The situation in Venice is dire. Flooding in the middle of November has been deemed a harbinger of things to come for one of the cultural epicenters of Italy and coastal cities on the whole. The floods, caused by a storm from the southwest, are a sign of more floods to come more frequently for the rest of the century. Floods like this one used to happen once every hundred years or so. Now, it is every five. Scientists believe that by the end of the century it could be every five months. However, the worldwide media’s attention to the flooding in Venice is encouraging. With the increasing effects of climate change on the world’s coastal regions, it is imperative that there is awareness of the magnitude of the situation.
Venice is in no way an outlier. If anything, the city is one of the most privileged with respect to rising tides. The financial resources required to rebuild and prepare for further flooding are by no means insignificant – experts estimate hundreds of millions of euros will be needed – but Venice is a tourist hotspot, situated in a wealthy country in the European Union. There is no question that the funds necessary will be allocated. The Italian government has already released 20 million euros for Venice, in no way near the funding estimate but a real first step in Venice’s recovery.
With climate change, the real losers will be those cities and countries without the privileges that Venice enjoys. Island nations, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East will suffer due to wealthy nations’ criminal negligence in the face of climate change. In addition to dramatic sea-level rises and increased weather disasters, these regions will face food and water shortages with little to no respite as temperatures climb, fueling the positive feedback loop of climate change.
If these nations are to weather the storm, nations like the United States and the European Union must rise from their gross inaction and meaningfully assist in earnest the fight against climate change. The status quo is not enough. Fossil fuels are still being burned to an egregious degree and the Earth is feeling the heat.
If we are to pass this world to our children, there is no question that drastic action must be taken. As it is, the oceans will rise by at least three feet if we were to stop all combustion of fossil fuels today. The Earth would continue to warm for decades, temperatures finally stabilizing at a higher level than ever experienced in human existence. Coastal cities would face an enhanced might of the seas and the ocean would be more acidic, wiping out delicate marine ecosystems. Altered weather patterns would mean longer, more frequent droughts. Harvests would decline in abundance. Millions of lives would be lost. This all if we stopped using carbon today.
Corporations must be held responsible for the environmental degradation suffered at their hands. Governments must enact comprehensive climate change reform as soon as is possible. Global summits like the Paris Climate Accords (a good first step in a long line of good first steps) must be more stringent.
They must demand change from developed and developing nations alike, with any and all needs of developing nations met by developed nations to effectively retool their economies They must make up for lost harvests and prepare for further climate disaster.
The Earth has never faced an issue as far-reaching and threatening as this one. The very planet on which we all live, breathe, love and die is under siege by the very species it bore. If there is any chance for our continued existence on this rock – the only known life in the universe – it is absolutely critical that action is taken now, as the current condition of Venice heralds the world to come.
George Wood ’22 is from Glenview, Ill. His major is political science.