'Climate change is incredibly important for us. Being in Venice, it's very interesting working on this because it's like having everything very close up and magnified in this unusual city that has many parallels with other places.'
Jane da Mosto is an environmental scientist. After receiving her MA in Zoology from Oxford (m. 1985), she worked as a management consultant and subsequently worked on policy issues in sustainable development, climate change and wetland ecology.
While she's had a broad range of international experiences, Venice holds a special place in her heart. She serves as the co-founder and Executive Director of We Are Here Venice (WahV), an NGO combining academic research and grassroots networks to address Venice's challenges.
Photocredit: Michael Craig Martin
WahV's activities are aimed at addressing Venice's main issues in constructive ways. Chief among them is the issue of cruise ships. Since the wrecking of Costa Concordia's off of Giglio in January 2012, the environmental, social, and architectural threats that cruise ships pose to Venice and other port cities have gained international attention.
Beginning in 2017, WahV has engaged in anti-cruise ship activism through research on the critical impacts and technical solutions plus city-wide sticker campaigns and poster efforts. The aim is to raise awareness about the damage caused by large ships, from dredging polluting Venice's lagoons to elevated air pollution levels, and socio-economic distortions.
Unsurprisingly, The City of Canals’ rising water levels is another key focus and drives much of the organisation's environmental work, from promoting natural disaster communication with the municipal tide forecasting centre, to highlighting the carbon sequestration potential of salt marsh restoration.
'The fact that Venetian civilisation has persisted in a lagoon system for more than 1,000 years allows us to believe that Venice has the potential to be a lesson in sustainability.'
'Venice and the lagoon mutually dependent elements of a single system. The two are inseparable.'
'The population of Venice is very small compared to the mainland area of the same municipality. It's very difficult for the interests of Venice to be looked after when, democratically speaking, the local government also has to look out for the interests of three-quarters of the population that doesn't live in Venice.' However, these administrative obstacles aren't enough to stop WahV strive to find constructive projects that can make a difference.
Outreach is a big focus for the NGO as well, which regularly collaborates with university researchers and students. For da Mosto, outreach is a two-way street, and she's open to those interested in using Venice as a fertile site for the exchange of knowledge. 'Each time we do something with students or visitors —take them to see the lagoon, talk to them about something—we also learn from their perceptions and reactions to what we're saying, or what we're showing. It informs our ongoing work.’
'It's better if people know Italian to come and work here. So much of what we do is grounded in the kind of local knowledge that one doesn't get a full finish and experience without knowing Italian.'