Italy Says No to Nuclear Power — and to Berlusconi

My piece on Italy’s nuclear power referendum is up at Time.

The fallout from Fukushima continues. Concerns about an effort by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to revive his country’s nuclear power program helped drive millions of Italians to the polls June 13, when they voted overwhelmingly to block any such revival amid safety concerns following the meltdown in March of the Japanese plant.

Berlusconi’s name didn’t appear on the ballots, which also offered voters the opportunity to overturn laws governing the privatization of water and a controversial measure protecting top government officials from prosecution. But it might as well have. Italy’s law on referendums requires more than a 50% turnout in order to overturn legislation. And while the opposition framed the vote as a referendum on the way the country is being governed, Berlusconi spent the days leading up to the polls challenging the nuclear power measure in court, declaring he wouldn’t vote and suggesting his fellow Italians stay at home too. “This vote was a mix of policies and politics,” says Roberto D’Alimonte, a professor of political science at Rome’s LUISS University. “It was about the issues, and it was about delivering another knockdown to Berlusconi.”

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Self-Serving Stewardship: How Manufacturers Help the Planet

My story on bottom-line driven environmentalism has just been published in Time.

In the late 1980s, Pier Luigi Loro Piana was in a bind. As a chief executive of the Italian luxury-fashion company Loro Piana, he wanted to offer his customers the finest animal fiber in the world: the hair of the vicuña, a small llama-like creature native to the high plains of the Peruvian Andes. The problem was that the animal was listed as endangered, its fleece subject to an international embargo.

The solution he came up with was to become involved in the animal’s protection. Until the embargo, which had been put in place in the 1970s, the vicuña had been at risk of being hunted to extinction. Its hair, finer than the softest cashmere, fetched high prices on the global market. (Loro Piana’s father Franco had been among the first to import it to Italy.) But the demand had at one point cut the total population to just 5,000. And while the ban on exportation allowed the numbers to rebound, there was little chance the hunt would be permitted again.

The answer, he decided, was to partner with the government of Peru to develop a new way to harvest the vicuña’s hair. Instead of the animal’s being killed for its fleece, it would be sheared like a sheep. The company would get the raw material to make its coats, scarves and sweaters. The Peruvians would be blessed with a new source of income. And best of all, the vicuña would continue to recover. “We needed to find a socioeconomic role for the animals to give the local Peruvians an incentive to protect them,” says Loro Piana. “A live vicuña needed to be worth more than a dead one.”

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Hungry For Power, Sicily’s Mafia Tries to Go Green

My piece on Italy’s Green Mafia is up at Time.

Since the time of Phoenician sailors and Greek settlers, Sicily’s Most coveted resources have been the sun and the wind. These days, drive nearly any stretch of the Mediterranean island and you’ll likely come across wind farms, looming like giants from behind the mountains. In some parts of Sicily, solar-power plants alternate with farmers’ fields; in some cases the two are even combined in photovoltaic-covered greenhouses. Italy is now the third-largest producer of wind power in Europe and its production of solar energy is booming, driven by generous government subsidies — with much of that growth in the sunny, windy south.

No surprise, then, that along with environmentally minded entrepreneurs, Sicily is attracting an organization that cares only about the other kind of green: the mafia. “The mafia goes where the money is” says Domenico Fontana, head of the Sicilian branch of Legambiante, the country’s largest environmental group. [Renewable energy] is one of the richest sectors of the economy. It’s obvious that the mafia wants to be there.”

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