From Venice Climate Camp 2023 to the Milan-Cortina Olympics 2026

This document launches the public assembly that will be held on Sunday, 10 September, on the closing day of the fourth edition of Venice Climate Camp.

21 / 8 / 2023

July 2023 was marked by a series of new records in terms of temperatures on the Earth. According to US National Weather Service and EU Copernicus Climate Change Service data, this is the first decade in which, for three times (two in a row), the thermometers marked “the hottest day ever”. Across the Mediterranean area, the 50°C threshold was surpassed several times and so-called “extreme weather” events keep raging non-stop. Also in July, Nature published tragic data on the deaths caused by the long heatwave that hit Europe last Summer: we are talking about almost 62,000 deaths, of which only 18,000 in Italy, who has the terrible honour of being the hardest hit country.

Commenting or even just observing this data should be enough to grasp the magnitude of the on-going destruction, even in the Global North, which up until a few years ago felt as if it were inside some sort of bubble protecting it from the worst impacts of climate change. The UN is talking about “global boiling”. Yet, by now, the ecological crisis has penetrated social and cultural structures to such an extent that even the most alarming and dramatic news are being increasingly perceived as “normal”. But in normality contradictions are strongest, particularly if such a normality is constituted by a sedimentation of multiple, intersecting emergencies.

Europe today: Between denialism and greenwashing

As a consequence, a measure that should have been obvious in a historical phase like the current one, a European strategy for the protection of biodiversity, not only was amended to such an extent that it almost became a joke, but it was also turned into the battleground for a political and institutional clash over the environmental question in Europe. We are obviously talking about the Nature Restoration Law, approved by the European Parliament on 12 July 2023 with a margin of a handful of votes. This law has the objective of ensuring the adoption of measures geared towards the restoration 20% of the EU's land and marine areas by 2030 and all ecosystems needing restoration by 2050. In some respects, this is a historical shift, unthinkable without the pressure exerted at different levels by climate justice movements. But, for our purposes, this is not the point.

There are two urgent considerations to be made about the Nature Restoration Law. The first is that its pathway was shaped by a cleavage in the European political arena. On the one hand, the conservative and reactionary bloc turned the “denialist” narrative into an axis of its political strategy. This is not irrelevant, as the alliance between the far Right and the liberal-conservatives is already governing several EU countries and might gain as much further ground in the short to medium term. On the other hand, this law opens the way for the entire package of measures known as Green Deal, a key milestone in the ecological transition from above that the incumbent global governance has been trying to push through for over thirty years now.

The point is not refusing by default anything that comes from institutional settings, anything that points towards a mildly reformist strategy to mitigate the ecological crisis. However, it is crucial to understand that this strategy is based on a fundamental element: the attempt to transform the environmental limit into the steppingstone for a new cycle of capital accumulation. The Green Deal, if it remains within the current capitalist socio-ecological parameters based on “infinite growth” (as it was the case for the other climate strategies put forward over the past years), risks becoming the biggest greenwashing operation ever. More than this, it risks turning greenwashing into a key foundation for the next historical phase of capitalism. In such a scenario, the very distinction between green economy and fossil economy will become so blurred as to be effectively annihilated, as we have already seen with the EU taxonomy on so-called “eco-compatible innovation”.

The need for a political space of social movements

In this context, we see a crucial need and opportunity for social movements: building collectively an alternative narrative, able to counter greenwashing and denialism with other imaginaries and forms of life. This is particularly important in a phase in which capitalism itself is clashing against the contradictions of its limits and of scarcity. After having generated such contradictions, capitalism has attempted to internalise them in its mechanisms for value accumulation. On the one hand, as argued by Emanuele Leonardi in Lavoro natura valore: André Gorz tra marxismo e decrescita (2017), the market is fulfilling a double role, as both destroyer and saviour of nature, by assigning a price to nature itself. On the other hand, the tendency to turn the environmental limit from a bond into a motor of growth inevitably clashes against nature’s incapacity to regenerate itself at the capitalist pace. This short circuit even goes beyond nature as (erroneously) understood in the narrow sense, because it also concerns the sphere of work. In this sense, the phenomenon of the “Great Resignation” should be understood as a self-conscious subtraction of time and labour power from the full availability required by capitalism.

What’s happening then? Are nature and labour rebelling against capitalism? No, at least not yet. But surely the “material and social dimension of the conditions of production”, to use James O’Connor’s words, is encountering unprecedented fault lines. This should at least be the topic for a collective discussion among social movements.

Over the last years, in Italy and beyond, we have witnessed several generous attempts to broaden the struggles that keep us busy every day on different – and often separate – fronts: environment, income, welfare, work, transfeminism, antiracism, health, etc. We have tried to experiment with more or less successful convergences, but more importantly we have been able to overcome an old ideological barrier: the idea of a deep separation, or even an overt hostility, between climate justice movements and labour. However, we no doubt lacked a continuity of political spaces for discussion, elaboration, and initiative. The result is a weak capacity to build a successful relationship between organised, “social movement” subjectivities and mass, diffused mobilisations.

From Venice Climate Camp to Milan-Cortina 2026

This is an “analysis of needs” that we would like to share with as many people as possible. In terms of our proposal, we want to discuss the hypothesis of a long-term political work around the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics. For manifold reasons, this event represents both a challenge and a political necessity. Firstly, the vastity of the affected territories – a big chunk of Northern Italy – implies a social and environmental impact upon an extremely rich and diverse geography. Such a geography is not only physical, as it features fragile but intense relationships, for example the relationship between the evermore “touristified” Alps and the Po Valley, one of Europe’s most polluted areas. Furthermore, there is the relationship – also rooted in capitalist development – between an Alpine and rural environments affected by depopulation and dwindling resources and the urban areas modelled around the interests of old and new rentiers, who have always exploited the surrounding territories with little restraint.

According to the pretentious declarations contained in its candidacy application, Milan-Cortina 2026 should have been a “miracle”, the first zero-impact sports mega-event. Four years later, no environmental evaluation has yet been presented. As noted by Duccio Facchin on Altraeconomia on 3 May 2023: «Everything is stalled at the “scoping” phase: there is no elaboration of the documents, no consultation, no environmental evaluation, no revision, no approval, no actuation,  no monitoring. It is all starting to look like a farce because, in the meantime, the “real” Olympic mega-projects, those awarded to Società Infrastrutture Milano Cortina 2020-2026 (SIMICO SPA, of which the government is the main owner with 70% of the stocks), are advancing at breakneck speed”.

We thus have a clear and pressing problem, which does not only concern the environmental and landscape impacts that will necessarily accompany the construction of some sports infrastructure (particularly the renovation of the Cortina bobsleigh track and the Baselga di Piné skating ring) but also regards the water issue. Milan-Cortina 2026 will follow the example of Beijing 2022 in using artificial snow. At the moment, there is no official documentation on the water footprint of the event, so we can expect the construction of artificial water basins that will have devastating consequences for water management in large parts of Northern Italy, whose water supplies mostly come from the Alps. As water management is back at the centre of political debates, and as we are starting to see water grabbing operations in Europe too, this issue should not be underestimated.

But there are two further crucial nodes around the 2026 Olympics, which can be taken beyond the territorial dimension. The first arks back to the beginning of this text, where we mentioned the launch of the Green Deal through the approval of the Nature Restoration Law. Given Milan-Cortina 2026’s great international appeal and the magnitude of the investments in the sports infrastructure and in the supply chain – particularly the hospitality industry –, the “green trademark” that farcically accompanies these Olympics could represent one of the first massive deployment of resources for the “ecological transition”. In some respects, it could even represent a paradigm for the use of public resources for the ecological transition from above. We had a taste of this three years ago in Veneto when – at the height of the pandemic – the regional governor Luca Zaia assigned to the Olympics a large portion of the Recovery Fund’s regional resources earmarked to support the entertainment industry, taking them away from the workers of the sector, who at the time where in a state of permanent mobilisation.

The other key aspect concerns the transnational dimension of the event, particularly the possibility of building a bridge between the opposition to the Paris 2024 Olympics and that to the Milan-Cortina 2026 Olympics. The “Saccage 2024” collective, that has been active for a few years now, built its credibility thanks to a comprehensive analysis of the Olympics’ negative impacts: in addition to environmental damage, sports mega-events such as this have strong social repercussions in terms of race relations, policing, real estate bubbles, etc. The collective has grown significantly during the last cycle of mobilisations in France and opposition to the Olympics is bound to become one of the next hot fronts, also because it can connect the banlieues (hit by gentrification because of the Olympics) and the cité movements. A transnational dimension is a preliminary condition in any social struggle. This will allow us not only to talk about a European space of struggle, but to also build it and make it practicable.

In conclusion, let us return to the objectives of Venice Climate Camp 2023. Our commitment for the long period between today and the 2026 Olympics is for us a challenge and especially a response to the need for an autonomous social movement political space, able to give us some continuity to at least imagine a new constituent phase. The 2026 Olympics have some inherent characteristics that will allow us to tackle multiple dimensions. They are a mega-event that will have a strong impact on a large and diversified territory, they are a prime incarnation of the new “green extractivist” model, they touch upon the spheres of work and of the use of public resources, and they have a transnational vocation. Nonetheless, this is not sufficient for an effective political action. We also need subjectivity and organisation, and especially a collective capacity to build common horizons and conflict grounds practicable for the many.

How will this pathway intersect with the other campaigns that will be launched over the coming months, for example the struggle against the construction of the Strait of Messina Bridge and the other big and small territorial battles, with the struggles in workplaces, those for housing, and those against the military escalation? For us, these questions are a starting point, and we would like to discuss them with all the organisations that will take part in the closing assembly of Venice Climate Camp, which will be held in the morning of 10 September 2023.

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