Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Where Algae's Concerned, Enemy Is Us

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Where Algae's Concerned, Enemy Is Us

Article excerpt

Byline: Quinton White

This is a hard column to write. The topic is difficult and complex, but in addition to that, we usually like to think things are not our fault. Someone else is to blame.

I'm talking about the algae bloom that has come to symbolize the environmental degradation affecting the St. Johns River. We have actually had these toxic algae in the river for many years. The St. Johns Riverkeeper even produced a video about the algae bloom in 2005 titled "The Green Monster." So I was a little surprised when the national news erupted recently because of green slime in South Florida.

However, this is not just a local problem, or just a Florida problem; it is a national and international problem. All because of the way we choose to live our lives.

In 1970, an old comic strip character named Pogo made a classic comment in the cartoon written by creator Walt Kelly for Earth Day: "We have met the enemy and he is us." The strip was set in the Okefenokee Swamp, just north of Jacksonville in Southeast Georgia.

The words are still true today, and we see evidence all around us. But we continue to think it is someone else's fault. We blame federal, state and local government for not doing enough. Yet we are, in fact, the government. We elect the legislators and then tell them to keep our taxes low and to not regulate how we live. And when they do, we re-elect them.

I know I am speaking in generalities, of course, and am well aware that many people are trying to do the right thing for the environment and the St. Johns River. But as a society, we don't always seem to understand that to have a healthy, thriving economy, we need a healthy, thriving environment. No one wants to breathe polluted air, drink contaminated water or look at green slimy rivers and lakes.

Our ecosystems are incredibly resilient, and can take a lot of abuse and still function. We also do things in small incremental steps. We slowly change things so that the impacts are not immediately seen. Scientists compound the problem because we overanalyze everything and do a poor job of explaining the causes to the public.

Our river and lakes are suffering from death by a thousand cuts. …

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