The Phasing-Out Of Venice In The Social Studies Curriculum: No More Lessons To Be Learnt?, pp. 7 of 16

Venice’s growth or decline was intimately linked to the environment. The story of Venice from city-state to empire had been a story of dependency. As soon as it obtained its status of city, it began to look towards the mainland. However, it remained “subjected to Roman and Byzantine pressures” for a long time. Even when it began to acquire overseas territories, its food supply network and trade was never fully secure. Just when Venice looked to be at its peak, new hegemonic powers (Ottoman Empire) threatened the region. Each phase of the Venetian history, especially when it became ‘grander’, needed a greater input of resources to sustain. Hence, it is safe to say that the Venetians had to tend to the harnessing and conservation of resources since the founding of the city.

The ecological and environmental concerns of Venice should ideally be considered from the point of view of the interaction between the hinterland and ‘the lagoon’ or its vicinity. The Venetians had been harvesting resources from River Sile very early on; the area of Treviso was referred to as the “Granary of the Republic.” The Po River Delta was in the Venetian’s “Domain of Terraferma”; this was especially so in periods when Venice triumphed against the Duchy of Ferrara. Unregulated extraction of resources, especially in wood, led to disruptions in building schedule at the Arsenal (shipyard). K. Appuhn’s (2009) work shows that the Venetians paid special attention to the creation of forest reserves as well as use the market mechanism (and associated legislative structure) to maintain a viable supply of wood. Despite Venice’s attention to the husbandry of resources, general histories of the environment have revealed that the supply of wood / timber from Europe’s forests to be under stress before and especially during the different phases of the European expansion abroad. Timber shortage could be detected in Europe in the 15th century. Towards the end of 15th century, Venice was already importing ship hulls from Northern Europe. In the case of the Iberian empires, some part of the shipbuilding industries were certainly sub-contracted abroad to Indian and Brazil. Prior, the Arsenal had been so efficient that it is said “the [shipyard] could build a seaworthy vessel in the time it took the king of France to eat his state banquet!” (Diaries of Sanudo, 2008, p. 244). “Building a war galley consumed hundreds of trees, in its construction. Venetian shipyards also began to build round (sailing) ships” (Diaries of Sanudo, 2008, p. 251). Hence, to say that Venice slipped into decline because it could not catch up in ship-making skills is not entirely accurate. For non-war purpose, the building of breakwaters “spread along the barrier islands of the lagoon” was “reckoned to have used about 140,000 logs” (Bevilacqua, 2009, p. 36). The leaders who governed Venice were wise in the sense they realized the need to intervene and regulate the use of resources through the market and legislation. The ‘inevitable’ dwindling of wood resource showed whether in forests near Venice or in parts of its empire jointly managed by allies, the inability of the price mechanism in assigning prices to intergeneration costs, externality costs, as well as problems in enforcement in face of an increasingly competitive and capitalist environment frustrated the best plans in resource management.

Can any lesson be meted for Singapore’s management of the resources and the environment? The stance of the Ministry of Environment appears to be one that lay between “free market liberalism” and “social reformism.” This advocates for regulation through the market mechanism and “privatisation of the commons” as well as voluntary agreements, and provision of environmental incentives plus regulations. The Singapore Green Plan 2012 was a concrete and progressive document that aims to coordinate the various spheres of the environment and economic sectors (in waste management, air pollution, water supply, and nature conservation) to achieve sustainability and livability of the island for its inhabitants (NEA, 2012). Outside the country, Singapore hopes to rely on the mechanism of the free market and is an active member of the Asean initiative and framework for environmental cooperation.[viii] The cases of the sand embargoes by neighbouring countries and the annual haze problem show that Singapore may have to take a deeper ecology stance in coping with cross-border environmental challenges.[ix] Aside from turning to more sustainable construction, and regardless of how many alternative supply sources it has, if it still needs the sand, Singapore may have to do more beyond stipulations (for sand vendors to act responsibly) and sending reminders (for vendors to observe source country regulations)” and render assistance in the surveillance of sand extraction licenses (Straits Times 11 May 2010). A similar challenge occurs in the haze problem in Indonesia which affects Singapore on an annual basis. It would do well to first note that a number of palm oil plantations and refineries in Sumatra (Indonesia) are based in Singapore. In this case, the surveillance and evidence collected has permitted the Singapore Government to undertake law suits against five palm oil companies; deemed to be a “game-changer in fighting haze” (Straits Times 18 Sep 2015). Singapore may need to be more proactive in this direction on a continual basis that preempts the seasonal burning. Ultimately, the environmental problems are not Singapore’s alone, just as the wood-shortage problem was not solely Venice’s.[x]

Related Teaching Materials

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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