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Andrea Rinaldo: ‘Venice has no more time to lose’

19 December 2023

An interview with Andrea Rinaldo, recent recipient of the prestigious Nobel Prize for Water and member of the FAI board of directors. “The time to act is now: the sixty years we have spent building MOSE teach us that we cannot wait any longer. Venice is the symbol of our responsibility’.

In the face of the current climate crisis, we have a choral responsibility to know what is happening in order to understand how best to act: what solutions to mitigate, what strategies to adapt, so that the increasingly dramatic effects of global warming do not endanger our lives and those of other species, nor preclude future generations from living on a prosperous and healthy Planet.

For the third year running, FAI has resumed its #FAIperilClima awareness-raising campaign through special guided tours of the properties – where the climate crisis can be touched – and by closely following the work of the annual UN climate change conference.

On 21 November, FAI also broadcast a webinar open to all live from Casa Bortoli, a FAI property in Venice. For the occasion, Prof. Andrea Rinaldo exchanged some thoughts with us, in particular on the future of Venice.

Andrea Rinaldo is Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Ecohydrology (Ecohydrology) at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne (CH) and Professor of Hydraulic Constructions at the University of Padua. He was recently awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Water by the Stockholm International Water Institute. He is a member of the Board of FAI.

Professor Rinaldo, the issue of climate change is central to us, it is central to political agendas, in all liberal democracies at least… but above all it must leave a trace.

I take up the article that President Marco Magnifico wrote this summer in the aftermath of the cloudburst that devastated Milan Our Wooden Sword. His message really struck me because it is important that organisations like FAI speak in these terms and with this explicitness

‘Shaking consciences’ is an issue that everyone needs to be aware of, that change is upon us, that the climate is changing very quickly, that we also need to change, all of us. FAI can do a lot and must be strongly followed in this direction.

Venice is the symbol of the ‘climate crisis’, what are the risks to which the city is subjected? How much ‘weather does Venice have?

Venice has no more time to lose, it can no longer afford to wait any longer, because climate change is here. Usually the language of science is a cautious language, based on the probability of a given phenomenon happening, but today we have the certainty that in a hundred years we will have one metre more sea in Venice. We can no longer waste time doubting this. An extra metre of sea means that we will no longer have a lagoon, nor a city, the former will be submerged and the latter will rot.

What to do then?

The problem is that it took us sixty years to build MOSE – amidst controversy that still reverberates today – for a work that was trivial in its scientific foundations.

Venice needs a complete rethinking plan if it is to survive, and not just as a theatre backdrop: we must talk about the metropolitan city, about new transport systems, we must talk about the port, and if it is to exist, about the survival of the built environment, the survival of cultural services, the preservation of lagoon ecosystems, environments of extraordinary beauty. So what to do I do not know. I do know, however, that the time to act is now: the three hundred years it took for the diversion of the rivers that created Venice and its lagoon in history and the sixty years of MOSE teach us that we cannot wait any longer, we must think now what to do.

What role can FAI play?

We must not believe the merchants of doubt who claim that climate change has always been there, because no, it has never happened so quickly.

We need to reflect on this and FAI can be the megaphone. In our own small way we can work on adaptation, try to protect the built heritage, the cultural landscape, that which is woven by the work of man, but to identify concrete actions we first need civicism. To spread civic-mindedness, one must believe in science and not deny it on principle. On this I am very much in favour, there is much we can do.

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