Venice is old, at least by human standards. There is evidence that people have been living here since the 10th century BCE, and they are still here today. The city was in its prime hundreds of years before Columbus “discovered” the New World. You get the sense of layers of history in this most famous landscape with every step you take. The city has always been on the edge of the sea, but it stands as one of the most iconic locations in the western world, a true example of a World Heritage site because it resides in all of our collective consciousness.
Who hasn’t dreamed of a romantic gondola ride along the canals of Venice, past architecture that unites all the cultures around the Mediterranean. It is the heritage of all of us and it is tragically on the verge of almost certain destruction as a result of rising sea levels from impending climate change. Indeed, it is already happening.
The canals of Venice are its “streets” and as you can see, there is little room left for the sea to rise without taking out restaurants and historic buildings alike.
People continue to stop for selfies in front of architecture that is at once timeless and now very much time bound. Its time is about out. There is a distinct lack of any margin of error on sea level rising, even as every major model predicts sea levels will rise dramatically in the next 50 years as a result of thermal ocean expansion and melting icecaps. The sea is already rising, the effects of a changing climate are already encroaching on this space.
It is sad, really, that all of this architecture is facing significant structural impacts when the seas rise even a little. Monuments, historic buildings, sanctuaries and ordinary homes all face a similar threat, that continues to grow like a slow tide. There are so many other communities that are facing more dire, direct and permanent changes. Millions of climate refugees will begin to move across the planet from Bangladesh to the Maldives, from the Philippines to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. The difference, of course, is that the rich rarely visit those places and their stories are not from those “far-flung” corners of the world; but they have been to Venice. Venice holds charm and memories for the elite. If they see that going, perhaps then they will wake up to the need for sane climate policies aimed at slowing the generation of atmospheric greenhouse gases while we prepare for the adaptation needed to adjust to the changes already happening.
Buildings in Venice undergo face lifts, but perhaps the adaptation should be more than cosmetic. We face a real challenge to avoid this scene in the streets of coastal cities around the planet. Parts of Miami are already seeing water where once there was dry land, they are spending millions each year pumping the water out of a major city in a state where the governor has banned the mere mention of the threat, climate change. The Europeans I have met on this sojourn are not in denial about the challenges, or their responsibility to address the issue. Recycling is everywhere, there are wind machines in every landscape we have moved through and solar panels in almost all of them. They drive small cars when they have to, but more likely ride the bus or train to get from one point to another. The planet is warming, the data is clear. The only question is whether the future holds oceans in our streets or an arid overheated inhospitable planet such as Mars. Standing on the Rialto Bridge gazing out at Mars rising over the “streets” of Venice, the question seems less theoretical.