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Commentary

A tale of 2 cities: Manila and Venice

/ 05:07 AM December 02, 2018

VENICE, Italy—Imagine a city with no cars, no roads, and that almost floats on water. A city connected by canals and waterways and navigated only by boats. Imagine further that it is considered by many as the most beautiful city in the world. That city can only be Venice, the land of Marco Polo and Antonio Vivaldi.

As a climate scientist, I am fascinated by the fact that Venice is also the poster city for climate change and rising sea levels. Built practically in the Adriatic Sea, the city is experiencing more frequent flooding, especially during winter. St Mark’s Square, the most iconic place in the islands, is among the most vulnerable during acqua alta (high water). In fact, a flood warning siren has been installed throughout the city to alert residents and tourists alike when waters are rising. The future is even bleaker, as studies suggest that the city could be totally submerged in water by the year 2100 if current warming trends persist.

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Which reminds me of its similarities to Metro Manila. While they are worlds apart literally and figuratively, they
both face the threat of a warming climate. Rising flood waters afflict both cities with recurring frequency. Like Venice, future climate scenarios threaten to submerge large portions of metropolitan Manila. Of course, the case of flooding in Manila is multifaceted and more than just because of sea level.

At the same time, Venice is a testament to the ingenuity of humankind to adapt to even the most hostile living conditions. Underneath the city is a virtual forest of timber which forms the foundation of houses and buildings that cram the city. Buried for centuries, the wooden piles do not rot because of lack of oxygen in their watery grave. This ability to innovate gives me hope that as climate changes, humans will be resilient enough to find novel ways of adapting to the “new normal.”

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But adaptation has its limits. While the Venetians have proven that humans can survive and even flourish in a “water world,” this does not mean that we should neglect mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions, the culprit behind rising temperatures and sea level rise. For one thing, it is naïve and reckless to extrapolate the experience of one city to the entire planet.

The Philippines observed climate consciousness week in the third week of November. Led by the Climate Change Commission, a number of activities were held, designed to enhance the level of awareness of our people on the dangers posed by climate change. As one of the most climatically vulnerable nations of the planet, we must support local and international efforts to address global warming.

While Venice has survived hundreds of years of wars and political turmoil, it
may eventually succumb to two unlikely forces—one local (tourism), the other global (climate change). In the year 2100, its epitaph could very well be: Venice—a victim of its own success, and the failure of nations to act as one.

Quo vadis, Manila?

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Rodel D. Lasco, PhD, is a lead author of several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, including the fifth assessment report and the forthcoming sixth assessment report. He is the executive director of The OML Center, a foundation devoted to discovering climate change adaptation solutions (http://www.omlopezcenter.org/).

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, MANILA, Rodel D. Lasco, Venice
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