Did Past Economic Crises Lead to Greater Sustainability? Italy after the 1973 Oil Shock

(2020) “Reagire alla crisi nel XX secolo: spontaneità sociale e ipotesi radicali dopo lo shock petrolifero del ’73,” [Dealing with the Crisis in the XX Century: Social Spontaneity and Radical Blueprints After the 1973 Oil Shock], in Italia creativa. Condivisione, sostenibilità e innovazione, eds. Laura Bovone and Carla Lunghi, Roma: Donzelli, 23–41

This essay focuses on Italian society’s reaction to the global oil crisis of 1973 and investigates how the sudden realization of the limits to the economic development and its intrinsic fragility translated into innovative and more sustainable technologies, products, consumer behaviors, and norms. After surveying the cultural and political debate of the period, which warned about the vulnerability of the environment and spurred groundbreaking ideas, the essay focuses on three areas of innovation that were chiefly affected by the crisis: 1) private and public transportation, e.g., electric cars and car sharing; 2) practices of recycle and reuse, e.g., domestic waste segregation and second-hand purchases; 3) energy saving technologies and alternative energy sources, e.g., ecologic architecture and solar energy. In conclusion, the research demonstrates that these virtuous reactions to the crisis were only partially seconded by legislation and public choices, while mostly emerged spontaneously from the private sector. This pattern, however, looked weary as soon as the crisis alleviated. The same private sector, which proved resilient and inventive, soon reverted to less sustainable pre-crisis products and practices.

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