Travel Report: International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, Rome, Italy

The conference venue, Villa Mondragone, towers over the surrounding area. Photo: Michael Renner
From October 12 to 15, 2005, Michael traveled to Italy for a speaking engagement at the International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature. He gave a presentation based on Worldwatch's current two-year research project, on “Natural Disasters, Environment, and Peacemaking. Michael's work resonated well with the Italian media. During his stay, he was interviewed by reporters from Italy's leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, Vatican Radio, as well as three separate RAI television programs.

About 60 environmental journalists from around the world gathered in Monte Porzio Catone, a town 12 miles southeast of downtown Rome. Organized by the Italian NGO Greenaccord, the meeting was focused on “Protection of Nature, Way of Peace. Support came from the Province of Rome, the Italian National Council of Journalists, WWF Italy, RAI (Italy's national broadcasting company), and a range of other sponsors.

This was the third annual Media Forum. The previous two gatherings had featured Lester Brown, former Worldwatch president, Jonathan Lash of the World Resources Institute, and Mathis Wackernagel of Redefining Progress as speakers.

This year's conference was held in the storied Villa Mondragone. Built in the mid-16 th century at the suggestion of Pope Gregorius XIII, it was the site where the Gregorian Calendar was introduced in February 1582. Today, the villa and its surrounding park belong to the University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata,' and host many national and international meetings.

The conference addressed various connections between environment, conflict, and peace. On the opening day, Loïc Fauchon, President of the World Water Council, spoke about “Water Cooperation without Boundaries. Hartwig De Haen, Assistant Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, addressed the issue of “Hunger, Conflict, and Environmental Stress—Breaking Vicious Circles.

The first day was rounded out by presentations on “The Role of the Media by Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis, president of the Athens-based Biopolitics International Organization, and on “Learning Peace: A University at the World's Service, by Julia Marton-Lefèvre, recently installed as the rector of the University for Peace in Costa Rica. Set up in 1980, the University currently is host to 120 students from 39 countries, pursuing degrees in peace studies, international law, and environmental security and peace.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai was supposed to be the keynote speaker, but urgent Kenyan government business—she serves as Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife—prevented her attendance. Instead, Greenaccord arranged to have her speak via video-hookup from Nairobi. Maathai gave a brief, but stirring address, followed by questions and answers.

A range of speakers shared their rich insights and experiences during the remainder of the conference. South African writer Sindiwe Mangona talked about the often uneasy relationship between poverty and environment in a talk titled “The Green Debate in Divided Societies. She contrasted the government's decision to meter water usage with the sad fact that faucets continue to leak in poor communities, where the first concern is not even having access to safe drinking water.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Mathaai addresses the conference via video hookup from Nairobi. Photo: Michael Renner
In moving words and in pictures, Wan Yongchen of China National Radio and Green Earth Volunteers chronicled the story of dam construction on the Nu River in China, leading to massive environmental destruction and human dislocation in a once pristine area. Argentinian writer Héctor Tizón addressed a closely related subject: the link between human rights and environment.

On the final day, U.S. environmental author Dick Russell spoke about “Global Warming, Hurricanes, and the American Response, a stirring indictment of the policies of the Bush administration. (Russell's Web site features a detailed report of the Greenaccord.) Australia's Jon Dee provided an uplifting account of how his group, Planet Ark, works with celebrities to communicate important environmental goals to a broad public. Father Sebastiano D'Ambra of the Silsilah Center in Zamboanga City, Philippines, told the gathering of his long struggle to promote peace between local Christian and Muslim communities.

The meeting offered plenty of time for participants to pose questions and talk about their own experiences and perspectives. As is the case at most conferences, the time between formal sessions proved invaluable for deepening personal contacts among the participants. Coffee breaks, evening dinners, and even the morning and late afternoon trips up and down the steep, tree-lined road connecting Villa Mondragone and the local hotel offered perfect opportunities to network. Next year will bring another Greenaccord conference in Italy. And encouragingly, the African participants agreed to organize a gathering in Zambia in efforts to build better networks among environmental journalists.