When environmental campaigner Phil McDonald went to Venice, his dreams of gondola rides on romantic canals quickly gave way to the “monster across the lagoon”.

Phil was shocked to learn that “the flickering lamps that illuminate the canals” are actually powered by Europe’s dirtiest fuel – coal.

Italy’s third largest coal-fired power plant stands on the mainland just across the water from the Piazza San Marco and other top Venetian tourist spots.

Unable to believe his eyes, Phil took his drone to get a closer look at the plant and came home with some unbelievable footage.


Writing about the impact of toxic pollution in an article about his experience, Phil said:

“Some of the toxic mixture of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and coal dust which leaves Fusina’s chimneys enters tourist’s lungs just two kilometres away.”

The Fusina plant is more than fifty years old, having started operating in 1964. It is set to close by 2025 as part of an Italy-wide phase out of coal power.

Figures from the Europe Beyond Coal campaign show that Italian coal plants contribute to more than 500 premature deaths in Europe every year – and that about a fifth of those are caused by the Fusina plant alone.

In addition to the harmful air pollutants that the plant pumps out, Fusina is also responsible for 5 million tonnes of CO2 pollution every year. Something that Phil points out is ironically “contributing to the sea level rise which will likely see Venice vanish underwater this century ”.

The city of Venice is famously built around a network of canals, providing the backdrop to millions of romantic holidays every year. But flooding events, known by locals as “aqua alta” – or “high water” – are becoming increasingly common and threaten the future of the city.


Cruise ships are also posing major challenges to the ancient city both by damaging the underwater foundations of the buildings and further contributing to air pollution.


Phil says that Venice will always be magical, but that it’s now up to the new Italian government to accelerate the country’s coal phase out to protect the city – and the rest of the world:

“Venice is an otherworldly place, one of my favourite places, and it’s easy to forget the outside world when you’re floating down its labyrinth canals, but nonetheless invisible pollution is spreading over the city. It’s time for the Italian government to protect the city, and remove Venice’s hidden menace”

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Phil McDonald’s article Venice’s dark secret — the floating city powered by coal on Medium.