Capital effects of fires on citizens
Like every year, with data that is sadly being updated, summer fires destroy and disfigure entire ecosystems and private properties.
According to ISPRA data, updated to the first days of August 2023, in the current year the extension of the areas covered by large forest fires in Italy has increased, with over 59,000 Ha, of which over 9400 Ha of forest ecosystems.
The forest ecosystems most involved are largely portions of Mediterranean maquis and holm oak woods (63%) and areas covered by woods and reforestation of conifers (20%). 93% of the burned areas are in Sicily (75%) and Calabria (18%). The province of Palermo is the most affected (over 15,500 hectares, of which 20% forests), followed by the province of Reggio Calabria (8,500 hectares, 18% of forests), the province of Messina (5,200 hectares, 19% of forests) and the province of Syracuse (4200 hectares, 24% forests).
The number of protected natural areas with forest ecosystems affected by fire is also growing: those most affected are in the province of Palermo (7), in the province of Syracuse (1), in the province of Messina (1) and in the province of L’Aquila, and so on.
This datum, which in itself is dramatic and on which urgent and decisive resolutions must be taken, must obviously be connected to an indecipherable loss of biodiversity which decreases not only natural ecosystems and private properties but also with regard to the inhabitants of these territories.
However, although nature and animals (all of them) are often considered a show, something to observe as an “other world” outside our human life, it is important to underline the interdependence existing between all species, including the one we represent, i.e. the human one.
Indeed, it has been demonstrated that “the loss of biodiversity contributes to food and energy insecurity, increases vulnerability to natural disasters, decreases the level of health within society, reduces the availability and quality of water resources and impoverishes traditional cultural”. The more the biodiversity of an environment is respected – and therefore the fewer manipulative interventions there are – the better the quality of life of that particular community that inhabits that territory.
For this reason, the erosion of the heritage of biodiversity, to which is added that of the individual private properties of those who live, sometimes even courageously, within these ecosystems or who, in any case, interfere with the global health of citizens, do not can no longer be addressed in simplistic terms and without repercussions of a legal and political nature.
With the progress of the fires, year after year, beyond the causes, perhaps all too clear but on which the competent public prosecutors will have to do their correct and dutiful work, it is advisable that the necessary actions and countermeasures are taken.
Among other things, in the European panorama, Italy is the country that has the highest number of species by far: hosting about half of the plant species and about a third of all animal species currently present in Europe.
This obliges us, as a population, to assume a number of responsibilities and decisions.
First of all we certainly need exemplary punishments against arsonists (the word arsonists is out of place).
Penalties that contemplate a series of measures, such as for example:
– the seizure or confiscation of assets (depending on how the organization of the crime takes place);
– very severe imprisonments;
– conspicuous bounties for those who provide useful (and probative) information, also to break the halo of silence that often hovers in certain environments.
Obviously we cannot stop at laws or regulations on the subject, we need a serious intervention involving, once and for all, a plan for the redevelopment and management of forest and natural areas; a useful involvement of farmers but also of those who simply own the land.
Fires take away our nature, biodiversity, property and above all take them away from future generations.
They take away biodiversity useful for promoting agroecology and the social and environmental ethics it contains; they take away land and young people, forced to go elsewhere. This is an attack on Sicily, Sardinia, Calabria and many other territories and their millenary dignity, which is stronger and bigger than the mafia and/or any criminal act.
Obviously, a series of actions must be developed that involve everyone: farmers, landowners, citizens, institutions and, of course, the government.
But that’s not enough, we need to change, as they say, the reasoning paradigm.
First of all, as it is now known, biodiversity is a heritage, not only in abstractly naturalistic terms but in concrete economic terms.
According to the recent UNEP report, called dead planet, living planet, published in 2010, biodiversity and ecosystems provide human beings with services worth an estimated 72 trillion dollars each year. According to the World Bank, global GDP in the same year did not go beyond 64.7 trillion. In short, nature beats man.
If we translate all this into the relative economic values of the most affected regions of Italy we understand what the fires are causing on the pockets of every single citizen, beyond the losses of damaged private properties.
In this sense, it is therefore appropriate to understand that, against the economic damage and the decrease in the level of health within society, the availability and quality of water resources and cultural traditions that are caused by the loss of biodiversity, citizens have no only the duty to coordinate actions and provisions of a political and legal nature but also the right to promote proceedings for their protection.
One of these is the so-called Class Action (collective action).
This collective action is a procedural legal instrument for the protection from multi-offensive offenses in the environmental field, including intolerable immissions, introduced with the law of 12 April 2019, n. 31, which will allow a plurality or even a multitude of subjects who are bearers of homogeneous rights – in other words, those who have suffered the same type of damage from acts or behaviors of the same subject – to assert the right to compensation for damage in a single process.
Today the Class Action, updated with the latest legal profiles, is applicable to any type of damage deriving from an offence, in the field of contractual, pre-contractual and extra-contractual liability. The latter category certainly includes damage to health or to their property that individuals suffer as a result of the compromise of the environment and, among these, also those from immissions.
Without going too far into the juridical profile of the question, which we leave to the in-depth analysis of the merits, environmental damage of a public nature constitutes a special category of damage, governed by special rules, in the sense that they are different from the general ones of our legal system; first of all because for public legislation the first step is to restore the damaged site by means of reclamation, while for general legislation compensation can take place alternatively in a specific form or by monetary equivalent.
In a nutshell, with the new Class Action, our legal system has made available to citizens a tool with which they can react and protect their rights in the face of unlawful and multi-offensive behaviour; an instrument of general scope, i.e. no longer linked like the current one to the consumer environment (so much so that article 40-bis of the consumer code has been repealed), but with a scope of application that includes all offenses both in the field of contractual liability and non-contractual committed by certain subjects, i.e. companies and managers of public services or public utilities.
The new class action is no longer intended only for the protection of consumers’ rights, but associations, citizens, professionals and businesses that have suffered a mass wrong will also be able to make use of it.
It is clear that we are facing a significant evolution of public and private law, introduced years ago with the recognition of environmental crime, and specifically, among others, that relating to forest fires (423 bis of the Criminal Code) but citizens they must become a single subject.
A subject who can no longer passively suffer actions, embezzlements, organized and criminal acts, as well as lack of planning, programming and protection of ecological and environmental assets.
We need to get out of a social conscience that is no longer adequate for solving these complex problems.
There is no longer only private law but also the duty of action and decision; only in this way can embezzlements be defeated and a new political vision and responsibility be promoted.