Algae And The Politics Of Denial
During his July 8 speech on the environment, the president mentioned his administration’s fight with “toxic algae” in Florida 50 miles from his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Bruce Hrobak, a bait and tackle shop owner in Port St. Lucie, Fla. gave a testimonial at the event about the great job he thought the federal government did to help his business which was “devastated by toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee.” His praise was about more than the government.
“You jumping into this environment brings my heart to warmth, knowing that what you’re doing is going — is the truth,” Hrobak said. “It’s going wonderfully. My business in 2018 was so horrible, we — I own two stores — we closed several days a week because of, you know, the algae and people being frightened, if they were afraid to touch the water and everything. I have a marine mechanic — I just wanted to say really quickly — has a bad infection in his arm from the marine algae and stuff.”
Mr. Hrobak gushed about the attention his problem had received and mentioned his wife was yelling at him less because business was better this year. People laughed and applauded. Rhetorically anyway, Trump halted advance of the red tide.
Iowans are familiar with the problems of algal blooms. The nutrient-rich soup that comprises our lakes and streams has been a hindrance to public recreation. We’ve restricted access to public beaches and educated kayakers, swimmers and boaters about the dangers of exposure to blue-green algae and the microcystins they produce. Iowa’s response to the problem amounts to shrugging our shoulders.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources doesn’t plan to follow new federal recommendations for beach water quality that could lead to more public warnings about toxins in the water, according to a June 20 Cedar Rapids Gazette article by Erin Jordan.
Instead of adopting federal standards for algal contamination, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesperson told the Gazette, “The group does not agree with the formula and science used to develop the eight micrograms per liter for cyanotoxins microcystins standard.”
Arguing with science is the new normal for government doing what it wants. The other new normal is the president asserting he has addressed a problem when in fact he is ignoring it.
Mother Jones reported July 12 on a toxic algae problem not being adequately addressed by the administration:
In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected a Massachusetts-sized dead zone would alight upon the Gulf of Mexico, driven by a vast algae bloom fed by fertilizer runoff from the upper Midwest. As the bloom decays, it sucks oxygen out of the water. As a result, as NOAA puts it, “habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.”
And on Thursday, NOAA predicted that Lake Erie, which provides drinking water to 11 million people, will also experience a massive harmful algae bloom, starting in late July. The bloom is fed largely by phosphorus runoff in the Maumee River basin in Ohio, where the land is dominated by corn and soybean farms as well as massive indoor hog farms. Phosphorus is a key nutrient for plant growth, and farmers apply it to fields in the form of fertilizer (which comes mainly from phosphate mines in Florida) and hog manure.
People argue in social media that algae blooms are a naturally occurring phenomenon, that they are nothing to worry about. While that is partly true, they do occur naturally, they are fed to grow very large by agricultural runoff. For political reasons, government won’t connect the dots and take action on the much larger issue of nutrient runoff.
“Science is a fundamental part of the country that we are,” Neil deGrasse Tyson said. “But in this the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not… When you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”
The president is addressing red algae in his back yard. What has he done about blue-green algae for the rest of us? He denied us a solution and distracted us from the problem. This while his minions in the audience for the speech stood and applauded.
We’ve go to do something better.