Eight activists associated with the Italian eco-activism group Ultima Generazione dyed the water in Rome’s Trevi Fountain black using diluted charcoal on Sunday.
The protest, which occurred mid-morning, lasted 15 minutes and all of the activists have since been arrested. The famed fountain will be drained, cleaned, and re-filled. There are no indications it has sustained any damage.
Mayor of Rome Roberto Gualtieri condemned the protest, saying in a Facebook post Sunday that though the fountain was not damaged or stained, “a complex cleaning operation will be necessary which will cost a lot of work and involve public resources,” and that “the risk of worse damage was considerable” had it not been for fast-acting police.
However, the Trevi fountain is cleaned once a week and other protests in Italy involving charcoal dye have not yielded long lasting damage or costs.
The protestors were responding to recent flooding in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy which killed over a dozen people after half the annual expected rainfall was suddenly generated in a 36-hour deluge that some scientists have linked to climate change.
Protestors pointed out in a press release Sunday that the monuments of Emilia-Romagna sustained real and significant damage, and that the cultural heritage of Italy at large is at risk unless something is done to mitigate climate change. Multiple museums in the region were flooded with water and mud, parts of the ancient Abbey of Santa Maria del Monte collapsed, and libraries have lost books to water damage.
A full accounting of the damage to the cultural heritage of Emilia-Romagna is yet to be conducted in full as the region attempts to cope with 36,000 newly homeless citizens, massive damage to infrastructure and agriculture, and the implications on the economically vital summer tourism.
“I’ve decided to do civil disobedience because the horrible tragedy experienced in Emilia Romagna is a warning of the dark future that awaits humanity, made up of drought alternating with increasingly frequent and violent floods,” said nineteen-year-old activist Mattia in a press release published by Ultima Generazione. “The only way to prevent this from happening is to stop emissions related to fossil fuels. Our Government, on the other hand, continues undaunted to give the fossil fuel industry public funding for tens of billions of euros every year.”
Ultima Generazione, like eco-activists groups Just Stop Oil and Letzte Generazione, is hoping to pressure their government into eliminating subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
Just last year, Reuters reported that, though Italy had agreed to sign a pledge to end public trade and export finance support for overseas fossil fuel projects, along with the UK and eight other European countries, they attempted to weaken the deal at the last moment. At an investment of $8.4 billion euros, Italy has committed the most funds to fossil fuel projects and plants amongst their group of pledgees.
The act of protest, like many others like it, was supported financially by the Climate Emergency Fund. Founded in 2019 by investor Trevor Neilson and Rory Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, the Fund has raised and distributed around $4 million to climate activists in the form of grants. Groups like Ultima Generazione and Just Stop Oil have received funding to aid with legal expenses.
“14 people died in last week’s floods in Northern Italy and 23,000 are still displaced. The climate emergency is here, and it is accelerating, yet our institutions are marching forward as usual,” a representative of the Climate Emergency Fund wrote to ARTnews. “Climate Emergency Fund is proud to support these brave activists who are shaking us awake and intervening to call attention to this dire situation. We need drastic actions like this to demonstrate to the public how severe the climate emergency is.”
Update 5/23/23 2:19 PM: This article was amended to add a comment from the Climate Emergency Fund.