High Water Everywhere

The water is falling in Venice.

After some of the highest water in over 20 years, the acqua alta ("'high water") in the world's most waterlogged city is beginning to fall.

The water climbs regularly into this city of gondolas, but it has been rising higher in recent times, and there are doubts that the so-called "Moses project" -- a $5.5 billion investment that hopes to part the waters -- will be sufficient to hold back the rising tides. Will global warming make this ancient city indefensible from flooding?

In 1910, Parisians were faced with a similar paradox. They lived in a modern city with what they believed was an infrastructure to save themselves from regular winter flooding. But a "perfect storm" of heavy rainfall, warmer than average temperatures which melted snowfall, and multiple rivers flooding throughout northern France conspired to raise the level of the Seine to heights not seen in over 250 years. After a week of suffering, the water fell and Paris began to clean up.

At the time, some feared that excessive deforestation had contributed to the flooding. That's hard to prove in retrospect, but it suggests that even in 1910, there was a sense that the flood was the result of an imbalance between human needs and the natural environment.

As the waters rise higher in Venice, those same fears once again haunt Europe. But now they are on a much larger, planetary scale. Is Venice the "canary in the coalmine" -- the example of what cities will face in the future if global warming is not brought under control?