Italians are worried for the environment


Observa-Science in society with the support of Compagnia di San Paolo presents Italians, science and the environment. Second Report on Science, Technology and Public Opinion in Italy, published by Il Mulino in the Science and Society Facts and Figures 2009.

Italians recognise environmental deterioration as one of the major issues at the global level, second only to famine in the Third World. In particular, what worries citizens most are air pollution (33.1%) and waste disposal (31.4%). Other aspects, such as the quality of food, water pollution or landscape deterioration are considered less relevant.
But fatalistic and indifferent attitudes are present as well.

These are only some of the data that emerge from the research Italians, science and the environment. Second report on science, technology and public opinion in Italy, conducted by Observa – Science in society, with the support of Compagnia di San Paolo and published by Il Mulino in the Science and Society Facts and Figures 2009.
The study proposes original data on Italian citizens’ attitudes and perceptions towards science, technology and the environment, data that were collected during 2008 by Observa – Science in society’s Science and Society Monitor: an updated picture on the relationships between citizenry and science in Italy.

The data suggest the existence of complex attitudes towards the environment and towards the themes of sustainability.
17.6% of Italians, more often males and young in age share an indifferent/fatalistic attitude: they care little about the dangers of pollution and of environmental deterioration and do not appear very keen to take concrete action in favour of environmental sustainability.

A similar fatalistic orientation, but with a greater inclination to eco-sustainable lifestyles, characterises one interviewee out of four (25.2%) as pragmatic/ fatalistic type.

Over one half of Italians, on the other hand, believes that environmental protection is each citizen’s responsibility. In particular, 28.5%, more often women with an above-average level of education, commit to eco-sustainable behaviour and to energy saving (using low-consumption light bulbs, appliances, new well isolating door and window frames), identifying themselves with the responsible committed profile.

The remaining 28.7% is identifiable with the responsible ‘in words’ typology.
According to Massimiano Bucchi, Professor of Science, Technology and Society at the University of Trento and coordinator of the study together with Valeria Arzenton, “one of the peculiar characteristics of this latter profile is the scarce consistency between opinions and intentions in favour of the environment and the concrete actions undertaken in that direction. The ones identifiable with this profile declare themselves ready to adopt behaviours that are directed at reducing energy consumption, but they have not yet actively committed to put them into action”: only 57% uses low-consumption light bulbs, against 96% of the responsible committed; only 18% has replaced the door and window frames in their houses, against 84% of the committed and 36% of the indifferent fatalists; 14% has replaced their electrical appliances with low-consumption ones, against 87% of the committed ones; 26% has lowered the heating in their houses (against 85% of the committed).

The expectation of most Italians, in general, is that the institutions will be able to encourage eco-sustainable behaviours with appropriate policies that guarantee incentives and de-taxation, on top of investments in research and technology.

The full version of “Italians, science and the environment. Second report on science, technology and public opinion in Italy” is included in the volume Science and Society Facts and Figures 2009 (Annuario Scienza e Società 2009, ISBN 978-88-15-12774-7), edited by Il Mulino. For further information, write to

The Science and Society Monitor is the first permanent instrument, established in 2003, that monitors the tendencies and trends in the Italian public opinion about research and technological innovation. Promoted by Observa – Science in society with the support of Compagnia di San Paolo, the Monitor was created as an instrument that offers policy-maker, the media, research institutions and citizens a solid cognitive base, comparable at the international level and continuously updated, in order to foster an informed and constructive debate on the issues stemming from the relationship between science and society. It is conducted through CATI-method interviews on a sample of 1000 cases, representative of the Italian population over 15 years of age, under the scientific supervision of Massimiano Bucchi (University of Trento), Federico Neresini and Giuseppe Pellegrini (University of Padova) and under the management of Valeria Arzenton (Observa – Science in Society).

(Translation by Sara Pascoli)