Tag Archives: climate change

Algae blooms in Florida are a manifestation of a much larger problem.

Algae blooms are not unique to Florida. While nutrient pollution potentiates blooms in all 50 states[i] and in countries around the world, one could argue that, at some point, differences in degree become differences in kind.

Baltic Sea - Gulf of Finland

Florida – a difference in kind?

There are some unique circumstances in Florida that may support that argument. Lake Okeechobee has served as a catch basin for nitrogen-rich fertilizer runoff for decades, and it is an ideal incubator for blue green algae. Southwest Florida managers have little choice but to discharge the algae-laden water to the rivers and estuaries to the east and west when lake water levels threaten the integrity of Herbert Hoover Dike.

China

Citizens and activist in Florida are right to hold polluters and government officials accountable for the problem and to seek all possible remedies. However, addressing the issue will be a daunting challenge with no near-term solution in site.

Part of the challenge is that the problem has been brewing for decades. The University of Florida estimates that even if all farming were to stop today, there would be enough residual nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients remaining in the soil to feed blooms for the next 50 years.[ii]

Algae is one of many canaries

And then there is the real catalyst for blooms around the world that may take centuries to be solved – global warming.  If past is prologue regarding nutrient pollution, then it’s possible that humans will be able to address agricultural nutrient pollution in a way that detergent phosphate pollution was addressed in the 1970s. It’s possible, but realistically, I don’t think it’s probable.

Agricultural nutrient pollution is likely not going to be solved by a single legislative act. It’s easier for Americans to use phosphate-free laundry detergent than it will be for them to pay a bit more for ubiquitous refined sugar. Plus, the ranching and sugar lobbyists are likely more effective than any phosphate lobbying groups in the 70s.

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July 4, 2018. Lake Erie algae bloom

The temporal myopia of humans

The real challenge in addressing catastrophic problems is that humans don’t recognize the magnitude of the problem until it impacts their daily, transactional life. We impatiently expect to resolve in months what has taken decades or centuries to develop. I considered this human characteristic in a 2015 blog post – “Obliviousness to global catastrophes- if we can’t feel it, it simply doesn’t exist.”[iii] I think algae blooms are just one of many examples of how our species is incapable of acting on a daily basis with anything resembling long-term vision.

If we were capable of thinking beyond the next Facebook posting or past the next critically important tweet (an oxymoron if ever there were one) we’d be able to see that humans are truly killing the planet. Not next century, not the next decade, but now. Right now. If you’ve read this far, I encourage you to take a brief moment and look out the window. What do you see? You probably see the hum and buzz of daily life. But, if you look beyond that, what you’ll see is that you very well may be looking at the sixth mass extinction on planet earth.

Some scientists have argued that we are currently in the midst of the Holocene extinction event. I’ve pondered the probable role of human production of carbon dioxide as a main contributor factor to a mass extinction in “The Holocene extinction event. Is our species’ destiny to be known as “The Burners?”[iv]

So, our challenge as a species is to discover a way to find long-term solutions to problems created by our propensity to live in the moment, do what feels good, and maximize personal and corporate wealth. Not to be overly pessimistic, but my guess is that we, as the dominant species on earth, will fail. All is not lost. The earth will go on long after the human experiment has run its course.

My optimism for the planet, but not our species, was noted in 2014, “Humans are a minor perturbation in the life of the earth.”[v] Unfortunately, I believe that is still the case. Even more so as the United States under the current administration continues to eviscerate environmental regulations.

Headlines, pictures, and other interesting references.

Minnesota Botanical Studies, Volume 3, 1903-1904

“An endeavor has been made to collect some of the more important known facts concerning “water bloom” as it occurs in Minnesota and neighboring states. It seems quite certain that at least some of the algae causing this appearance in water supplies are of considerable sanitary importance.”

Coal Consumption Affecting Climate- Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata And Kaipara Gazette, 14 August 1912

“The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,00 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.”

“Phosphates in Relation to Algal Plankton,” Botanical Gazette 78, no. 2 (Oct., 1924): 245-246.

“Evidence is accumulating to show temperature is a very potent influence in the blooming behavior of plants, and that photoperiodic responses me be very greatly modified by temperature effects.”

BOCA RATON NEWS: Vol. 15, No. 2 Sunday, Dec. 7, 1969 (PDF)

“Not only does the excessive plant growth lower the aesthetic value of waterways, but it can clog streams, causing floods during heavy rains. It also reduces the nesting area for fish and conceals their prey, ultimately reducing the game fish population.”

March 22, 1970: Warning: The Green Slime Is Here

““It was gluppy — like green latex paint,” said engineer Edwin C. Web er of the Maryland Department of Water Resources, who was sent to investigate after Burgess complained. But this was only the first stage of the disaster. Because there was so much of the Anacystis—and because the algae were bloated with nourishment flowing down the river from the sewers of Washington—they began to die.”

“Changes in the fauna and flora of a nutrient enriched lake,” Morgan, N.C. Hydrobiologia (1970) 35: 545.

“Changes in the flora and fauna at Loch Leven are described. Species associated with oligotrophic conditions such as charr and desmids have declined or disappeared, and prolonged, dense algal blooms, particularly Cyanophyceae, have been a feature of recent years. Much of the macrophytic vegetation has disappeared and there have been changes in the composition of the zooplankton and benthos, several abundant species disappearing…”

Are farmers’ profits more important than our water?

“Basically, Taylor said, if you want to save Lake Erie and our other waterways, the only way we can do that is to force factory farms to have their own wastewater treatment plants at the site that follow the same standards as those for municipal sewage plants.”

Algal blooms endangering China’s seas

“It looks like green snow, piled up in drifts along the shore of the Yellow Sea. Mountains of algae have become a stark image of marine pollution off the coast of China. In Qingdao, a major city in Shandong province, one of the cities often worst affected, the authorities employ bulldozers to remove thousands of tonnes of the invading algae from beaches.”

Researchers Looking Into Lake Superior Algae Bloom

“Researchers are trying to pinpoint the cause of a recent blue-green algae bloom on Lake Superior. The bloom appears to be the largest one witnessed so far on the lake. Eyewitness reports have spanned a roughly 50-mile stretch from east of Superior to the Apostle Islands.”

Toxic algae blooms spike in Upstate NY this week

“Syracuse, N.Y. — The number of water bodies with toxic algae blooms jumped this week in New York state to more than 50. The state Department of Environmental said the blooms have been discovered in 55 water bodies. That’s up from 42 just three weeks ago.”

Are Vermont wastewater treatment plants to blame for algae blooms?

“Now, the Conservation Law Foundation is appealing nine sewage treatment plant permits that have been approved by the state. The environmental group says these wastewater treatment facilities dumping phosphorus into Lake Champlain are partially responsible for the blooms.”

Blue green algae blooms menace coastlines of northern Europe

“Beach closures of lakes in western New York due to blue green algae blooms have become a familiar occurrence for the past few years, but recent satellite imagery of northern Europe has revealed an alarming number of the saltwater variant of blue algae blooms.”

Montana waters tainted by toxic algae blooms, state calls for public awareness

“Toxic Algae may be present,” it says. “Water may be unsafe for people and pets.”

Skaneateles Lake beaches closed after harmful algae blooms pop up

“There is no swimming today at Clift Park and the Skaneateles Country Club “due to the visual presence of an algal bloom,” the Onondaga County Health Department said.”

Algae blooms are becoming an issue not only nationally, but here in Montana as well.

“Algae blooms are becoming an issue not only nationally, but here in Montana as well. According to the NOAA, these blooms are the result of microscopic algae flourishing and releasing dangerous toxins into the water. If you happen to see any algae-blooms, don’t go anywhere near the water.”

Algae blooms force Poland to shut down 50 Baltic Sea beaches

“Authorities in Poland this week banned swimming at over 50 beaches along its Baltic coast, after hot weather led to the toxic growth of bacteria in the unusually warm sea. ”

Separate blue-green algae blooms restrict recreation access at Eagle Island, E. Idaho

“The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation restricted water access to the pond at Eagle Island State Park after a blue-green algae bloom was detected on July 17.”

New Jersey lakes need to go on a diet. Too much phosphorous causing harmful algae blooms

“Phosphorus drives major productivity of algae and weeds,” said Steve Souza, founder of Princeton Hydro, a company that helps communities manage lakes. “You need enough nutrients to support a healthy lake, but too much leads to the demise in the overall ecology of those lake systems. “Basically, our lakes need to go on a diet,” Souza said.

North Carolina reminds public to avoid Chowan River algal blooms

“Officials with the N.C. Division of Water Resources continue to urge the public to avoid contact with green or blue water in the Chowan River due to an ongoing algal bloom that has lingered in the area since June 20.”

Utah Lake on ‘warning’ level over harmful algal bloom

“PROVO, Utah — Public health officials announced Utah Lake is now on a “warning” level due to a potentially harmful algal bloom.”

Article References:

[i] https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/harmful-algal-blooms

[ii] https://www.flseagrant.org/news/2018/07/the-algae-bloom-is-back-but-why/

[iii] https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2015/10/03/global-catastrophe-oblivion-if-we-cant-feel-it-it-simply-doesnt-exist/

[iv] https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2014/04/13/the-holocene-extinction-event-is-our-species-destiny-to-be-known-as-the-burners/

[v] https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2014/02/09/humans-are-a-minor-perturbation-in-the-life-of-the-earth/

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Obliviousness to global catastrophes- if we can’t feel it, it simply doesn’t exist.

I am convinced that one of the limiting factors of the human species is our inability to understand cataclysmic events that are occurring because they develop at a rate that is outside our ability to emotionally comprehend. And, as humans, if something can’t be understood at an emotional level, then it is unlikely to receive the attention it deserves.

I have written before about the Holocene extinction, a cataclysmic event through which we are very likely living.[1] Everyone look around. Does it look like we’re in the same predicament as the dinosaurs and are about to become extinct?  Admittedly that’s a hyperbolic question.  And, the expected answer is a resounding “No. Everything looks normal.” However, we need to remember that after that asteroid slammed into the earth, it took the dinosaurs another 30,000 years to die out. And yet, when one visualizes the extinction of the dinosaurs, the vision is one of near-immediate obliteration. Actually, that’s an accurate characterization if one is thinking in geologic time.

Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images
Our perception of the extinction of the dinosaurs is that it occurred rapidly and catastrophically, but it actually took 30,000 years for the dinosaurs to die out after the meteor strike. How we perceive the sixth great extinction, the Holocene Extinction. We don’t really perceive that we are living during a mass extinction because the cataclysmic events occurring around us are happening at a rate too slow for us to feel.

The guiding clock of a human is not based on geologic time, but on what we experience in our daily lives. Intellectually, we can observe and understand long term events, but we aren’t likely to act on them because they fall outside the collective consciousness of our species.[2] If a dinosaur hatched 5,000 years after the meteor strike and could ponder such things, what would it think while looking around munching leaves? Not much, within her mind everything would seem normal; she wouldn’t see any mass extinction. The most likely thought would have been, “Where’s my next leaf?”

If we are in the midst of another great extinction, then we won’t see it either. Not because it’s not happening, but because it is happening at a rate that is too gradual for us to feel and experience. We’re too busy looking for the equivalent of our next leaf. It’s not just the Holocene extinction that we have trouble seeing. There are other events occurring around us that portend disaster, or at least extreme discomfort, for our species to which we are oblivious.

I remember a few years ago reading about the thermohaline circulation- the great oceanic conveyor that moves warm water from the Gulf of Mexico northward toward the United Kingdom[3]. I was struck at the time not only by the elegance of the system that kept Northern Europe relatively temperate, but also by its fragility. It has been widely suggested that the perturbation and subsequent shutdown of this system was what lead to the Little Ice Age 10,000 years ago and that a subsequent shutdown would lead to another big chill in Northern Europe.[4] Climate scientists believe this transition could take place in a matter of a few years – not a few centuries.  Such is the nature of tipping points.

Recent evidence suggests that the disruption of the thermohaline circulation has already begun. Chris Mooney wrote about this possibility recently in the Washington Post and offered the following map from NOAA as suggestive evidence. [5] The map shows anomalous record cold in the Northern Atlantic at the terminus of the thermohaline circulation.[6] Does this corroborate the suggestion that the great conveyor has started its collapse? Maybe, maybe not, but it is highly suggestive that something not normal has been occurring recently.

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What does all this really mean? Maybe a few tens of thousands of years from now whatever sentient beings exist will look back and wonder how we humans could have been in the midst of such catastrophic events and taken no action to alter the course of our future. It is surely within our intellectual grasp to do so, but we will not. Instead, we live our daily lives consumed by the minutia of the present minute. We will be driven by our primitive emotion-based compass to pursue the fleeting distractions of the hour. We will fight over land, go to war over religion, fight over sexual orientation, argue endlessly of funding social programs, debate spending obscene amounts of GDP on the military and its methods of mass destruction, wonder what the Kardashians are doing, or fight about restricting firearms intended only to kill humans.

It would be so glaringly obvious that all of these pursuits are so incredibly meaningless if we could only understand, no, if we could only feel that the events of our world do not follow humans’ perception of time. If we look closely and critically we can see the events unfolding, but because we can’t feel them, the odds of our taking any meaningful action is, unfortunately, quite remote.

Inevitably, we are part of this world and whatever we do is all that we can do. Our logical and intellect may not outlive the consequences of our emotional behaviors. Humans will be humans, and in 100,000 years or so, the Earth will have sorted things out one way or another- with or without the assistance from humans. The only question is if our species will be around to see how things turned out.

[1] “The Holocene extinction event. Is our species’ destiny to be known as “The Burners?” https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2014/04/13/the-holocene-extinction-event-is-our-species-destiny-to-be-known-as-the-burners/

[2] “Humans are a minor perturbation in the life of the earth.” https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2014/02/09/humans-are-a-minor-perturbation-in-the-life-of-the-earth/

[3] NOAA, Currents: Thermohaline Circulation  http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_currents/05conveyor1.html

[4] Ice Age Reboot: Ocean Current Shutdown Viewed as Culprit http://www.livescience.com/46548-ocean-currents-linked-ice-age-length.html

[5]Global warming is now slowing down the circulation of the oceans — with potentially dire consequences

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/03/23/global-warming-is-now-slowing-down-the-circulation-of-the-oceans-with-potentially-dire-consequences/

[6] NOAA Global Analysis – August 2015 https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201508

The rabbit hole that is the 2014 Texas GOP platform.

The San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle obtained a copy of the Texas GOP draft platform for 2014. I’m not sure what attracted me to this particular rabbit hole, but for some reason I started reading the document and couldn’t stop. Initially, I thought I’d indulge in some cherry picking and identify those items that seemed most incompatible with logic.

As can be seen from my list below, the cherry picking turned into a harvest. I understand that party platforms are odd beasts that often reflect extreme positions, but in this case I just can’t visualization how some of those items came into being. I expected the pro-gun, Texas sovereignty, anti-immigration, and pro-death penalty positions but “… reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.” Seriously, Texas GOP? Seriously?

If you’d like to join me in the rabbit hole, the full draft document is here, but be forewarned – it’s a frightening place.


 

1-37 While we all strive to be good stewards of the earth, “climate change” is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives. We urge government at all levels to ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or “climate justice” initiatives.

1-41 We propose that every Texas driver license shall indicate whether the driver is a U.S. citizen. No such license shall be issued to anyone not legally in the country.

1-58 Jury service should be limited to registered voters.

1-82 We urge immediate repeal of the McCain-Feingold Act.

1-98 We support adoption of American English as the official language of Texas and of the United States.

2-1 We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal and moral commitment only between a natural man and a natural woman.

  • We support withholding jurisdiction from the Federal Courts in cases involving family law, especially any changes in the definition of marriage.
  • We shall not recognize or grant to any unmarried person the legal rights or status of a spouse.
  • We oppose the recognition of and granting of benefits to people who represent themselves as domestic partners without being legally married.
  • We urge the Legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws and support Covenant Marriage.

2-5  We support the affirmation of traditional Judeo-Christian family values and oppose the continued assault on those values. We strongly support a women’s right to choose to devote her life to her family and children. We recognize her sacrifice in the face of the assault on the family. Additionally, we recognize the challenges of single parents and applaud their efforts in creating a stable and moral home.

2-7  Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values. We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.

2-9 We applaud the Texas legislature for passing strong women’s health and pro-life legislation.

2-25 We unequivocally oppose the United States Senate’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

2-44 All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves, or their minor children, without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.

3-2  We favor improving the quality of education for all students, including those with special needs. We support a return to the traditional basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, and citizenship with sufficient discipline to ensure learning and quality educational assessment.

3-6 We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

3-24 We urge school administrators and officials to inform Texas school students and district personnel specifically of their First Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis. Students and district personnel have the right to display Christian items on school property.

3-26  e urge legislators to prohibit reproductive health care services, including counseling, referrals, and distribution of condoms and contraception through public schools. We support the parents’ right to choose, without penalty, which medications are administered to their minor children. We oppose medical clinics on school property except higher education and health care for students without parental consent.

3-33  We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal, political and economic systems. We support curricula that are heavily weighted on original founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and Founders’ writings.

4-1 America’s founding fathers wrote the 2nd amendment with clear intent – no level of government shall regulate either the ownership or possession of firearms. Therefore we strongly oppose all laws that infringe on the right to bear arms. We oppose the monitoring of gun ownership, the taxation and regulation of guns, ammunition, and gun magazines. We collectively urge the legislature to pass “constitutional carry” legislation whereby law-abiding citizens that possess firearms can legally exercise their God-given right to carry that firearm as well. Until such time we urge the state to re-introduce and pass legislation easing current restrictions on firearms such as open carry and campus carry. Stiff penalties shall be imposed for frivolous litigation against legitimate firearm manufacturers. All federal acts, laws, executive orders, and court orders which restrict or infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms shall be invalid in Texas, not be recognized by Texas, shall be specifically rejected by Texas, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in Texas. We urge the Texas Legislature to enact legislation to protect law-abiding firearms owners from having their right to bear arms infringed by federal agencies due to such minor mental health diagnoses as non-severe PTS (post-traumatic stress), seeking counseling for minor depression or other minor mental health diagnoses.

4-5 We call for the disbanding of the TSA and place airport security into the more accountable and capable hands of the state and local law enforcement.

4-6 We support the establishment and maintenance of a volunteer Constitutional State Militia with assistance from County Sheriffs.

4-9 As America is a nation under God founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we affirm the constitutional right of all individuals to worship in the religion of their choice.

4-16 We deplore all discrimination. We also deplore forced sensitivity training and urge repeal of any mandate requiring it. We urge immediate repeal of the Hate Crimes Law. Until the Hate Crimes Law is totally repealed, we urge the Legislature to immediately remove the education curriculum mandate and the sexual orientation category in said Law.

4-18 We oppose the mandated use of Smart Meters as well as the use of collected data to reduce freedoms of U.S. citizens. Our opposition is based upon security, property damage, energy inefficiencies, privacy, and health issues.

4-20 We believe our prison systems should emphasize protection of society and punishment of offenders, ever mindful of their human rights. Prisoners should be required to perform meaningful work. Prisoners should not have access to  private information of any citizen. No extraordinary medical care, including organ transplants or body part replacement, should be performed on prisoners at taxpayer expense.

4-23 Properly applied capital punishment is legitimate, is an effective deterrent, and should be swift and unencumbered.

4-26 We believe a person who injures or kills an unborn child should be subject to criminal and civil litigation.

5-44 We support the elimination of the Department of Energy.

5-10 Since data is clear that additional money does not translate into educational achievement, and higher education costs are out of control, we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions.

5-50 We support the freedom to continue to use and manufacture incandescent light bulbs.

5-55 We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed

5-67 Our Founding Fathers warned us of the dangers of allowing central bankers to control our currency because inflation equals taxation without representation. We support the return to the time-tested precious metal standard for the U.S. dollar.

6-3 We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of U.N. headquarters from United States soil.

6-23 We oppose foreign aid except in cases of national defense or catastrophic disasters, with Congressional approval.

6-26 We believe that the United States and Israel share a special long-standing relationship based on shared values, a mutual commitment to a republican form of government, and a strategic alliance that benefits both nations. Our foreign policy with Israel should reflect the right of sovereign nations to govern themselves and have self-determination. In our diplomatic dealings with Israel, we encourage the continuation of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but oppose pressuring Israel to compromise their sovereignty or security. Our policy is inspired by God’s biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefits of that promise.