Updated: May 13
An analysis of Venice adaptation measures for climate change-related problems, with a focus on the city-lagoon dualism.
Miriam La Matina is a physicist with a bachelor's degree from the University of Padua. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Physics at the University of Padua, Physics and Astronomy Department (DFA). Currently, she is also the coordinator of the local Greenpeace group of volunteers in Padua.
Her article inaugurates the environmental sub-track of the blog's new section - 'EcoVirAl'. ‘EcoVirAl’ is an acronym for the ‘Economic, EnVironmental, and SociAl’ dimensions of sustainable development. Professor Robert Goodland proposed such a categorization in three dimensions in 1995. The European Union adopted it in its definition of sustainable development.
‘EcoVirAl’ will publish blog articles on all those three dimensions. Each week focuses on one of them. The pieces are not fully-fledged scientific ones, but they retain a degree of technicality. The language of the articles is usually English, even if it is possible to publish in Italian too occasionally. In such a case, the editors will provide a translation.
Enjoy your third reading!
By Miriam La Matina
The city of Venice is unique: it is one of the most famous cities in the world and represents one of the most precious creations, historically and culturally speaking. Since the foundation of this city, Venetians have been struggling in trying to conquer the land against the sea, but they could not have imagined that the great crisis of our century, climate change, would create such a precarious future for this long-lasting beauty. One of the well-known consequences of global warming is sea-level rise, and the coastal cities and ecosystems are the first ones to face the challenges related to it. The city of Venice and its lagoon, which are already experiencing some of the sea level rise consequences, could be considered as an example of what may happen to other coastal cities in the coming years.
Last year I was selected by the Arqus Alliance (a multilateral alliance of internationalized institutions which brings together the universities of Bergen, Granada, Graz, Leipzig, Lyon, Padua, and Vilnius) to work with a group of students from different backgrounds. The aim was to tackle a global problem by analyzing the case of Venice, a city so close to us. The final product of the work was a paper, written by me, Carolina Pellizzari, Giovanna Saleh, and Camilla Vidi.
The aim of our paper was to collect information about Venetian issues and about the ongoing projects implemented in the climate change crisis response, to understand if an example of conciliation between the preservation of both the city and the lagoon can be found. We built a description of the Venice paradigm, considering both the structural difficulties which the city and the lagoon are facing and the sociological distress of living in such a touristic city which now is also more and more problematic.
Analyzing the different ongoing initiatives, the main effort is made towards the defense of the city from the increasing number of floods (1),(2). Even if, as of today, we have deeper knowledge about the effect of environmental choices, the direction taken still results in solutions that do not take into consideration the long-term circumstances, and do not give the deserved attention to the preservation of a unique ecosystem, which is the one present in the Venice lagoon. What has emerged from this research, indeed, is that the Venice paradigm is far from a conciliation, and we are not approaching this complex problem with an adequately complex solution, but rather we are focusing all the efforts on one single project, the MOSE (3). To clarify, it has already shown its limits in the long-term view and its damage to the lagoon environment, in addition to involving a large investment for its construction, regular maintenance, and activation (4),(5).
The MOSE project is by far the most expensive system that has been implemented, despite all the problems that are involved, such as its impacts on sediment deposition, on the lagoon ecosystem, and on the harbor economy. MOSE was not studied for the framework of the current estimate of SLR (6) and so many experts have explained their perplexity about the future since a prolonged activation of the barriers. The frequency of emergency times will require an improper usage of this system (7,(8),(9).
Other minor projects have been implemented, such as local defenses that increment the elevation of critical buildings in the city, so that they will be flooded less frequently. Some projects on the restoration of the lagoon have also been financed (10),(11), to repopulate some of the peculiar ecosystems that characterize the Venice lagoon. Specifically, these plants respond naturally to increased sea-level, helping to modify the landscape. It is very important for all the projects to be drawn collectively, in order to act on several fronts: the restoration of the lagoon is not only fundamental for saving the ecosystem, but it also offers precious protection for the city.
It is not to forget that Venice is a city, meaning that it is not possible to save it without saving its essence as a living place: a better plan to save it from depopulation should be introduced, since, without its inhabitants, Venice stops being a city and starts being a museum. A city is never separated from the environment it is built on and this should be the first aspect to be considered while planning solutions against a crisis.
Venice is characterized by an incredible heritage to the world’s culture and history, and for this reason, it is a priority to preserve it, but it is also legitimate to question if, given our abilities and our technologies, we could have done more.
(1) C40 (2018). Rising Waters in Venice: a preview of coastal cities around the world. Access on: 04/29/2021. Available at: https://www.c40.org/blog_posts/rising-waters-in-venice-a-preview-of-coastal-cities-around-the-world
(2) Tosi, L.; Teatini, P.; Strozzi, T. (2013). Natural versus anthropogenic subsidence of Venice. Scientific Reports
(3) Consorzio Venezia Nuova. MOSE. Access on: 05/24/2021. Available at: https://www.mosevenezia.eu/
(4) Vergano L., Umgiesser G., Nunes P. A.L.D. 2010. An economic assessment of the impacts of the MOSE barriers on Venice port activities. Transportation Research Part D 15, 343–349.
(5) Fontini F., Umgiesser G., Vergano L. 2010. The role of ambiguity in the evaluation of the net benefits of the MOSE system in the Venice lagoon. Ecological Economics 69, 1964–1972.
(6) Umgiesser G. 2020. The impact of operating the mobile barriers in Venice (MOSE) under climate change. Journal for Nature Conservation 54, 125783.
(7) Vianello R. 2017. La costruzione del MOSE nella laguna di Venezia e la percezione del rischio. La ricerca folklorica, No. 72, Autobiografia dell’antropologia italiana, pp. 221-231. GrafoSpa
(8) Pirazzoli P. A. 14 May 2002. Did the Italian Government Approve an Obsolete Project to Save Venice? EOS Volume83, Issue 20. Pages 217-223.
(9) Cipolla A., Grassi M. 10/04/2020. MOSE Venezia: quanto è costato e quando sarà pronto. Access on: 05/23/2021. Available at: https://www.money.it/mose-Venezia-quanto-costato-quando-pronto
(10) LIFE VIMINE (2017). An integrated approach to the sustainable conservation of intertidal salt marshes in the lagoon of Venice. Access on: 05/02/2021. Available at: http://www.lifevimine.eu/lifevimine.eu/documenti.html
(11) I PROGETTI LIFE IN LAGUNA DI VENEZIA E NELL’ALTO ADRIATICO Test di nuove politiche per il ripristino dell’ambiente litoraneo¸ Giuseppe Sartori (biologo, Ufficio territorio CRV). Available at: http://www.lifeghost.eu/index.php/it/news-eventi/8-news/110-the-life-projects-in-the-lagoon-ofvenice-and-the-north-adriatic-sea-described-in-a-publication-issued-by-theregional-council
Written by Miriam La Matina
Edited by Noemi Nardi
Miriam La Matina is a physicist with a bachelor's degree from the University of Padua. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Physics at the University of Padua, Physics and Astronomy Department (DFA). Furthermore, she is currently the coordinator of the local Greenpeace group of volunteers in Padua.