Irony can be so ironic. A day aftercancelling his keynote address at the Heartland climate denial conference because he felt “under the weather,” Republican Senator Jim Inhofe today insisted his sickness was due to a toxic algae bloom on the Grand Lake in Oklahoma where he has a home –joking to a local newspaper that “the environment strikes back” and ”Inhofe is attacked by the environment.”
“There is no question,” the Oklahoma Republican said, linking what he thought was a routine dive into the lake last Monday morning to a severe upper respiratory illness.
“That night, Monday night, I was just deathly sick.”
Inhofe and his wife, Kay, have had a home on the lake for decades, and he has never seen that kind of algae in the water previously.
Inhofe’s run-in with algae comes as his state deals with a record-setting heat waveand drought not seen since the 1930’s – creating perfect conditions for blue-green algal blooms that can cause respiratory problems, diarrhea, skin irritation and, in rare cases, death. In Texas, cattle have been dying from drinking blue-green algae thatscientists explain have blossomed due to severe drought conditions.
A University of North Carolina researcher described the impact that extreme temperatures exacerbated by a changing climate could have on algae growth:
“It’s long been known that nutrient runoff contributes to cyanobacterial growth. Now scientists can factor in temperature and global warming,” said [Hans] Paerl, who, with Professor Jef Huisman from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, explains the new realization in Science paper.
“As temperatures rise waters are more amenable to blooms,” Paerl said.
On our current GHG emissions path, such extreme weather will become more common in the coming decades – creating the perfect conditions for more frequent dangerous algal blooms. According to NOAA’s 2009 impact report, current extreme heat and drought conditions will be normal for a state like Oklahoma.
Inhofe, of course, has famously called climate change a “hoax” and has fought bitterly against any action on reducing GHG emissions. He has also been opposed to regulation of phosphorus and nitrogen run-off under the EPA’s Clean Water Act.
[P]hosporus and nitrogen lead to the formation of blue-green algal blooms, which choke off oxygen to other forms of marine life, leading to widespread fish (and sometimes mammal) kills.
Inhofe says he’s worried about the economic impact of increased regulation of run-off. But in Oklahoma, the Governor is worried about the decreased tourism activity over the holiday weekend.
Environmental officials in Oklahoma sent out a warning today about major blue-green algal blooms around the Northeastern portion of the state, saying this is the largest bloom the area has ever seen. Because “toxins harmful to humans and animals can be produced in some algae blooms,” it is strongly recommended you do not swim in places where there are visible blooms. Ironically, Inhofe, who has chaired the Senate Environment Committee, didn’t know that, but even his teenage granddaughter figured it out.
“I didn’t think anything about it,” he said, recalling that he had encouraged his 13-year-old granddaughter to join him in the water but she declined.
“She didn’t want to get in that green stuff.”
Maybe she should be Senator.
– Stephen Lacey, with Joe Romm