Wednesday, August 17

Italy’s Other Oil: A Comic About Environmental Crisis and Resistance

Known all over the world for its olive oil, a key ingredient in the lauded Mediterranean diet which promises good health and long life, Italy is less well known for its other oil—petroleum—which is bringing sickness to small villages sitting on one of Europe’s largest onshore oil reserves. Italy’s petroleum industry is concentrated in the region of Basilicata, where residents have suffered a rise in cancers and other illnesses, as discussed in our interview with Giorgio Santoriello

Italian regional map
A regional map of Italy with Basilicata in red.

The situation has invited comparisons to other petroleum rich lands; though, with fewer economic benefits for local communities. Basilicata is sometimes called the Texas of Italy, or Lucania Saudita, using the region’s more ancient name, “Lucania.” And though Italy’s oil industry is steeped in corruption and ever the source of environmental catastrophes, one rarely hears any of this in the Italian media. 

However, not all have been cowed by the power of the petroleum industry in Italy. Residents and scholars have come together around the idea of citizen science, a participatory, co-productionist form of inquiry that seeks to make local grievances more actionable . The comic, “Story of a Civic Sentinel,” available in three languages, illustrates how local residents seek accountability for the environmental destruction of their lands. 

The place and characters of the comic do not exist. However, in many parts of the world, citizens and communities are fighting the environmental and social consequences of the thirst for business profits. Civic environmental monitoring can be a critical and disruptive response to environmental problems caused by private actors and enabled by institutional inertia. Each of us can do their share by remaining vigilant and having the courage to uncover uncomfortable truths!