As floodwaters in Saint Mark’s Square are no longer a novelty, and knowing that, in any case, Venice has a problem as it was built in a lagoon, most of us probably did not understand the severity of the danger posed by this week’s flooding of the city that once reigned over much of the Eastern Mediterranean.
But a simple list of recent events would seem to confirm the fears of scientists that by the end of the century the city may be lost. Of the 10 worst floods in Venice’s long history, five were recorded over the past 20 years, with the last of these just last year.
On Wednesday, the waters rose by 1.87 meters, just 6 centimeters below the record set in 1966. The “original sin” that condemned the city – the fact that it was built on shifting tectonic plates, causing it to gradually sink – has been compounded by the rise of sea waters and the extreme weather conditions, both the result of climate change.
Most of us have come to believe that global warming is a deadly threat. Scientists warn that by 2050, coastal areas across the world where 150 million people live will be underwater.
The threat to Venice helps us understand more clearly how serious and how immediate the danger is. The city is not only a masterpiece of architecture and art, but also a symbol of human inventiveness, organization and tenacity. It was established in AD 697 in a most inhospitable area, so that its inhabitants could evade their enemies.
It endured, it used its strategic position and the resources of its people to prosper. At the apogee of its power it controlled trade between Europe and Asia and held territory that is now under the flag of nine countries. Its citizens’ commercial spirit, the daring that sent them in search of distant markets, their combination of diplomatic finesse, military skill and determination, made the Serene Republic a superpower of its age.
Comparing Venice’s history with its current troubles, we can only wonder why it cannot marshal its old spirit in order to save itself. A grand project of flood gates which was supposed to be completed by 2011 is mired in scandal and delays. No one can say when it will be ready nor whether it will be enough to save the city. N
or at the international level do we see the necessary mobilization to control or limit the factors that contribute to climate change. The waves that threaten Venice may sow despair among those who care. But they do not waken so many as to make a difference.