Amidst the eerie scenes coming out of Venice this week after the lagoon city saw its worst flooding since 1966, there is a much more sobering reality at play. The city’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, points to climate change as one of the many factors that have led to this destruction. He describes the flooding as “a wound that will leave a permanent mark.”
The city is no stranger to flooding, sitting only three feet above sea level. The “MOSE” project has been underway since 2003 to construct offshore barriers to protect the city from near biblical flooding like this. However, the project has been set back through numerous corruption scandals and bad governmental organisation. Now more than 85% of Venice is underwater, with more bad weather on the way, reports the Guardian.
Various factors have led to this widespread flooding and the devastating aftermath. Flooding at this time of year, called “acqua alta” has always been “normal” according to Lorenzo Bonometto, an expert on lagoon ecology. However, the combined high tides and gale-force winds make this flooding an “exceptional event,” notes the New York Times. This is in combination with the fact that Venice has been sinking at a rate of between 1 and 4 millilitres a year, with the whole city tilting to the east, reports CNN. A report done by the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development warns that if climate change is not dealt with and adequate stopgaps put in place, the whole city will be underwater by the end of the century.
Of course, it is difficult to point to climate change as the sole cause of a natural disaster. But, it is undeniable that the rising sea levels because of melting polar ice caps are affecting these kinds of events. As Bloomberg notes, last year there were 121 high tides in Venice, nearly twice the number of those in 2017. City authorities have been recording these high tides of 140cm above sea level since 1923, and over half of these episodes have taken place over the last two decades. Rogue Rocket reports that city officials have documented that the sea level is four inches higher than it was 50 years ago in Venice alone.
These kinds of disasters are a prologue to what will happen to coastal cities if nothing is done to mitigate the effects of climate change. According to the Washington Post, climate scientists have said that this is a “harbinger of problems facing all coastal cities, as melting ice sheets and warming oceans raise sea levels to unprecedented heights.” The flooding in Venice is receiving so much media coverage because it is a world heritage site and a popular tourist destination. However, many of the places that will be affected by rising sea levels the soonest are isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean, where the locals affected do not have that added media attention. Before more of these disasters occur, governments need to implement active and comprehensive plans for combatting climate change, to avoid the human costs it will have.