Conservation Efforts and Using Art as a Political Medium
Week 8 was about sustainable agriculture, with a focus on the graphic novel Algues vertes, l'histoire interdite (2019), which discusses the impact of intensive agriculture on estuaries in Brittany. The lack of proper environmental management in the area led to an excess of nitrogen in the waterways that caused mass amounts of eutrophication, which refers to a general increase in plant growth as a result of additional nutrients. The nitrogen led to an increase in the area’s green algae blooms, and the algae began to accumulate on the beaches in an event dubbed the “green tide.” When decomposing, the algae releases hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which is safe under typical conditions, but paralyzes the nervous and respiratory systems in large quantities and can be deadly to people and animals. The algae may also mix with sand and create difficult terrain, which slows one down and increases time spent exposed to the toxic gas, making it more dangerous. When doctors and scientists received news of people and animals dying and collapsing on the beaches, they attempted to find evidence that would connect the accidents to the H2S. The data was repeatedly reported to policymakers but ignored due to the interference of influential agricultural leaders who feared loss of profit and tourism. This interference allowed the problem to persist for much longer than it had to due to the adding and subsequent removing of half-measures instead of implementing an effective solution. The government created an algae clean-up system eventually, but it is a temporary fix that doesn’t address the root cause. There will be more problems just like the algae blooms; however, Algues vertes points out that these events are more of a side effect than the issue, and the bureaucratic mess surrounding sustainable agriculture will be the first obstacle to making any real progress.