Stephen Emmott in Italia: Dieci Miliardi

Googling “stephen emmott” + “ten billion” yields 56,300 results, though no recent articles, as far as I can see, about the book that was published in July in Britain and in early September in the USA by two of the world’s most successful publishing houses, praised lavishly in the British press, and followed up by events at the Science Museum of London and the Carnegie Institute, New York.

The book was also published simultaneously in German, Dutch/Flemish, and Italian.

Googling “stephen emmott” + “zehn milliarden” yields 2170 results

Googling “stephen emmott” + “tien miljard”, 191 results

Googling “stephen emmott” + “dieci miliardi”, 285 results.

I’ll deal here with the reactions in Italy. If anyone (que sais-je?) would like to analyse the reactions in Germany or Holland and Belgium, please let me know.

“Dieci miliardi. Il mondo dei nostri figli”  (Ten Billion: our children’s world) went on sale September 7th in Italy, price 16€. (The cover, by the way, is brilliant. It shows about twenty goldfish in a bowl. Where are the outrageously strict European rules about cruelty to animals when you need them?)

I googled the title and the author’s name to find out how the Italians had responded to this warning of the imminent collapse of civilisation published by one of the most prestigious Italian publishing houses.

http://mappeser.com/ a blog presenting “a historical perspective on the institutional organisational and professional system” reproduces the first page of text (85 words) which provokes one comment: “free contraceptives for immigrants” citing (ironically, I think) the solution proposed by a mayor of a small town in Northern Italy. That’s all.

At http://tartarugosa.wordpress.com/ the latest post  (31 October) is devoted to the poster’s reflections on Dieci Miliardi. The article is long and consists almost entirely of quotes from the book. (Translate it back into English and you’d have a fair proportion of the book). Tartarugosa (a play on “tartaruga” = tortoise, whose name should mean “wrinkled tart” but my dictionary won’t confirm that) says the book has disturbed and delayed his hibernation. No comments.

At YahooGruppi someone translated the whole Guardian/Observer extract (about a quarter of the book) into Italian. No comments are visible, but perhaps Yahoo won’t let me see them?

There are mentions, but no comments at googlebooks, libreriauniversitaria or libreriarizzoli.

Then there’s http://www.comedonchisciotte.org whose name sounds like a play on “Don Quixote” and “blackhead”. (I’m not sure that Italians do puns. After all, it was our own Powergen who decided to call the website of their Italian branch “powergenitalia.com”). He cites a different translation of Emmott’s article at

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jun/30/stephen-emmott-ten-billion

He entitles the article “Teach my son to use a gun”. He gets eight comments, which run the usual gamut.

By the fourteenth entry on google we’re already on my blog. The fifteenth comes back to Italy, with http://www.liberocaffe.it/ who read it 9th November. They say: “It’s 200 pages long, and you can read it in an hour. Most of the pages are empty, with a few simple sentences and little data.”

But they mean that as praise, because they continue: ”the graphs show clearly enough the inevitability of a planet that won’t be able to sustain the human race and its future consumers.”

No likes, no tweets, no comments.

It’s interesting that one of Italy’s major publishers bought the rights to this nonsense and published it, yet not one serious media outlet seems to have reviewed it. The translations of the Observer article were published before publication of the book, and almost no-one has a kind word to say for the book itself. Compare that to the reaction in Britain, where every single serious media outlet gave space to first the stage show, then the book. Of sixty reviews following the stage show, only the Evening Standard’s restaurant correspndent was mildly dismissive.

One of the low points of the climate debate for me occurred a few years back when the Guardian published one of their usual flatulent Documents of Doom, and announced proudly that their editorial had been reprinted in thirty serious newspapers throughout the world, including Libération and le Monde in France, and la Repubblica in Italy.

Why on earth should a newspaper with a history of nearly two centuries of defending press freedom be proud of the fact that thirty newspapers throughout the world were expressing exactly the same opinion? Did Pravda boast of the fact that its articles were repeated word for word in the Kiev Times? Probably.

Libération, le Monde and la Repubblica appeal to the same kind of centre left intellectual readership as the Guardian, but their sales are far lower. Possibly for this reason, they are better newspapers, with more serious articles and less pseudo-populist crap. One gets the impression that the thinking population of France and Italy may be proportionally smaller than those of the English-speaking countries, but they think harder, and better.

But that may change. What seems like a profound cultural difference bertween two countries sometimes turns out to be a simple time lapse in the adoption of certain habits. Think of the difference in obesity statistics between the USA and Europe and the very recent establishment in Europe of Macdonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Cultural comparisons between countries have a limited usefulness, I think, for predicting the direction of events. Attitudes to climate change, for instance, are likley to be influenced far more by energy price rises than by the state of the intellectual debate in each country. But nonetheless, there’s a discernable difference between the reaction to Emmott’s message in Italy and France and in the English-speaking countries. Are the Latins becoming more logical, more empirically -minded than the Anglo-Saxons? Let’s hope so.

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2 Responses to Stephen Emmott in Italia: Dieci Miliardi

  1. omnologos says:

    Eccomi qua.

    Puns: they are not as ubiquitous as in English tabloids. “Tartarugosa” is an example: it means turtle-like (not necessarily tortoise). It also means “turtle-wrinkly” and might suggest some form of abrasiveness and old age.

    “comedonchischiotte” instead simply means “like Don Quixote”.

    As for the newspapers, you mis-spelled “pseudo-intellectual”. Guardian & friends appeal to people who like to think they’re thinkers, but obviously aren’t otherwise they wouldn’t bear the rubbish published by the Guardian. I think Emmott hasn’t been noticed because there is too much gloom already around.

    Also with 10 billions of us there would be several hundred million passable pairs of mammal glands and legs, to say the least. Emmott risks a serious backlash, in Italy at least.

  2. Omnologos
    Grazie. I did realise that about tortoises and “like Don Quixote”, but can never resist the occasion for making a bad pun myself. And you’re right about my misspelling. “Opinionated” might be a better term than “intellectual”.
    When I was reading “la Repubblica” a few years back, I was struck by how much better the book reviews and other serious subjects were treated than in the British press, and how much space was given to American culture. A similar observation can be made in any French (or Italian?) bookshop. Europeans read less than the British, but more widely. The ten percent or whatever of French people who read books are interested in the world around them, and 10% of books on offer are translated from other languages, mostly English. In countries like Holland the figure is 30%, in England, two percent. We like literature, but we like it to be about us.
    Perhaps the whole climate / environmental movement can be explained by the insularity of the Anglo-Saxons, protected from direct contact with the outside world by the ubiquity of our language. We can’t understand that the world is a million different places, and can only apprehend it at as a fragile planet, a threatened Somewhere Else.

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