This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
Everyone by now has seen pictures and videos of this week's floods in Venice, which were described as an “apocalyptic and total devastation” by the region's rightwing governor, Luca Zaia, from the ruling Lega party. Water reached its second-highest level in the city’s history, inflicting “unimaginable damage”, in Zaia’s words.
According to estimates, 80 percent of Venice was submerged, including the council of the Veneto region (which includes Venice).
On the day of the floods, the council was discussing the region’s 2020 budget. “The council room flooded two minutes after the coalition of right-wing parties leading the Council [the Lega, Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia parties], had rejected our amendments to fight climate change,” explained Andrea Zanoni from the centre-left Democratic Party.
The amendments requested funding to replace diesel-fuelled buses with “more efficient and less-polluting alternatives" for "more renewable energy sources" and to reduce plastic. They would have also increased spending for the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, an initiative started in 2008 to bring together local authorities who want to implement the EU’s climate and energy objectives in their territory.
According to Zanoni, these measures were introduced because “Zaia’s budget didn’t include any concrete actions to fight climate change”.
Many factors are contributing to Venice sinking; some natural, others man-made. A paper published in Oceanography in 2016, explains that high water is a seasonal occurrence in Venice, driven by forces like tides and storm surges. However, the paper adds that “the consequences of human uses of this coastal region, including historical diversion of rivers, modification of inlets, and, more recently, pumping of freshwater from beneath the lagoon” all add to the natural causes.
In other words, Venice is sinking for two reasons. First, because the ground it sits on is sagging, both naturally and because it has been drained by industrial operations. Secondly, because sea levels are rising more quickly than the average calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since the coastal area surrounding Venice is shallow.
Over time, rising sea levels combined with soil subsidence (sinking) has lowered the level of the city’s streets to only 70 centimetres above sea level at its lowest point. With streets lower than ever before, any small change in the delicate cycle of tides can cause water to "invade Venice’s narrow streets”, says the research.
Despite shitty newspapers hating on Greta Thunberg, there’s no debate that climate change is making these catastrophic floods more frequent. Environmental journalist Marco Cattaneo, editor at Le Scienze magazine and National Geographic Italy, reported that, between 1923 and 2000, there were ten cases of exceptionally high tide (more than 140 centimetres over sea levels). Since 2001, however, there have already been 12. The tides on Wednesday morning, two days after the major floods, exceeded the limit again at 144 centimetres. Cattaneo also confirmed that sea levels in Venice are 35 centimetres higher today than in 1870.
Unfortunately, things are only going to get worse. The later we intervene the more likely it is we will see Venice underwater.
After the floods, Zanoni argued on social media that no other image could have better illustrated “the political inconsistencies and the absolute misery of the current administrative actions taken by this rightwing regional government” than incoming water forcing representatives to flee the building. We couldn’t agree more.