On Tiktok, the hashtag #VeniceIsSinking has 50.3 million views. Video after video showcases people exclaiming their surprise, distress, and anxiety over the city, reportedly sinking faster than ever. The truth behind the sinking of Venice is more convoluted than a panicked 30-second post can articulate. More than that, the phenomenon of sinking cities, when investigated, reveals truths about other coastal areas facing the same dangers.
Venice, according to Science of the Total Environment, is sinking. This is no new realization. According to journalist Giselda Vagoni, the city’s ground level has gradually decreased yearly. The rise in water level can be partly attributed to natural factors like high tides, rainfall, and land mass subsidence. However, man-made factors have an equal impact on sinkage.
In an article in Ocean & Coastal Management, researchers argue “natural causes of subsidence, such as compaction of unconsolidated alluvial soils, oxidation of organic materials, earthquakes, glacial isostatic adjustments, and geological evolution of the underground, are often strongly amplified by human activities, such as land reclamation, excessive fluid extractions (e.g. groundwater, natural gas, or crude oil), fracking and mining activities, and high surface loads from buildings and infrastructure.
Besides these causes, climate-change-related sea level rise has contributed to the rapidity of Venice, and other coastal cities, sinking. According to research journalist Rebecca Lindsey, “The rate of global sea level rise is accelerating: it has more than doubled from 0.06 inches (1.4 millimeters) per year throughout most of the twentieth century to 0.14 inches (3.6 millimeters) per year from 2006–2015”.
In 2021, the global sea level set a new record high of 97 mm or 3.8 inches. Global warming isn’t the exclusive cause of our sinking cities, but it is accelerating the phenomenon. According to the NOAA, “As global temperatures continue to warm, additional sea level rise is inevitable. How much and by when depends mostly on the future rate of greenhouse gas emissions”.
The impact man-made and natural factors have on coastal cities cannot be neglected. Beyond Venice, many nations are beginning to see worrying trends in their coastal cities. Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, is going underwater at an alarming rate. In fact, according to National Geographic, “about 40 percent of Jakarta is below sea level”.
Environmental damage causes humanitarian issues that preside over everyone. Citizens of Jakarta are made vulnerable by constant flooding, only having some outdated infrastructure to support them. As a solution, the Indonesian government plans to relocate its capital to a newly constructed city, Borneo. This solution has flaws; relocating the capital would necessitate new construction plans to wipe out existing wildlife. Additionally, the plan works structurally but fails to consider the practicality of people who can’t afford to leave their homes.
Relocation, flood models, and infrastructure plans for flood-proof cities are some examples of the ways governments want to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels and subsidization. These methods neglect to view the issue of our sinking cities for what it is: a holistic problem that needs to be addressed at its many roots. Without action plans that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ban activities like groundwater pumping, we are only buying ourselves time. In the process, we endanger the livelihoods of countless civilians and let opportunities for viable change slip away.
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