“The sea does as it pleases, it removes here and puts there as it turns to him. The ocean is messy and overbearing ”. The real protagonist of Lorenza Pieri’s new novel, Erosion, the sea at the center of the book is not the placid sea of the Mediterranean in summer, but “something unpredictable and dangerous that appeared in a liquid state”.
The story of Erosion comes from a place, the Chesapeake Bay, on the Atlantic coast of the United States, an area where the land has always had to deal with water: the ocean in front and the largest North American estuary behind. . In particular, this story revolves around a house, a villa on the sea which, following unsuccessful attempts to save it from the progressive rising of the waters and hit one season after another by floods and hurricanes, will lose all real estate value. The novel, which takes place over the course of a day – the day of the move – is a story in three voices, those of the three brothers who own the house: a hyper-realistic narrative that, without the need for dystopian scenarios, catapults us into a drama that is getting closer and closer.
There are not many books in which the theme of climate change has its own narrative functionality – and maturity. “The Eroding Ocean was the starting point from which I built the story of three characters and their so different voices. The inspiration comes from a large house that I saw, little by little, go to ruin, just as I saw the beach swallowed up by the sea “, Lorenza Pieri, who lived eight years in the United States and attended a along the Chesapeake Bay area.
“I wrote the book during the 2020 pandemic, at a time when things were changing for everyone.” Of the three brothers, he is the character of Anna, a science teacher with a focus on climate change, the one who cares most about climate change. Taken up by school administrators for her lessons considered too radical and distressing for the children, she is convinced that the “erosion” of their home is somehow connected to the disappearance of her old father Joe: “Anna was convinced that in 1999 he passed away the shield, the protective cloak, but not only that, that the grandfather had somehow decided to take the house with him, with the help of the tides, hurricanes, tornadoes; that piece by piece he had started to spread it a little in the sea, a little in the sand, a little in the sky, everywhere, in that immaterial dimension that we more commonly call death “.
The ice melts, the sea level rises. The issue of rising waters is a real danger, and not just for the east coast of the United States. Also because at sea everything is interconnected and what happens in one place is inevitably linked to what happens elsewhere. One of the biggest problems related to the threat of the “rising sea”, as the oceanographer and writer Sandro Carniel calls it, is that it will evolve differently over the next century, creating enormous inequalities. In the richer and more populated areas we will probably be able to protect ourselves more or less effectively – albeit with numerous side effects for the ocean itself – while the poor and less populated areas will suffer dramatic consequences: the exposed population will have no choice but to leave. .
In the rising sea, a short and essential book, Carniel gives the example of various places in the world where the sea rise level has already had an evident impact: the island of Waimanalo in Hawaii, Venice, the island of Labuan in Borneo . Of all the problems related to the ocean, that of coastal erosion is perhaps the most visible and immediately recountable, even if many of its long-term effects have not yet been internalized.
“A recent estimate conducted among 120 coastal cities,” writes Carniel, “reports that, in the year 2100, in cities like New Orleans and Guangzhou (over 18 million inhabitants) the damage would exceed the figure of US $ 1 trillion. If you are wondering how it is possible for even a huge New Orleans to total damage comparable to the entire GDP of the state in which it is located, the answer is simple: the rising sea will not only undermine production activities, but also all those goods and services. considered stable; for example, it will make real estate properties worth at least 400 billion dollars unusable ”.
Confronting dreams and fears
“From Miami to Rio de Janeiro, from Venice to Shanghai, the areas at risk are truly numerous”, writes Alessandro Vanoli in the History of the Sea. “If the projections are correct, at the turn of the century the sea could rise between half a meter and a meter, flooding an important part of the coastal plains. And the bad news is that this phenomenon has its own inertial force, so even if the warming trend reverses tomorrow, the sea will continue to rise anyway for a very long time ”.
The History of the Sea by Vanoli is a mammoth book both in length and in ambition – covering the entire history of the ocean from its origins – which reflects to some extent the extraordinary and sprawling richness of this element. Reading is made pleasant by the almost total absence of citations – although at the end of the volume there is a very precious essential bibliography – and the narration flows like that inexhaustible flow that according to the ancients was the ocean. After all, measuring oneself with the history of the sea is a journey to take: it is a way of measuring oneself with dreams and fears. “Telling the story of the sea again”, said Vanoli, “is also a way of remembering that it does not belong to us, it was not created for us. We are nothing but a species among species. And we are an ‘overflowing’ species: just what was not needed for an ecosystem “. Oceanographers, historians, philosophers, climatologists. Everyone agrees: the sea does not need man, while man needs the sea.
The historian Jules Michelet wrote it as early as 1860 when he published his famous essay The Sea. Michelet, chronicler of the French Revolution, saw in the perspective of the sea a border that separates two very different worlds, where one is constantly in danger; he also underlined the link between the sea (la mer) and the mother (la mère), exploring the relationship between man and this “mother” of life. “What does the great voice of the ocean say? Says life, eternal metamorphosis. Fluid existence says. Shame the petrified ambitions of earthly life. What’s he still saying? It says immortality. An indomitable life force is found at the bottom of nature. How much more if it finds itself at the top: in the soul! What does he finally proclaim? Solidarity”. If Michelet’s late romantic prose sounds mystical to today’s reader, his proto-environmental vision is precious and not at all dated.
“How could the earth become beautiful again, once man has disappeared”, wrote the poet Giorgio Caproni. “It also applies to the ocean”, Sandro Carniel tells the Essential. “The ocean is dying. But doubled warming, drought and so on don’t put the ocean at risk, they put it at risk in its current configuration. However, while somehow the ocean will adjust itself with a new equilibrium, it will perhaps be a dirtier, more polluted ocean but it will exist, especially at risk are species like ours, which do not know how to adapt quickly to changing things. quickly. While thinking globally is not in the nature of homo sapiens, no doubt the pandemic was something of a dress rehearsal. Even if it’s nothing compared to what’s going to happen, ”he continues.
Yet the ocean, in this sense, could be a great teacher. The sea teaches respect for nature: since its origins, sailors fear and respect it. The ocean and its inhabitants teach solidarity first of all, as suggested by Jules Michelet. Studies on cetaceans, for example, show that whales live within highly developed, even matriarchal social structures. All life in the ocean is a large and single connected flow, as the ancient Greeks had already guessed for whom the god Okeanos, son of Uranus (the sky) and Gaea (the earth) was a river divinity. Homer describes it as an immense river that surrounds all the earth’s space and which, flowing on itself, connects the world. A Swahili proverb says “The ocean takes us everywhere”. The sea is boundless: the same is not true for the land. Indeed, tragedies such as those very frequent in the central Mediterranean occur when an attempt is made to put borders. For the ancient Greeks there was also a relationship between fresh water and salt water, a central issue that we often seem to forget.
There is no thalassocracy
“If the Greenland ice melts, which is very difficult, the Po Valley would go under water”, Giulio Boccaletti, an Italian essayist and climatologist living in Oxford, author of Acqua, told Essenziale. A biography. “Obviously there is a limit where the boundary between sea and land waters breaks. Today the waters are considered by the oceanography as a unique system, and it is clear that the relationship between these two worlds, the waters of the sea and the terrestrial ones, is decreasing.
The new example is that of the Po where, due to drought, the sea water has risen by 30 kilometers. But there is an important distinction to be made: while fresh waters are national sovereignty, the sea is not subject to any government. There’s a technical reason behind the ocean’s problems, it’s not just carelessness. The deep sea is a common good. There is no thalassocracy, such as in the time of the British Empire: we do not want a “world government”. Nor have we given the United Nations our sovereignty. However, we need to invest more in international and coordination institutions ”, continues Boccaletti.
It is disheartening to note that in Lisbon from 27 June to 1 July, on the occasion of the UN conference for the ocean created precisely to support the implementation of goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda, Italy was not among the 21 participating countries nor was any Italian guest present, except the ocean navigator Giovanni Soldini.
It is said that “the sea unties all knots”. I have always thought that the phrase referred to the well-being that the simple proximity to the sea gives to our species. That famous “mystical thrill” of which Herman Melville spoke and which according to him pushed “almost every boy who has a healthy and robust spirit within him” to sooner or later go mad with the desire to get into the sea. However, perhaps the sea unties the knots precisely because it has to do with life, with fluid existence.
Salt concentration, temperature, pressure and currents all have to do with life. With the oxygen we breathe. It is the largest ecosystem in the world, a complex system in the literal sense of the term (cum + plexo) or composed of several parts connected to each other and dependent on each other. A system that is changing faster than we thought: we just have to face it with equally complex tools. And books are among them.