Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sweaty Italians are Alright in My Book

As an SIS student who is potentially interested in concentrating in Global Environmental Politics, the first thing I have noticed on our trip has been Rome’s recycling system and respect for the environment. Italian culture permits for certain environmental practices that are much different than America’s. I believe that the way in which a nation deals with its waste can be very telling of its people and its culture.

Rome’s appreciation for the environment is something I wish we had back in the states. Around the city you can turn almost any corner and find a beautiful tree or floral landscaping woven into the busy streets of Rome.

While touring around the Coliseum, we came across a popular tourist café, Angelino “ai Fori” dal 1947, or as I like to call it, “Tree Café.”
Surrounded by tables and hungry customers is a tree. Just a tree. While the developers of downtown Rome could have easily cut this tree down to make the construction of the café easier, they instead decided that the tree had value and was worthy of appreciation—I love this about Italian culture. In the US nature can often be viewed as inconvenient, but in Roma it’s just something to work around (literally!).

Another interesting aspect of Italian environmental culture is electricity. Earlier in our International Political Economy class we had a lecture from Professor Aldo Patania of the American University of Rome talk to us about the Italian economy. Within this lecture he mentioned that Italy imports its electricity, so Italians use it sparingly. This can often mean that if too many appliances are plugged in the power will shut off until some appliances are plugged off, because of this (and the high cost) many Italian households (including the global scholars’ apartments) do not have air conditioning. The inconvenience of always being hot or having to choose between charging my camera and straightening my hair have never faced me back home—in fact, these daily difficulties would never be tolerated in the United States. When Americans want something (like being cool during the hottest part of the day), they typically end up getting it regardless of the externalities that result from getting it. Learning to deal with an imperfect world is a lesson I feel many Americans should learn, especially as we face climate change. Even if the heat makes Italians hot, I like the fact that they sweat…it shows that our planet is more important than our comfort. 

One last bit I would like to add is about the recycling system. Rome has public garbage and recycling collection. On most streets you can find large, usually smelly, dumpsters designated for wastes or recyclables such as plastic, cardboard, and glass. I think that this system encourages recycling—many businesses back in the US (or maybe just in Illinois) do not recycle simply because it is slightly more expensive than just throwing away all of their waste. While there may be an influx of recycling, it may be cancelled out by the fact that Italians love bottles.
Overflowing garbage can in Vatican City
At any restaurant, café, pub, or bar the customer must pay for water. This water, instead of being poured into a pitcher like it is in America, is served out of freshly opened plastic (or glass if you’re getting fancy) bottles. Around commercial areas where individual garbage cans can be found, there are no accompanying recycling bins, so if you’re out and about exploring the city, you may have to wait quite a while until you can successfully recycle your bottles.
One of the few individual recycling systems I have seen
This being said, Rome helps its citizens avoid having to use non-reusable bottles by providing free street fountains.
Roman street fountain

While Rome may not be as green as other nations, it certainly has instituted many practices that would be welcomed in America. Italy has some of the most scenic views in the world, and it would be a shame to see global warming and/or climate change destroy part of what makes this city so beautiful: its environment.
During our layover in Zurich, Switzerland the airport was proudly bragged about the country's environmentalism 

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