Climate science deniers have been invited to speak at an unofficial hearing in the Italian Senate this week by a politician from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.
A group of scientists are due to deliver a letter on Friday describing carbon dioxide as “plant food” and claiming that climate change has not increased the intensity or frequency of natural disasters.
The majority of signatories are geology professors with no direct expertise in climate science, and several are listed as employees of the Italian oil major Eni.
The event on October 18 has been organised by the senator Maurizio Gasparri, and is set to coincide with the launch of a “European Climate Declaration” in Oslo, part of a campaign being coordinated by the Netherlands-based Climate Intelligence Foundation (CLINTEL). DeSmog revealed plans for the campaign at the start of September.
CLINTEL says there is “no cause for panic and alarm” because the world will have “ample time to reflect and adapt”, and opposes the EU adopting a 2050 carbon neutrality target.
A similar event was held in 2009 ahead of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen and enjoyed the support of two Forza Italia senators, Lucio Malan and Guido Possa, who have also backed the current campaign.
Uberto Crescenti, who is leading the effort, has worked closely with the oil and gas industry over the course of his career as a geology professor. Between 1998 and 2005, he collaborated on a major industry-funded research project called TaskForceMajella, analysing an oil and gas reservoir in the Appennine mountain range in central Italy.
A former president of the Italian Geological Society, Crescenti has also contributed to the Independent Committee on Geoethics, a fringe group run by climate science deniers including Philip Foster, Christopher Monckton and Patrick Moore.
Vito Comencini, a member of parliament representing Matteo Salvini’s right-wing populist Lega Nord party, is also expected to speak at the event. Lega Nord MEPs voted against the European Parliament ratifying the Paris Agreement in 2016.
In addition to Crescenti, the “organising committee” for the petition includes Franco Battaglia and Nicola Scafetta, who organised a conference on the same subject at the Sapienza University of Rome in November last year.
Scafetta, a physics professor at the University of Naples, claims that climate change is mostly caused by “natural cycles which are present in the solar system” and has previously given speeches to climate science denial organisations including the European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE), the Heartland Institute and the Irish Climate Science Forum.
Battaglia, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Modena, frequently writes articles for Il Giornale, a right-wing tabloid owned by the Berlusconi family, where he has described the climate crisis as a “hoax” and mocked followers of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg as “Gretini”.
Backlash from climate scientists
The campaign has already garnered significant media coverage in Italy, having been discussed during a show on the La7 television channel. An earlier letter was also published by the L’Opinione delle Libertà newspaper in June.
But climate scientists have hit back and a petition has been launched calling for an end to “fake news” and “false balance” on climate change in the media.
“We still read newspaper headlines that are patently misleading, suggesting a few days of cold weather calls into question global warming,” it reads.
Dr Antonello Pasini, an atmospheric physicist at Italy’s National Research Council who is backing the petition, told DeSmog the media needs to stop creating the impression that the cause of climate change is still in question.
“This is irresponsible journalism, but there is always a tendency to present voices that stand out from the crowd. Journalists are attracted to this,” he said.
“It’s a clever campaign because it creates doubt that there is a scientific debate on the causes of global warming, so that the scientific community can be seen as divided. The debate in scientific journals is very large and profound, but not on this point,” he explained.
He did, however, worry that people could be duped into believing the scientists behind the letter were experts on climate science, despite not being qualified to speak with authority on the issue.
“Scientific culture in Italy is not so strong that people can understand the difference between scientists who study different topics. A scientist is a scientist, no matter if he studies the universe, or elementary particles, or climate change. These professors may be taken seriously by a certain part of the population.”
Dr Roberto Buizza, a physics professor at the School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, said he didn’t think the campaign would influence public debate, provided media outlets cover it accurately.
“As long as the media give space to people who are knowledgeable about climate change, I do not think that these initiatives will have any impact,” he told DeSmog.
“I am in favour of freedom of speech, and I am against spreading false claims and false information. Thus I do not mind if these people are interviewed, provided that the journalists probe them carefully, to identify and highlight the weaknesses of their arguments.
“What I do not like, is that some media publish false and incorrect information, simply to attract attention, increase their ‘click numbers’ and sell more copies.”
Buizza coordinated a letter to Italian leaders in July affirming the link between climate change and greenhouse gas emissions created by human activities. Supported by bodies including the Italian Society of Climate Sciences and the Italian Meteorological Society, the letter calls on Italian policymakers to adopt a 2050 “net zero” emissions target.
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