information becomes more complex because information is not free. For this, we must learn to understand how and where to get it. We organize some formations in which we also call other movements, such as in the last formation in Turin, a table that struck me was that of Survival, an organization in defense of indigenous peoples that tells semi-unknown realities. For example, when we think of a forest or a natural environment, we imagine the flora and fauna present in the absence of man, which is actually wrong, because indigenous people are present and it is they who hold and protect the heritage of biodiversity present in that area. Yet several articles and documentaries that talk about nature and the environment do not point this out. In this way, the detachment we feel between man and nature increases. It is important to create a collective imagination about problems, solutions and how we should act. It's not something that happens overnight and it's not something that happens because we go to school or because we organize Climate Camps. Yet these moments of aggregation are very important and fundamental, above all from the moment in which people feel the need to participate. We try to give a collective view that the climate crisis is not simply the fact that glaciers melt, but that glacier melting will lead to the flooding of Jakarta, climate migrants, poverty, drought, water crises and other consequences. We also talk about politics, for example the reasons behind the creation of a Ministry of Food Sovereignty in Italy. The moment we start talking about these things, something is set in motion, and hope also starts there, especially when we understand that there are solutions. The fundamental point is: being able to get out of the paradigm of profit as the sole purpose of our existence».
MLR: «Ultima Generazione has a wider target. In our opinion we must talk about concrete events that people can grasp with their hands. For example: Venice will go under water. Or, speaking of the drought of the Po and the effects on agriculture, with 1 out of 4 fruits lost, and of the farmers who stole each other's water. Otherwise, highlighting how our taxes finance fossil fuel companies, thus financing our death. More than 40 billion of our money ends up, every year, in funding fossil fuel research and investments, which will hurt us because they don't lead us towards renewable energy and towards Italy's true energy sovereignty. What does energy sovereignty mean? Being a gas distribution hub towards Northern Europe? No. Energy sovereignty is in renewable energy, which we are not funding enough but we continue to be the sixth country in the world, more than Russia, to give money to fossil energy».
Q: When someone criticizes Ultima Generazione and its modus operandi, how can you respond?
MLR: «There would be almost no need to answer. How can you get outraged by a fifteen minute delay in traffic? In Rome, without activists sitting on the road, it happens anyway. How are you getting outrageous about some washable dye? I think most people understand that. The scene of the activist who throws the paint and the citizen who takes it out on her is very enjoyable. And maybe that person has never said anything against the drilling that is ruining the environment by spending our money on a cloud of methane which, even when everything is extracted, won't be equivalent to even one year of Italy's gas needs?».
Q: How should work be reformed to fight the climate crisis?
MS: «Activism is also a matter of privilege, as is the critique of capitalism. Dedicating oneself to politics is a privilege because it means committing one's time to something that is fruitful for the community and for the population and not for oneself. If you are not in a status that allows you to engage in these activities, you won’t have time to become an activist. We want to reiterate the importance of having the same salary but with fewer working hours, dividing the work among more people to reduce the involuntary unemployment rate. Similar experiments have already been carried out, this shows us that we can do it, to create an economic and personal advantage. Having more free time could entice more people to get interested in politics and activism. Some sectors are more difficult to reform and would take longer to transition into jobs, others would be easier».
Q: Do you have any tips for combating eco-anxiety?
MS: «Everyone fights the anxiety that haunts them in their own way, having to come to terms with the fact that capitalism will not be overthrown tomorrow, as well as patriarchy, speciesism or racism. It is impossible to get rid of these things in one day. Creating a personal and rewarding political path can help. Taking to the streets, raising awareness and also trying to lead an individual life that is compatible with a less impactful lifestyle: avoiding fast fashion, eliminating meat from one's diet, etc. But we also know that these actions are not fundamental, the action must be collective otherwise we would have already solved all these problems. It helped me personally to get active on a political level, I changed my way of seeing things and this helped me to look ahead. Realizing that I'm not alone, but that there is a whole community collectively making noise where before there was silence, helping other people to become active. This has created much more tranquility within me».
MLR: «I personally manage anxiety by getting active; other people manage it with individual behaviors and unfortunately that falls apart easily. We need to make them understand, not to deprive them of their well-being, but to take actions that are truly effective. Four hours of flight by a jet equals the emissions that a person makes in a year, individual action has its limits…».
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