For the revival of environmentalism in Italy, a country in Europe

Rethinking politics as ‘green’ politics

By Fiorello Cortiana

“A society is a political community to the extent of the relationship between its political institutions and the social forces it encompasses” Samuel P. Huntington ‘Political Order and Social Change, 1968..


The fact that a widespread process of qualitative, environmental-food-social awareness is underway is evidenced by the shelves of organic and fair trade products in large-scale retail outlets. It is also clear that the pandemic crisis that the Earth is going through does not guarantee the automatic growth of this awareness. The protracted negotiations between EU countries over the Recovery Fund are indicative. We are living difficult days as European and Italian citizens, days that highlight all the disorder of a world freed from the fifty-year balance of bipolar terror and therefore unbalanced insofar as the new order is still contestable, within an energy-intensive and presumptuously unlimited development model. Globalisation is marked by the financial drift of the economy and its speculation, including territorial speculation, the climate emergency and its devastating environmental and social consequences. The United Nations is unheeded in warning of the risks of the mid-century urbanisation of 70% of the world’s population. This is why ecological conversion is presented as a need to change a paradigm and not as its ‘green’ mitigation. In order to “look at the world with different eyes” as Alex Langer proposed, an ecological political proposal capable of directing public policy is essential.

For us Europeans, who have shared welfare and democracy in the cooperative coexistence of differences, it is a question of focusing on the construction of political Europe as a glocal dimension, as a shared process capable of multilateral international action and, in the local dimension, of a new urbanism where city-systems and metropolitan networks become creative laboratories capable of involving industry, professions, academia and citizens in activities linked to innovation, sustainability and quality. This is a social-economic GREEN DEAL that accompanies those who used to carry out obsolete, dissipative, polluting, alienating activities, typical of traditional offices and factories, to learn/exercise work and value production in a new direction, for a new urbanism. Therefore, the metropolitan dimension is the crucial node of the glocal relationship, which can be degenerative or rebalancing. This is where political ecologism in Italy must start again, and there are three issues to be addressed at the same time: the quality of democracy, the safeguarding of common goods as a condition for sustainability, and the sharing of knowledge in the processes of value production in the digital age: education/research/production/consumption.

The institution of democracy is experiencing a deep crisis in democracies of all latitudes, generating tribal responses of a nationalist nature from the largest Western democracy, in Italy the Civil Pact and the Social Pact are living the prolonged agony of the First Republic, marked by the practice of consociation as a pathology of adaptation of parties and social partners to the bipolar division of Yalta and the “K factor”. We have not experienced effective competition between alternative forces, so political modernisation has not come to terms with the crisis of the ideological narratives of the 20th century. Instead, it has taken the form of a plebiscitary and personalistic drift through direct elections to top positions accompanied by the emptying out of elected assemblies. The ‘B. factor’ was a product, not the cause, of this drift, just as the populist reaction to the Palace under the banner of the ‘one is worth one’, if one wants to disturb the consociative homeostasis and fully implement the Constitution, it is not possible to avoid dealing with this democratic pathology and its parliamentary representations imposed by ‘personal parties’, by ‘cordate parties’, rather than by ‘IT company parties’.  Attempts to reform the Constitution and reduce its established powers, starting with the legislative power of elected representation, are repeated: the logic is the authoritarian one of outsourcing political, strategic and current decisions to the techno-financial aristocracies.

Representation in a democracy is not reduced but qualified, starting from a culture of shared citizenship produced by the possibility of effective participation in social and political life, with procedures and tools that guarantee certain shares of sovereignty to citizens who take part. It is the widespread responsibility and informed participation in deliberative/productive/learning processes that constitute an alert public opinion, capable of measuring and using wisely the potential and possible effects in space and time of polluting choices or transgenic diffusion or the delivery of the cognitive process to semantic algorithms. Only the participatory construction by the communities of the municipalities that compose it allows the Metropolitan City to define city-systems as environmental and cognitive ecosystems in which participation in the deliberative process is effective, starting with the direct election of institutional bodies endowed with governmental prerogatives. If the European Union invests in the social and environmental sustainability of the Recovery Fund, we will be able to use it fully in a bidirectional metropolitan transport/water/information network, with productive, service and housing functions, allocated according to a balanced polycentric planning, respecting the constitutive nature of the territory, its infrastructures and the general interests of these and future generations. Outside of the global real estate risk, played out by funds resident in tax havens, as in the combined Milanese ex Scali FS/Olimpiadi, passing through San Siro.

One does not get out of this situation by giving up shares of freedom and democracy, but by directly committing one’s head and heart, exercising a shared action for an active social-cultural-political citizenship. For example, this means activating the necessary assistance so that, from heat pumps to photovoltaic panels, apartment blocks become energy prosumers, feeding and sharing electric car sharing and bike sharing in their courtyards. For example, this means promoting the creation of GAS (Solidarity Purchasing Groups), capable of supplying short, high-quality supply chains, sharing the turnover of public spaces in the neighbourhood for logistics and storage. For example, this means encouraging the establishment and operation in assigned spaces of public assistance made up of certified volunteer citizens and not Martian angels active during the pandemic. For example, this means giving cogency to citizens’ referendum choices, rather than activating information procedures for an effective confrontation on possible public choices, instead of calling information meetings on choices already made ‘confrontations’. An alert public opinion participates in a responsible and demanding way, which not only improves administrative choices but also qualifies the choice of elected representatives.

The action of political ecologism cannot be accessory to any political force in the field: it recognises values such as freedom, responsibility, equality, reciprocity, declined through the affirmation and protection of the Common Goods, natural and cultural. Water is a common good, as are the grammars and networks of knowledge, the landscape, artistic and architectural beauty, the sign of the fruitful encounter between the anthropological and biological spheres.  The duty to preserve them, to recognise them as rights, does not mean exercising the culture of gift or charity but the exercise of the value of sharing. It is the consciousness of species, the ethics of responsibility towards these and future generations. Ecologists have always been associated with the concept of sustainable development, but the ecological issue also implies a sustainable society, an ethic of responsibility, new rights of citizenship, and an appreciation of differences. This is why the symbolic, as well as very concrete, emergence of the non-profit world and the social economy has been experienced by the ecologists who are part of it as a chance to overcome a relativising stereotype that sees them exclusively as defenders of ‘little trees and little birds’.

But there is more. In a period of our country’s life still marked by a political deficit, which some people, in a simplified or self-interested way, attribute to an imbalance between the constituent powers of the Republic, the evolutionary multiverse made up of associative and non-profit experiences plays an important role in the reconstitution of the polis, but for now it has not been invited to the table for the redefinition of Italian welfare. A multiverse that constitutes an additional sector in the market with an interaction and combination with the two traditional sectors, both public and private: a multiverse that goes beyond. The network of experiences of associations, voluntary work and social cooperation constitutes a political novelty that cannot be reduced to a residual function, compensating for the discomfort produced by the crisis of the welfare state and organic to the party and trade union geographies of the 1900s, because in its implementation it questions the development model of unlimited quantitative growth, contributing to redefining the common sense of collective action in society.

In the post-Fordist transition, a public policy capable of responding to general interests, including those of future generations, cannot rely solely on market globalisation and purely financial parameters. It needs to allow and encourage this interaction and, as Stefano Zamagni has said, we need to do so “if we are to seek ways to ‘civilise’ competition, to overcome that polemical vision of the market which, in the face of unsustainable human and social (and we would add environmental) costs, fails to satisfy the canons of economic rationality itself. The recovery of the urban fabric and the reuse of the vacant and abandoned built heritage, the recovery and enhancement of environmental and cultural assets, care work, services for reconnecting in open communities the social atomization of cities and their security problems, the extraordinary cognitive challenge that can see schools become civil multimedia headmasters and not just educational, the use of social telematics as a tool for participation, the reduction and flexibility of working hours, confirmed by Smart Working. It is easy to recognise in this list not only hypotheses for responding to the employment crisis, but also some of the concrete articulations of non-profit experiences. We are well beyond the modernisation of the welfare state.

Why should common goods such as water not find in the non-profit sector, in its methods of social sharing of responsibilities, one of the foundations of the public company as the management not of a commodity but of a scarce good? If the constitutive nature of the non-profit sector is so full of meaning, if we recognise it as a resource for the constitution of our society as an open community, it is necessary that legislative interventions, regulatory methods and public policies are coherent and careful to favour a free and differentiated development without pre-established and rigid outcomes. The main issue is the recognition of representativeness and therefore of representation, with equal dignity, starting with the concertation of the ‘labour pact’. It is necessary to guarantee certainty and authenticity to non-profit organisations, with regulations on fundraising for charitable purposes, identifying responsibilities, purposes and reporting on the actual destination of contributions. In cooperation with local authorities, in addition to training, support should be provided in terms of consultancy services: from project financing for the orientation and use of European funding, to administrative, commercial and communication aspects. 

Public spending in this direction, which is also very low capital-intensity, is an investment with unexpected multiplier possibilities. However, public spending alone is not enough to create a virtuous and unassisted circuit. Once bank holdings have been divested and an effective autonomous vocation has been restored (foundations on the one hand and banks on the other), Italian foundations must be transformed into true social and cultural entrepreneurs with operations in sectors of public interest and social utility. Recognition of the non-profit sector as a resource that is not only economic but also social, cultural and political, and recognition of the need to respect its free and diversified development, must also find consistency on a methodological level in the definition of a framework law. This is why the co-planning that was started at the time between political/institutional representatives and non-profit organisations is important. Some may think that this framework of proposals is too ambitious, but I believe that it is up to the standards of an ecological force that participates in government to change and not to embellish the current development model by resigning itself to living in the gaps.


Innovation, quality, sustainability, beauty and knowledge constitute the virtuous circle for the production of “glocalised” value. It is the autopoietic paradigm of network/network collaboration that is effective in responding to the environmental and economic challenges and the questions of meaning of the institutional, local and global condition. Political ecologism prefigures unprecedented scenarios within which the social-economic-environmental effectiveness of entrepreneurial-social-cultural experiences linked to research, innovation, quality, sustainability, enterprise and informed and aware active citizenship can be expressed. A full relationship with the present, therefore a political relationship in our “glocal” context: Europe as a continent/nation and Italy as a state/network of the new urbanism.

Technological and scientific developments and the definition of a new international equilibrium pose inescapable questions for the body-mind-nature relationship. There is an informational reality that finds in the power of digital computing and its pervasiveness, important potential for the quality of social life, from domotics to infomobility, from distance learning to telemedicine, from de-materialisation to knowledge sharing. There are other problematic potentials for everyone’s freedom and dignity: from the end of life to insemination to generate life, from the traceability of our consumption/costumes/orientations/pathologies with the consequent political/religious/consumer profiling. TELCO withheld information on Fukushima and there is no UN agency that can demand it, while Wikileaks reveals the private or outsourced filing of the world. The definition of rights and duties in the informational reality becomes central for every citizen, for every political proposal.

Today, the effects of climate change, tragic migratory flows, conflicts over dwindling energy and resources such as water, make the limits of the development model that characterises globalisation more evident than ever.  From the fields, to the industries, to the banks, the limits of a development model linked to unlimited quantitative growth, in a condition of scarce resources, are now as evident as its virtual transposition into the financial dimension, its nominal values and its speculative bubbles. It is more necessary than ever to rediscover a harmonious relationship between the anthropological sphere, with its scientific and technological accelerations, and the biological sphere, with its cycles and timescales, directly affected by these accelerations: from gene sequences to birth and the end of life. To find a dialogue between scientific knowledge and experiential wisdom in order to understand the natural cycles of life and to be able to relate to them in the best possible way. This is the cognitive distinctiveness of the human animal, beyond any pretence of anthropocentric witch-doctor’s apprentice hybris.

It is necessary to take on the honour and burden of a leading role in identifying and involving the nodes of quality networks, in Italy and in Europe, in implementing transparent platforms useful for sharing information and production, in building a common cultural outlook while valuing and respecting the specific experiences-identities. The subject/organisation/form we propose for political participation is holistic and complex, like any ecosystem, in an open way several experiences compete and contribute to its action and to the definition of shared knowledge.  It is plurality, inclusiveness and sharing, glocal-European and urban, that must find a new and coherent name, representatives, form and symbol.  Widespread mistrust is equal to the need for a subject/offering that makes the exercise of voting ‘for’ enjoyable because it is useful and constructive. A subject capable of coalitional action because it is autonomous and in clear discontinuity with the inertia of association and post-industrial partition of the 1900s. This is no time for updates and internal mitigation of the agony of the old, it is a matter of having the will and commitment to make a leap so that the new can fully express itself and free itself. 


Thirty years ago ecologism, in its “green” chromatic connotation, proposed itself as an original and innovative metaphor, now it finds in that definition a sterile reduction, between the culture of antagonism and the practice of sectorial protection and exchange for survival and personal expectations. Political ecologism avoids the self-referential drift if it is in direct relation with the social block of qualitative innovation, which finds its self-awareness and its public function in that programmatic relationship and in the informative reporting on its implementation. Experiences linked to environmental and social quality live and operate in our society, therefore sustainable and solidarity-based experiences. The most innovative companies are energy-saving and renewable, with a light environmental footprint, with a social relationship with the territory, with a motivational work organisation, with a constant investment in research and certification, all this not by constraint or marketing and communication choices, they are such by nature otherwise they would not be competitive.

There are thematic campaigns, in which the most varied experiences and the broadest social and institutional levels have participated, such as those for knowledge as a common good against the patenting of software and/or gene sequences. These are experiences, networks of a local and international nature, which are already living the European dimension not only because of the single currency but also because of the culture of welfare and law, desiring its full political subjectivity.  Well, the society of quality and innovation, the society that produces value within the global markets, is underrepresented or not represented at all.


Thirty years ago, we said that we would not be saved by a species consciousness developed as a result of an irretrievable catastrophe but by virtue of a value choice. Today, that value choice is more widespread than ever. Market shelves show us a market in which the relationship between supply and demand also includes sensitivity to natural, social and relational interests. Tangible quantity is flanked by and replaced by quality and intangible goods, such as landscape, culture, the space-time relationship: beauty. Degrowth is not proposed as a penitential perspective but as de-materialisation. The network model alternative to broadcasting concerns information, knowledge, consumption, nature and type of products. It concerns the construction of communities with widespread and shared responsibility. Today we do not need any suggestion to propose to the whole society, today we need an action of connection between these nodes of the network, between these stakeholders, between the different levels involved: institutions, associations, companies.

We do not need a suggestive metaphor, we need the proposal, the definition, the recognition, the awareness of the presence of a social block of qualitative innovation. This must be the choice of field. It needs to be represented at the level of public policy decision-making: regulations, resources, constitutional and institutional models that allow full expression of the social bloc of qualitative innovation. Here the existing forms of political participation, their self-referential social reasons, their modes of representation and negotiation, constitute an overbearing factor of preservation. They are short-sighted and impatient with those networks and communities, as the two million signatures for the referendum on water as a common good and the twenty-five million supporters have shown.

The collective assumption of responsibility for defining and implementing a suitable political proposal is therefore a necessary condition for a more widespread sensitivity than ever before. It is more valuable than ever to bring together people who have been involved in political and institutional activities, accumulating valuable skills and experience, in order to create a venture, a network that connects the many nodes and different networks, in order to speak out, define actions and campaigns, and propose a political and electoral offer capable of motivating the experiences of innovation, sustainability and active citizenship to collective action, and capable of giving young people the reasons to contest the future, here and now. Here and now where their life is a quiz, where their ambitions are measured outside any psycho-aptitude test of their talents. Here is the responsibility to exercise political subjectivity. Here, then, ecologism proposes itself as a useful relationship for the definition of an evolutionary balance between differences.

There is no future for a country that defines its political and electoral choices in the name of an affirmation of right-wing vs. left-wing identity, or in the name of intolerance for the institutional dimension, or in the name of an exchange of interests and personal favours, whatever the size of its party-dominated occupation/division. It is a question of defining and practising, through successive adjustments, organisations capable of providing support services for collective action and contents, guidelines, and skills for relations and action that bring together the reasons for innovation, sustainability, social quality and beauty, which are typical of different industrial, professional and associative subjects and sectors. This is what gives body and nourishes a Democratic Camp, not the bogeyman of sovereignty at the gates or elected representatives fed to the mouth of widespread insecurity and intolerance, while political decision-making is outsourced to task forces.


Political ecologism cannot be defined by intolerance, indifference or stereotypes of belonging. We do not get out of this situation by playing the role of critical observers and waiting for its institutional and social implosion. Nor can we get out of it by prolonging its agony with participation exchanged for crumbs of the consociative cake. It is not possible to get out of it by accepting the role of a youth federation of the partyocracy, in which to be accredited as ‘great’. Only an effective discontinuity allows the construction of a solidarity pact, where innovation, sustainability, quality, beauty and inclusion are not accessory but fundamental elements both for the proposed public policy and for the European and local political-constitutional architecture. The inertia of the process to be triggered must have a clear direction and a cogency that cannot be relativised.

The managers suited to this challenge are those capable of connecting the nodes of the networks of stakeholders, skills and experience from the various business, academic, association and institutional sectors. They are those capable of giving a proactive form to the needs of these networks, those capable of activating an informed public opinion, capable of engaging the institutional agendas with their own proposals/actions. Those who think that the capacity of a leader is that of relating to the salons/residencies of consociative sharing and exchange are out of place. Such a capacity may be useful to those who exercise it, but it does not respond to demands for novelty and discontinuity. Rather it confirms the distrust and detachment from political engagement in those who express them. Instead, it is that distrust that needs to be involved in the assumption of responsibility. Far from any symbolic reductionism, ecologism must be proposed and practised in the fullness of its cultural, social, environmental, economic, anthropological, urban planning, technological, religious and scientific relations.

For this reason, an innovative ecological proposal starts by practising ways of participation, action and political decision-making that it would like to see. In a public space that has expanded enormously thanks to the digital network, it is evident that it is possible to use its disintermediate nature not to propose personalistic-plebiscite drifts, but platforms for participation, confrontation and elaboration that are not substitutes for meetings, but rather preparatory to informed participation. In the Patto Civico con Ambrosoli campaign we used Liquid Feedback as a platform for the programme, with excellent results both in terms of the quality of the proposals and the number of participants. The digital network in this way is not a virtual space, rather it makes virality one of its strengths. We are not interested in building a cathedral and many churches but a network of bridges that unite an archipelago of experiences linked by customs and consumption, by restlessness and curious research.


This networking work is in itself a project and a condition for defining the political and electoral project/proposal. It requires the verification and definition of a common vision, a convergence of objectives and actions in a shared glocal agenda (Europe, Metropolitan Cities, Networks of Cities). A movement for political, social and cultural change is such when its critical mass produces an awareness of itself as a proposal for the whole of society. This is why digital platforms and the meaningful use of social networks become important and propaedeutic, in order to make meetings in squares, public halls, clubs and associations etc. visible and possible.

An open matrix with a defined meaning, nourished by a solidarity of people, capable of weaving connections, producing actions, giving a collective awareness. A political experience constituted in such a way as to question itself beyond all homeostatic inertia, putting into practice as a modality Alex Langer’s political proposition “Solve et coagula” dissolve and unite. This is what is needed, any unexpected event or not, electoral or constitutional forcing to react will find us able to act appropriately.