Retreat to the Metaverse?

The other night a friend told me about the island state Tuvalu creating a second version of itself online. The story had escaped me and when I heard it from him, it sounded reasonable enough. Having read about managed retreat and communities seeking drastic measures to adapt to climate change so much lately, it seemed like just another, if somewhat desperate, attempt in adaptation. After all, a time of massive transformation challenges is also a time for imposters, megalomaniacs and alot of human hybris.

Instead, the beautifully done and cleverly minimalist website is a very poetic critique of these kind of techno-topias. And it is a striking example of a digital mourning site, a very sad and moving yet also sharp commentary on failure and loss. The upload queue is really heartbraking: everything we are, all the culture, all the memories, the customs, the sites and rituals, all uploaded one by one, as if it was just cargo on some ship. Not even a proper ark!

If more nation states had ministries of justice like Tuvalu does, who seem to actually understand something about the value of belonging and identity, and that are able to speak so eloquently about it, we wouldn’t be in he mess we’re in. We urgently have to integrate sentiments of loss, belonging and identity in climate politics, not to instrumentalize or exploit them, but to do justice to what essentially makes humans humans. Otherwise, we will be saving lives but loosing ourselves.

Thanks to Rainer Schweigkoffer for the lead!

Values for survival: Vanishing homelands Bangladesh and Venice

I first became aware of the presence of climate refugees from Bangladesh in Venice, Italy, through a remark, Amitav Ghosh made in his book “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable” from 2016. There the Indian-US-American novelist notes that Bengali was the second most heard langauge in Venice, due to the many merchants and shop clerks originally from Bangladesh and other Indian regions.

Why Venice? Ghosh suspects that “coastal people” seek refuge in other coastal towns, making the lagoon city Venice a preferable destination for Bangladeshis in Europe. While this seems like a convincing argument, and makes for a poetic story within the overall climate narrative of his book, I am a bit skeptical of this observation. While it is certainly true that the Bangladeshi community ranges among the ten largest migrant communities in Italy – with numbers anywhere between 146.000 and 400.000 – I have not found any indication that Bangladeshis were more likely to settle in Venice than other major cities like Rome or Milan. Venice has a long history of migration and currently an estimated 15% migrant citizens. Whether Ghosh’s observation is accurate or not, it is clear that the inhabitants of both places, Bangladesh and Venice, have a shared history and possibly understanding and knowledge of floodings.

image by H. Mamataz from “Vanishing Homelands”

The Oral History project “Vanishing Homelands”, that was realized by journalist and documentary film maker George Kurian, migration acitvist Hasna Hena Mamataz and architect Marco Moretto for the 17. Biennale di Venezia, brings the two communities together: native Venetians and migrated Bangladeshis. I find the project to be a great example of comparative urbanism and a very fine piece of climate journalism. The three authors practice the same approach, I am pursuing with this project: to connect communities challenged by climate change in different parts of the globe through shared experiences and biographical and cultural backgrounds. I am very thankful to their work, as it shows quite lively, how – to use George Kurian’s words – we can try to “meet each other respectfully as equals, and how can we interact meaningfully, to find values for survival?”

Image by V. Rossi and G. Moretto from “Vanishing Homelands”

Their text focuses on biographical reports and the immediate experience of flooding, economic hardship and flight, omiting any furtherer analysis or speculation, how this shared experience can create political solidarity and emancipation. This seems like the natural next step, to formulate a supra-national alliance of front line communities like the Bangladeshi and the Venetians based on and building on journalistic work like the one by Kurian, Mamataz and Moretto.

The full text of Vanishing Homelands is available here. All images are from the text.