Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's time for a new Great Wall - to keep out Mother Nature

Doug Saunders in the Toronto Globe and Mail: If you want to see the future, go to Venice. Skip the Grand Canal, with its pickpockets and bad restaurants, and navigate through the back alleys of the Arsenale district to look across the lagoon toward the Adriatic. Before you, beneath a hundred nautical construction cranes, is the most expensive thing Italians have built since the Roman Empire.

Project MOSE is the other way to deal with climate change. It may well be the better one, and it may soon be ours. While the world was arguing over emission targets, carbon trading and sequestration strategies, the Venetians were persuading Italian governments to cough up almost $8-billion to make climate change a non-problem for them by using a network of invisible barriers to block even a major rise in ocean level.

…[T]here has been a sudden dawning of realization that the lasting solutions to climate change will not be small consumer initiatives but big, monster-scale projects.…A year ago, if someone had said "new government infrastructure," you would have imagined a computer kiosk in a shopping mall. Today, picture the Three Gorges Dam.

…To use the terminology of the day, there has been a shift away from strategies of prevention and remediation, the approaches that would have us cut back on greenhouse gases. These were always of limited utility, despite their huge cost, since some global warming is not human-caused but natural and cyclical. As a result, even eliminating carbon emissions wouldn't prevent ocean-level rises, increasing temperatures and other hazards.

Instead, governments are looking at shifting their money to what is known as "adaptation." Project MOSE is typical of what will be needed: Big projects at home to keep climate change from hurting us (and maybe make it work to our advantage). And big projects in poor countries to prevent our pollution from destroying the developing world - certainly the greatest moral failure of our age…

Canaletto, View of the entrance to the Arsenale in Venice (1732).

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