Your Ecological House: Feeling, surviving eco-despair

Your Ecological House: Feeling, surviving eco-despair


"Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say?

And can't you feel the fears I'm feeling today?"

— Barry McGuire, "Eve of Destruction"

Some things just sicken the heart.

One, for me, was the flooding, last November, of St. Mark’s Basilica (cathedral) in Venice. To understand, on a visceral level, why this was so upsetting, you might need to have visited the place. But for those readers who haven’t had that opportunity, I’ll briefly describe this U.N. World Heritage site, one of our top architectural masterpieces.

Built in the 11th century, the massive structure’s fantastical exterior appearance — with its Greek-style domes and Italian Romanesque arched façade — is due to its distinctive Italo-Byzantine architectural heritage. More than 8,000 square meters of lavish gold, colored glass and precious stone mosaics cover the facades, walls and undersides of the huge domes —the surfaces gleam.

Entering the main basilica through the multi-domed vestibule, the visitor discovers another delight. The 2,100-square-meter floor is covered with elaborately patterned mosaics of marble of every color and consistency. Along with hundreds of intricate geometric patterns, the ancient mosaics depict numerous real and fantastic beasts; some, like griffins, are stock mythological figures while others, like the marvelous depiction of two roosters carrying a deer carcass suspended on a stick resting on their shoulders, seem to be illustrations of local stories.

It was this floor, and the structure’s base walls, that were inundated with about two feet of saltwater in November’s flooding event, the worst in the city’s history. For context: St. Marks has been flooded six times in its thousand-year history. Four of those floods have come in the past five decades, two in the past two years.

Many factors contributed to the most recent flooding. Venice has been sinking between .04 and .08 inches per year; there was a full moon pulling an exceptionally high tide; strong southern winds pushed the Adriatic tides even higher. But the main factor is the climate induced sea-level rise that is affecting coastal cities everywhere.

All is not lost — yet. Saltwater attacks marble, so St. Marks and other Venetian landmarks that have sustained a combined billion euros in damage must be cleaned and restored quickly. Fortunately, hundreds of millions in donations have already been pledged by, of all people, some of the Russian oligarchs we’ve been hearing so much about.

Also, Italy is building what amounts to a series of floating floodgates to hold the tides out of the Venetian lagoons. That project, which is projected to cost several billion euros, was begun in 2003 but remains incomplete, due in part to bureaucracy and corruption. However, with all of Italy in an uproar about the damage to St. Marks, the floodgates probably will be finished soon.

The problem is, in the long run, the flood controls won’t save Venice. Within a few decades, the rising seas will overwhelm them. Eventually, the billions and billions of euros spent on remediation will go down the drain, and St. Mark’s them.

In the past decade we’ve seen the likely beginning of the end of coral reefs and kelp forests, glaciers and the agricultural regions they water, the Amazon and now the Tsongas rain forests and the onslaught of the sixth extinction. You can pick your favorite disaster — or maybe, as St. Mark’s hit me, it will pick you. But at this point, without a healthy dose of denial, it is impossible to avoid feeling a profound sense of loss and grief for a world that’s coming apart.

These feelings can be overwhelming, literally depressing. To survive them, we must learn to manage that depression. To do that, we’ll need to delve deeper into the feelings themselves. So, we’ll take that plunge next at our ecological house.

Philip S. Wenz is the author of the E-book Your Ecological House, available at all major electronic book distributors.


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