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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

The Amazing Story of Sen. Inhofe in Hot Water

The Amazing Story of Sen. Inhofe in Hot Water

Author: Reilly Capps/Sunday, September 7, 2014/Categories: climate change

On the eve of a clean energy summit in Las Vegas, let's take a look back at other, more disreputable, but still delicious moments in climate change conferences. 

These conferences have provided a few moments so rich in irony that O. Henry himself could never have imagined them. (One of Henry's greatest was the story of the poor lovers who had nothing to give each other for Christmas: so she sold her beautiful hair to buy him a riding crop; he sold his beloved horse to buy her a hair brush [or something like that]).

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe stepped into an O. Henry short story in 2011, when the following occurred: 

He was scheduled to speak to the Heartland's annual Woodstock for climate denial, an event so galling in its blindness and transparently self-serving agenda that propagandists the world over stand up and take notice. This is a gathering full of more parrots than a pet shop, more spinners than a dervish convention and more pettifogs per second than ... well ... whatever pettifogs a lot. 

Who knows what Inhofe was going to say that day? Maybe it was going to be something colossally stupid, such as call climate change a "hoax." Maybe it was something merely monumentally stupid, such as calling the EPA a "Gestapo bureaucracy." Maybe it was just to pick up a check from oil and gas, who have given him $1.7 million

But he didn't make it. And why not? Because he was sick. Poor boy. Tough luck. 

He has a home on a lake in Oklahoma called Grand Lake. He went swimming there, and caught a cold. He blamed a kind of algae he had never seen before. It was blue/green. 

There are a lot of interesting things about blue-green algae. Here's the cute little spore: 

Tolypothrix (Cyanobacteria).JPG

Blue-green played a huge role in one of the Earth's earliest climate changes. There was little oxygen in the early atmosphere, but giant blooms of this algae breathed oxygen out. In other words, this little bacteria -- so small, so fragile -- changed the whole climate. It did so in a way that benefitted us. This made modern life possible, and also wiped out lots of species that didn't do well in oxygen-rich environments. Climate changes always lead to the loss of some species and, so far, the flourishing of others. (But algae did not, it should be noticed, particularly benefit from the climate change it caused.) 

Now, blue-green algae is involved in another climate change, the one going on right now. As we've written about here, the warmer temperatures on Earth are leading to blooms of this stuff so massive they are easily visible from space:

[Toxic Algae Bloom, August 3, 2014  (credit: NOAA)]

Sometimes it's toxic. "Don't Drink the Water Signs" have been posted around Lake Erie. It's like drinking a slime Slurpee. 

This may have been the case for Sen. Inhofe's lake in Oklahoma, as higher temps created more algae. Even he admitted he'd never seen it before. And swimming through that algae, he said, may have given him a respiratory illness. Which caused him to miss the Heartland Conference. Where he was scheduled to aver that climate change is not happening.

This, Alanis Morissette, is ironic. 

Oklahoma is a weird place. I know it well, and love it. But it baffles me, now, that the state which suffered the most under our last climate change / ecological disaster -- the Dust Bowl -- is so adamant that climate change is not happening now. It is even demanding that "the controversy" be taught in public schools, even as so many basic facts about life go in the other direction, even as their cattle suffer from drought caused by the heat, even as its ground shakes from drilling, even as the fields wither. (Though there's hope that that's changing.)

Yet the Oklahomans stay steady. They're a steady people. And Inhofe, up for reelection this fall, leads his opponent by 30 points

Oh, well, at least Sen. Inhofe has that nice lake house. Let's hope the algae clears up. Which it no doubt will, in the next few thousand or million years, when the climate changes again. 

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