Coastal cities are among the places most at risk from rising seas, one of the anticipated effects of global climate change. Venice, Italy is no exception. It often floods in winter, with gondolas able to float in the city center, St. Mark’s Square. We’ve just celebrated the solstice, the start of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. Here in Venice, I noticed something different in St. Mark’s after an absence of nearly two decades. Compact fluorescent light bulbs are behind the pink-tinted glass of the square’s towering candelabra. Now that’s evidence that Venice, on the front line of the sea, is working to reduce its global warming contribution.
The bulbs were probably installed before the recent climate change meeting in Bali. They may be more symbolic than anything else (other light fixtures along the sea near St. Mark’s aren’t illuminated by the energy-saving compact fluorescents, at least not yet), but in this much-photographed square, they’re hard to ignore. Also hard to ignore: an article in today’s New York Times about a tropical disease, chikungunya, a relative of dengue fever, that terrified residents of Ravenna, Italy, about 100 miles south of Venice, this summer. The disease, carried north by tiger mosquitoes, is normally found only in countries bordering the Indian Ocean. But warmer temperatures lured the mosquito north to Italy.
Ravenna residents, more than 100 of whom got chikungunya, initially blamed human migrants. But the carrier was of a different order of magnitude altogether. Perhaps Ravenna’s main square now features compact fluorescent bulbs, too.