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Adaptation: It is a difficult concept

16 Dec 2020 | OP ED Watch

Wow. Sea-level rise sure did a number on Venice last week. Or rather human stupidity did. The famously waterlogged Italian tourist attraction built a barrier variously estimated at €6bn or $9.3b (just kidding – it’s the same amount) and named “Moses” for the guy who parted the Red Sea. But maybe it should have been named for the guy who said “Pharaoh Schmaraoh” because the weather forecasters got the high tide wrong so nobody raised its staff. The idea is that they raise the barrier if the tide gets to 1.3 metres and the forecast was for 1.25 but there was rain and wind and it hit 1.38 and St. Mark’s Square got flooded. We could note here that if they can’t predict today’s tide they probably can’t predict it for Dec. 9, 2100. But we’d rather point out that humans have remarkable adaptive capacities if only, and it’s a big if only, we use our heads. Starting with figuring out what’s really wrong.

In the case of Venice, a major problem is that the city is sinking. As are many parts of the world, at varying rates and for varying reasons. And while filling in the canals and making Venice like other places might solve some of the immediate problems, it would do so at excessive cost to the charm of that particular place (and its revenue from tourism) and also to the overall diversity of human environments. Frankly more cities with canals would be a good thing, provided they were clean and well-maintained.

In other places, erosion is a problem. But others are rising due to the complex movement of tectonic plates. Many aren’t doing much of anything. And to the extent that the same slow steady sea-level rise that has been happening since the last big melt ended is continuing, they need to respond in the same way we always have. Build sea walls, improve drainage, and migrate slowly toward higher ground if necessary.

Oh yeah, and activate the barrier when the seas come surging in. Man, you’d look stupid if you forgot that. Which brings us to one final cosmic point.

Can a species that forgets to press the “stop the incoming tide” button on the big expensive barrier built for one purpose and one purpose only, namely to stop the incoming tide, really be trusted to reengineer the Earth’s climate? Because that is the grand plan, however feeble the actual policies being implemented.

2 comments on “Adaptation: It is a difficult concept”

  1. Venice was built on millions of wooden piles. Massive buildings push the piles deeper as water in the soil beneath is squeezed out sideways.
    Search on YouTube to see some great videos explaining Venice's troubles and actions.

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