As I write this blog post, it’s a warm sunny Sunday afternoon on the Pacific island nation of Taiwan, blue skies, not a cloud in sight, and global warming is the last thing on my mind here today. The sea levels around the island nation’s dozen of large and small islands have not risen at all, and all is well in this part of the world (in terms of climate change impacts events).
But I visited Venice, Italy once in 1969 when I was on a gap year in college back in Boston, and when I stepped off the express train from Rome to Venice on a rainy summer day, I was ready for an adventure of a lifetime exploring the canal-lined city’s quaint and picturesque bridges, its pubs and outdoor restaurants, its museums and its bookstores. And yes, I took a gondola or two here and there and was completely charmed by this watery Italian dreamscape on the edge of a vast ocean.
I was 19 and the future was forever.
Now I’m 70 and the future is no longer forever. I’ll be dead soon enough, and the world we live in faces global warming impact events the likes of which we humans have never seen. And in November 2019, Venice is now ”ground zero” (“rising-water-levels zero” to coin a new phrase) in a race against time and nature.
I headlined this post “As Venice sinks, so sinks the world,” but I could just as easily have headlined it: “What happens in Venice, doesn’t stay in Venice.”
Why? Because what we have witnessed this month in Venice, as mirrored in hundreds of newspaper headlines in dozens of languages around the world is this: like or not, Venice and its citizens face an uncertain future on the edge of a climate change precipice.
“Years ago, the American social activist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky wrote that if he had any creative writing skills, he’d write a story about Wall Street types looking out at a drowned city while still claiming climate change isn’t happening,” Boston College Professor Minh Young Song wrote on his Twitter feed in the midst of all those ”Venice Under Water” headlines.
”Today, what he’d need is journalistic skills,” Dr Song quipped.
Curious about what Dr Chomsky had written, I sent him a short email and asked just what he had written way back when.
He replied in ”internet time,” that is to say, in ten minutes, from his office in Boston to my kitchen table in Taiwan.
“The anecdote that Professor Song spoke of is almost true,” Chomsky wrote. “My idea at that time, a few years ago, was a story about a Wall Street Journal newspaper office on the 17th floor of some towering Manhattan skyscraper, with the newspaper presses churning out another story about how climate change is a liberal hoax, while the rising waters of a major sea level rise event lap at the presses on the bottom floors of the building.”
He amplified his first email message in a second email when I asked if the anecdote was true.
“Sad but true, Danny. And just imagine what things will be like a few years down the road. The anecdote Professor Song mentioned is almost true. My idea at that time was a short story about a WSJ office on the 17th floor of a skyscraper with the newspaper’s presses churning out another news story about how climate change is a liberal hoax while rising waters lap at the WSJ presses in the lower floors of the building.”
So you want headlines? I’ll give you some headlines!
”Worst floods for 50 years bring Venice to ‘its knees'” was how CNN framed it.
Another: “Two people die as Venice floods at highest level in 50 years”
And another: “Emergency declared in Venice, Italy, due to historic high tides.”
“Venice Floods Are a Sad Tale of Bureaucracy and Corruption,” claimed another headline.
‘Jaw-Dropping Scenes of Venice Underwater After Historic Flood” segued into an even more-startling headline for a video link: ”Watch: Nearly three-quarters of Venice underwater!”
”Venice council flooded moments after rejecting climate crisis” took the world headline prize for irony.
Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone magazine tried to explain “Why Venice Is Disappearing.”
“Flooded Venice has tourists taking selfies and residents in tears” is how the Washington Post put it on its front page.
Whichever headline you pick, it looks like we’re sunk. But I was born an optimist, and I’m still an optimist in my sunset years, and I do believe that Venice will rise again. I’m just not sure if it will be on Planet Earth.