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Venice - Myth and Reality about Climate Change

Venice - Myth and Reality about Climate Change

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Venice - Myth and Reality about Climate Change

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  1. Venice - Myth and Reality about Climate Change • By Dr. Dominic Standish, University of Iowa (USA)/CIMBA (Italy).

  2. Dominic Standish Introduction • Structure: Sinking, Climate Change, Flooding, The Venice ‘Problem’, Venetian Mythology and Climate, Environmental Risk: Myth and Reality, Questions and Discussion. • Duration: 1 hour. • Cell phones: Please turn them off. • Teamwork: We would like to avoid 'side conversations' during presentations. • Do you have any special needs to address or questions?

  3. Dominic Standish Presentation objective • To examine how there is reality to climate change in Venice, yet myths too. • Deconstructing these myths reveals that climate change is not the principal problem in Venice.

  4. Dominic Standish Rising Waters in Venice • ‘Sinking’ mystifies several phenomena that have caused • flooding in Venice. • It is important to distinguish between: • general rise in relative sea level (RSL) and • exceptional high tides Exceptional high tides are the product of many factors. These include rain and water from rivers flowing into the lagoon.

  5. Dominic Standish Sinking in Venice • Subsidence mainly caused by extraction of groundwater from wells for industrial complex at Marghera (1930-1970) • Venice’s rate of 0.4 mm/year subsidence accelerated to 1.8 mm/year from 1930 (Ghetti 1988) • By 1950 subsidence was 8 mm a year • Currently, subsidence is minimal (0.5 mm a year)

  6. Dominic Standish Why does Venice flood? • Between 1897 and 1983, relative sea level (RSL) in Venice rose 23 cm • 12 cm of the 23 cm RSL rise was due to subsidence • 11 cm was caused by rising sea levels (Italian National Research • Council) • Global sea levels added 5 cm to the water level in Venice between 1970 • and 2005 (Istituzione Centro Previsioni e Segnalazioni Maree 2009)

  7. Dominic Standish Global Sea Level Rises • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate • Change (IPCC) established that there was a • global temperature rise of 0.74° C between • 1906 and 2005, which added to global sea • levels rising (eustatic change) by an average • rate of 1.8 mm/year from 1961 (IPCC 2007, • 2).

  8. Dominic Standish Global Sea Level Rises HaveMinimal Impact on Venice (A) • In a paper published in 2009, Carbognin et al • (2009) analysed how global sea level rises are • predicted to affect the Adriatic Sea, which is • an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. Compared • with nearby seas, “[i]n the Mediterranean, a • semi-enclosed basin, sea level trend rates are • smaller than in the neighbouring (sic). • In particular the Adriatic Sea assumes very • peculiar and different characteristics due its • shape and low depth” (Carbognin et al. 2009,7).

  9. Dominic Standish Global Sea Level Rises HaveMinimal Impact on Venice (B) • Carbognin et al (2009) refer to research by Holgate • (2007) showing that the eustatic rate in the • northern Adriatic Sea is consistently lower • (approximately 35 percent) than the global • mean. Similarly, the OECD (2010) notes that, • “since the Mediterranean has registered • stationary and even falling sea levels in recent • decades, its take-up of global average sea • level rise could be lower than in other places” • (OECD 2010, 158).

  10. Dominic Standish Recent flooding in Venice • In 2007, there were no high tides over 110cm. • In December 2008, the city experienced its highest floods for 22 years. • In 2009, there were 16 high tide • flood events above 110cm. • This compares with an average of • 3.5 such events a year 1960-1980 and • 4 events in the last 9 years. • The number of medium flooding • events in Venice during 2010 of 80cm • and 90cm above the tide meter • surpassed the number of these events in 2009. • 2009.

  11. Dominic Standish Protection from high flooding

  12. Dominic Standish Venice's flooding protection • Project MOSE’s floodgates should protect Venice from tides above 110cm after completion predicted in 2014 • CVN (Consorzio Venezia Nuova – New Venice Consortium) and other organisations have been implementing ‘insulae’ defence measures • Venice is now much better protected than in 1966

  13. Dominic Standish 1966 floods – the start of the Venice ‘problem’ • Huge storm surge of the 3rd and 4th of November 1966 exaggerated flooding. Rain and water from rivers made flooding worse. • Parts of Venice experienced water depths 1.94m above mean sea level • One hundred per cent of the city was inundated. • Picture: St. Mark's Square 4th. November 1966

  14. Dominic Standish Objective response to 1966 disaster? • Floods of 1966 were worse in other parts of north-eastern and central Italy • By 19th November 1966, death toll from floods was 110 people (ANSA 1997) 2 people died near Venice at Chioggia Both were heart attacks caused indirectly by floods Picture: Florence 1966

  15. Dominic Standish UNESCO = key claim maker • UNESCO led international response to 1966 floods • UNESCO facilitated international diffusion of Venice problem

  16. Dominic Standish Legislation to define the Venice problem • Special Law 171 (1973) declared Venice and its lagoon: • “a problem of essential national interest.” • (see Michele Vianello 2004:150) • There were no special laws for Florence.

  17. Dominic Standish Metaphorical decline and sinking • Legacy of the Venetian Republic and symbolism of its fall added to perception that Venice was threatened by sinking.

  18. Dominic Standish Mythology and Venice • Venetians constructed a mythology about their lineage • Similar to other major cities, including Rome (Edward Muir 1981) • The first ruling Doge of Venice: Paoluccio Anafesto • Recorded in the earliest chronicles of the city (John the Deacon) • Never existed as a Doge or Venetian! (John Julius Norwich 1983:13)

  19. Dominic Standish The Myth of St. Mark • Two Venetian merchants returned to Venice from Egypt with the corpse of St. Mark (828) • Historical evidence exists that a body was brought to Venice at this time • There is uncertainty over whether this was the body of the Evangelist • Did not detract from importance of St. Mark myth for the Venetian state

  20. Dominic Standish Mythology and Climate (A) • The most important legend in the myth of St Mark for the • relationship between Venetians and their environment was • the evangelist’s role in stopping a storm surge to calm the • lagoon. • During a fierce storm on 15 February 1340, a fisherman • was battling to save his boat and equipment from damage. • The fisherman was approached by a stranger, who sent • him to two other strangers, the last of whom ordered the • fisherman to row to the mouth of the lagoon.

  21. Dominic Standish Mythology and Climate (B) • There he saw a ship of demons, which were causing the • storm. The three strangers were revealed as Saint Mark, • Saint George and Saint Nicholas. “See,” St Mark said to • the fisherman, “how high the water has risen in the • houses, and how many boats have sunk.” He added, • “Do you see, this city is going to the bottom and will perish • by the waters” (re-told by Crouzet-Pavan 2002, 50). • The three saints disposed of the demons and calmed the • lagoon by making the sign of a cross.

  22. Dominic Standish Venice at the centre of Western civilisation: receiving the French Ambassador (Canaletto)‏

  23. Dominic Standish Relative political harmony • Mythology about Venetian Republic's harmonious institutional structures dates from fifteenth century • (Crouzet-Pavan 2002:187) • Launched throughout Europe during sixteenth century • Compared with European breakdown of Christian unity and unstable Italian city states. • Picture: Canaletto's harmony

  24. Dominic Standish Venice as a metaphor for self-government • Development of self-government during Venetian Republic created constitutional myth • Resonated prominently in European, American and anglophone political thought, particularly during sixteenth century (John Eglin 2001:42)

  25. Dominic Standish Death of the political metaphor • The representation of Venice as politically degraded was confirmed by the fall of the Republic in 1797.

  26. Dominic Standish Napoleon introduced mythical Venetian disequilibrium • Divorce of this previously mythically balanced relationship • Led to belief that disequilibrium emerged between the sea and city • Myth that Napoleon's reign began Venice's environmental disequilibrium built on constitutional disequilibrium.

  27. Dominic Standish Replacement of political with cultural metaphors • After 1797, the myth of Venice lost much of its political significance • Its reputation for cultural decadence became dominant • Venice became a key icon in the cultural Romantic movement • Illustrated by J.M.W. Turner (picture)

  28. Dominic Standish The End of the Venetian Republic as the Fall of Man • “In the fall of Venice think of thine.” • Lord George Gordon Byron, Childe • Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV, (2008 [1812], • 153).

  29. Dominic Standish Venice as decadent, fallen humanity • Thomas Mann’s 1912 book Death in Venice • In Luigi Visconti's 1973 film Death in Venice: • “not only the characters are in a state fallen from grace and integrity, Venice itself is continuously targeted as a metaphorical expression of the Fall.” (Margaret Plant 2002:334)

  30. Dominic Standish Venice as human failure • For Friedrich Nietzsche (1982:494), the Venetian lagoon became a prism • for human melancholy: • “All is now motionless, flat, dejected, • gloomy, like the lagoon of Venice.” • Philosopher Edward • Said (1999:46) stated: • Venice “is a place where • one finds a quite special finality.”

  31. Dominic Standish Moral decline and physical sinking • Speculations that the Republic's fall would be followed by Venice sinking into the sea • See The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin (1860) • But devastating flooding was not new to Venice • In 1106 severe flooding of the Venetian old town • Malamocco swept away the entire community and left • not one building standing (Norwich 1983, 82). • Lagoon islands experienced significant inundations in • 782, 840, 875, 1102, 1240, 1268, and 1794 • (Keahey 2002, 98).

  32. Dominic Standish Physical decline and sinking • The emblematic bell tower on St. Mark's Square collapsed in 1902 • This captured international attention • Viennese architect Otto Wagner declared this indicated the imminent sinking of the city

  33. Dominic Standish Venice’s waters perceived as modern threat • Despite the more devastating impact of • flooding before 1797, the Venetian Republic • celebrated its waters as resources for trade, • fish, salt and as a means of transport. • This was illustrated by the annual ‘Marriage • To the Sea’ ceremony.

  34. Dominic Standish Sea and lagoon as modern sources of wealth • Venice's tourist economy was worth €1.5 billion annually in 2007 with the cruise ship market representing nearly 10 percent of this. • 510 cruise ships sailed through Venice in 2007 compared with 200 in 2000. • Venice's cruise passengers increased by 16.9 percent in 2009 compared to 2008, despite a 16.7 percent decline in total port traffic (mostly cargo)

  35. Dominic Standish Tourism as environmental risk • Mass tourism is being interpreted as another human created environmental risk for Venice (Margaret Plant 2002:2) • No positive accounts of how the masses can now do a 'Grand Tour' of Venice

  36. Dominic Standish Venice as metaphor for environmental risk • Sustainability and risk were linked to Venice at UN Rio environmental conference (1992) • UN addressed Venice as special case (Musu 2001) • UNESCO(2007) described Venice as threatened by projected sea level rises due to climate change (Environmental News Service 2007)

  37. Dominic Standish Venice as the crisis of Western civilisation • Venice has a long history as symbol of Western • civilisation • André Chastel referred to “the Venetian challenge: the central episode of the crisis of modern civilization” (quoted in Rinaldo 2001:61)

  38. Dominic Standish Venice is not in peril from sinking,rising sea levels or tourism • These are constructed myths that express contemporary • cultural preoccupations. These myths can be compared • with the ancient myth of St Mark, created to provide the • city with wider meaning. There is reality to rising sea levels • and increased flooding. But these problems are being • addressed with the mobile dams and can be solved with • other technologies. • The real danger for Venice, and • unfortunately for many parts of the world, is the sinking of • human ambition, courage and resilience.

  39. Dominic Standish Some of my work on Venice that you may find useful • 'Attempts to sink Venice dam project flood into EU,' The Economist - The European Voice, 25/3/2004. • 'Will sinking Venice raise our ambitions?' Italy Daily section of the International Herald Tribune,3.12.2002. • 'Flap Project Will Save Venice,' Italy Daily section of the International Herald Tribune, 10.12.2001. • 'Barriers to barriers: why environmental precaution has delayed mobile floodgates to protect Venice,' in Adapt or Die, ed. K. Okonski (London: Profile Books, 2003). • 'Barriere alle barriere: perché il principio di precauzione ha ostacolato il progetto MOSE che salverà Venezia,' in Dall’effetto serra alla pianificazione economica, eds. C. Stagnaro and K. Okonski (Milan: Rubbettino/Leonardo Facco, 2003). • 'A view from the bridge,' The Architects’ Journal (UK), 3.4.2003. • 'Big projects, small minds', Spiked-online,,17.7.2002. • 'Why we should save Venice,' Spiked-online,, 15.6.2006. • 'Kyoto COP Out,' Spiked-online, 18.12.2003. • 'Who will save Venice from sinking?' Spiked-online,, 19.1.2001. • 'Death in Venice,' Spiked-online, http://www.spiked- • ''The death of Venice is greatly exaggerated,' Spiked-online,, 8.12.2008. • 'Barriers to Barriers,' Tech Central Station,, 29.4.2003. • 'Venice's sinking ambition,' Tech Central Station, 23.4.2003. • 'MIXED REACTIONS TO VENICE BARRIER APPROVAL,' ANSA Italian National Press Agency,24.5.2004. • 'OPPOSITION RISES AGAINST VENICE DAM PROJECT,' ANSA Italian National Press Agency,13.2.2004. • ‘SEAWATER COULD SAVE VENICE FROM SINKING' ANSA Italian National Press Agency, 22.12.2003. • 'WATER PROTESTS AGAINST VENICE DAM PROJECT,' ANSA Italian National Press Agency, 13.9.2004.

  40. Dominic Standish My work on Venice • 'Venice in Environmental Peril? • Myth and Reality' University • Press of America, 2011. • Website and blog: •

  41. Dominic Standish Video links on Venice that you may find useful • 'Francesco's Venice,' BBC DVD, 2006. • 'Venice: The Flood of 1966': • High Water (Acqua alta) in Venice (2005): • 'Extreme Engineering: Venice Flood Gates,' Discovery Channel:

  42. Selected references • ANSA News Agency, Venice 1966-1996. 30 Years of Protection as Covered by the Press, Rome, ANSA Dossier, 1997. • Berendt, J., The City of Falling Angels, London,Hodder and Stoughton,2005. • Carbognin, Laura, Pietro Teatini, Alberto Tomasin, and Luigi Tosi. 2009. “Global change and relative sea level rise at Venice: what impact • in term of flooding.” Climate Dynamics 35, 6:1039-1047. • Crouzet-Pavan, E., Venice Triumphant. The Horizons of a Myth, Maryland (USA), John Hopkins University Press, 2002. • Eglin, J., Venice Transfigured. The Myth of Venice in British Culture, 1660-1797, New York, Palgrave, 2001. • Fay, S. and Knightley, P., The Death of Venice, London, Andre Deutsch, 1976. • Fletcher, C. and Da Mosto, J., The Science of Saving Venice, Turin, London, Venice and New York, Umberto Alemandi, 2004. • Fletcher, C. and Spencer, T. eds., Flooding and Environmental Challenges for Venice and its Lagoon: State of Knowledge, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005. • Frassetto, R., The facts of relative sea-level rise in Venice, in Flooding and Environmental Challenges for Venice and its Lagoon: State of Knowledge, eds. C. Fletcher and T. Spencer (Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005), 29-40. • Holgate, Simon. 2007. “On the decadal rates of sea level change during the twentieth century.” Geophysical Research Letters34 • Ghetti, A, Subsidence and Sea level Fluctuations in the Territory of Venice, Landscape and Urban Planning, 1988, 16, 13-33. • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. “Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Summary for Policymakers.. • Keahey, J., Venice against the Sea, A City Besieged, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2002. • Muir, E., Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1981. • Nietzsche, F., Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1982. • Norwich, J., A History of Venice, Penguin, London, 1983. • Norwich, J., Paradise of Cities. Venice and Its Nineteenth-century Visitors, Viking (Penguin), London, 2003. • OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 2010. OECD Territorial Reviews: Venice, Italy 2010. • Plant, M., Venice. Fragile City. 1797-1997, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2002. • Rosand, D., Myths of Venice. The Figuration of a State, Chapel Hill and London, University of North Carolina Press, 2001. • Said, E., Not all the Way to the Tigers: Britten's “Death in Venice,” Critical Quarterly, 41,1999, 46. • Vianello, M., Un’isola del tesoro, Venice,Marsilio, 2004. • Zucchetta, G., Storia dell’acqua alta a Venezia, Venice, Marsilio, 2000.