Through the eyes of the people. The EU Parliament’s environmental campaign in Italy

From celebrities to students striking for the climate, we all dream of a better planet. The European Parliament in Italy wants us to share our aspirations.

In July, Italy will say a final goodbye to single-use plastic cutlery, plates and balloon sticks, which will be replaced by better alternatives. 19 per cent of the country’s land and 4 per cent of its seas are officially protected as part of the Natura 2000 network. Neonicotinoid pesticides, which damage the health of bees, can no longer be sprayed outdoors. All these environmental victories, among others, are connected by a common thread: they’ve been adopted thanks to the European Union. The same union which, incidentally, has set the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, taking on a pioneering role in the fight against climate change.

Voglio un pianeta così

Are Italy’s citizens aware of these victories? What environmental issues are closest to their hearts? Are they willing to do their bit, at home or at work, to make a difference? Our new column (in Italian), L’Unione fa la Terra (“union for the Earth”) by journalist Eva Giovannini seeks answers to these and many other questions. With this new, unique project, LifeGate joins the path of Voglio un pianeta così (“the planet I want”), the trailblazing communications campaign launched by the European Parliament’s office in Italy.

Meet the people fighting for our planet

The stories in Voglio un pianeta così are told through many voices, and through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They include vox populi from Italian cities investigating citizens’ awareness of environmental issues, the stories of startups that have built business models on the responsible use of natural resources, as well as tales of the large and small ways in which ordinary people are trying to make a difference: from a 94-year-old man picking litter from local beaches to a 12-year-old boy striking on his own, just like Greta Thunberg. Celebrity endorsements from across the world of entertainment also abound.

A mosaic of faces and voices that tell us what kind of planet they want to live on, focusing on five main areas: food waste, air pollution, biodiversity, plastic use and the impact of climate change. Everyone is free to add their own voices and stories by simply uploading their video on social media using the hashtag #vogliounpianetacosì and tagging the EU Parliament in Italy’s accounts.

Bianca Balti, an outstanding spokesperson

“I believe it is up to institutions to listen to science and push for reforms that protect the planet. I want to send them a message,” Bianca Balti tells LifeGate. The popular Italian supermodel, who still feels a deep connection to her hometown of Lodi despite having lived in Los Angeles for years, is one of the leading celebrity spokespeople for Voglio un pianeta così. In a video Balti shares her wish for “a planet where collective interests prevail over individual selfishness”, “a planet where the protection of nature is a priority for every political party’s agenda”, “where the protection of Venice is more important than the interests of cruise ship companies”, and “where the disposal of waste generated by companies in northern Italy no longer ends up buried in Campania (a region in southern Italy, ed.)”. In other words, “a planet with a conscience“.

Alongside Balti, other notable endorsements have come from actor Alessandro Gassman, singer Lorenzo Baglioni, YouTuber Tudor Laurini (aka Klaus), music group Eugenio in via di gioia, TV presenters Mario Tozzi and Licia Colò, makeup artist Diego dalla Palma, and many others.

Balti also refers specifically to the fashion industry, in which she has worked at the highest levels for 16 years, asking us to think about our clothes too. “In recent years, the biggest change has been the rise of fast fashion. While brands like Zara and H&M have been around for a long time, there used to be significantly fewer stores so the impact was incomparable to what we see today. I remember how, at one point, even luxury brands started outsourcing production to China. Not to lower prices, but just to increase profits”. And what about consumers? We can’t lay idle and wait for things to change, Balti says, “we have buy things that reflect our ethics,” rather than our choices being dictated by sheer consumerism. All of this should happen in concert with guidance from institutions, “which need to impose bans and establish strict rules. Only they are in the position to ask scientists the right questions and legislate accordingly“.

Bianca Balti, Voglio un Pianeta così
Bianca Balti is one of the biggest celebrities endorsing the Voglio un pianeta così campaign © Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for L’Oreal Paris

Edoardo and Valentina, eco-friendly travellers

“Our journey has no destinations and no borders. Our home is a 1989 campervan that will accompany us on our journey to explore the world”. This is how Edoardo and Valentina – better-known on Instagram as the eco-friendly travellers (“viaggiatori ecologici”) – describe themselves. For a couple of years they’ve been travelling up and down Italy, exploring its most beautiful places, at a top speed of 85 kilometres per hour. As well as setting a good example through their minimal-waste lifestyle, by promoting food self-production and relying on small local businesses, they organise litter picking at each stage in their journey, finding anything from cigarette butts on beaches to full-blown illegal landfills. “Our actions have an effect on the people around us,” they tell LifeGate. “Many adults even get emotional when they find out that someone truly cares about the land in which they grew up, and students often invite us to their school assemblies. Even small children learn valuable lessons: if they see a plastic bottle tossed aside in the street, they might be incentivised to rush to tell their parents”.

The travellers set off on their journey alone and self-funded, and about a year ago they were contacted by an established content platform specialising in social experiments (The Show Is You). “That was a turning point for us, because it allowed us to become part of a professional network and build an economic foundation for our project, which means we can spread our message to a much wider audience. Of course, we were also a bit unlucky, because the pandemic hit almost as soon as this collaboration began!” Valentina explains. “While waiting to set off again, we’ve worked hard to plan and write about the issues we’ll be confronting in the coming year and produce informative videos about sustainability. We may not have the campervan, but we’re still full of ideas,” says Edoardo.

Building environmental policy, brick by brick

While nowadays it is relatively common to meet people for whom sustainability is their daily bread, this probably wasn’t the case in 1972, when the European Union laid the foundational stone of its environmental policy. In the wake of the first UN conference on the topic, the leaders of member states met at a summit in Paris to establish a unified action plan merging economic growth with resource protection. However, it wasn’t until 15 years later, in 1987, that a solid legal basis was established through the Single European Act.

The treaties of Maastricht (1993) and Amsterdam (1999) furthered the central position of the environment in European policy. Subsequently, with the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), the European Union assumed full legal personality: this means it can (and must) join international organisations and sign treaties in matters that pertain to its powers, a possibility that was previously reserved only to individual member states. Within the pages of the Lisbon Treaty we also find the formal commitment to fight climate change and pursue sustainable development in foreign relations.

Greta Thunberg, European Parliament
Greta Thunberg speaking to the European Parliament’s Environment Commission © European Union 2020 – Source: EP

The green heart of Europe

The Treaty of Lisbon was a milestone because it led to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which forms the constitutional basis of the Union and expressly mentions the environment in articles 11, 191, 192 and 123. Any EU decision relating to the environment has to be coherent with certain specific principles. The first is caution. If there are fears that a product is environmentally harmful, even if science still hasn’t found definitive answers, institutions can withdraw it from the market until a consensus is reached. Through the precautionary principle, European institutions have enshrined the idea that avoiding environmental problems at the source is preferable to having to repair the damage once it has been done. And when an agent is responsible for harming land, air or water resource, it is their prerogative to remedy this and cover the costs (polluter pays).

These principles provide the basis for European environmental standards, which have been repeatedly perfected and are now unanimously viewed as among the most advanced in the world. However, common legislation can only achieve its desired results if diligently enforced by everyone, something which the European Parliament stresses. Every one of the 27 member states has its special features and unique difficulties, but there’s no excuse for inertia. Therefore, from the macro-level of European institutions to the micro-level of individual behaviour, every action counts. Because there’s strength in numbers, and in a union for the Earth.

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