Blog Post #14

SLS-France Fall 2023 Student Blog + Week 8

October 24, 2023

Sarah Heyrman

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.

The decision makers in government (Algues vertes, p. 92-93)

This week catered to my personal interests on two fronts: conservation efforts and using art as a political medium. I’ve been interested in various forms of conservation like habitat reconstruction, animal rehabilitation, and small-scale sustainable farming for a long time because of my time spent working with animal shelters and my riding barn which doubles as a wildlife conservatory. I have plans to turn my future house into a sort of homestead/animal rehab and have done some research into what that would entail. That has given me an idea of what happens when environmental protocols aren’t put in place, such as the incident in Algues vertes, but also how they could be fixed. The key part of making a homestead sustainable, for example, is for it to contain every piece necessary for the lifecycle of an ecosystem. In other words, there are crops grown, animals to eat the crops, and then a compost system to turn the animal waste into fertilizer for the crops. There are no byproducts to pollute the external environment because everything is contained in this cycle. To make commercial farming sustainable, the same cycle needs to happen, but that sort of organization is inconvenient with the current infrastructure and therefore not implemented by industries that prioritize profits. I enjoy picking apart and analyzing these topics because even if I can’t make any sizable impact, I can make educated choices on a personal level.

Reading Algues vertes (Artwork by Sarah Heyrman)

My art is only political when made for class projects, but I can appreciate how other artists use the characteristics of a medium as a tool and not just for decorative purposes. Modern political art was shaped in part by the punk movement. This can be seen in the types of accessible media (zines, graphic novels, posters), non-traditional art styles, and topics that often touch on core punk ideologies such as anti-corporatism and anti-capitalism. Consequently, these media align well with environmentalism. Through art, and specifically through graphic novels, authors can convey their message much more effectively via various techniques that add nuance to their words and direct attention to particular issues such as climate change. There is also the often-overlooked benefit that art is universally understood and works are not limited by a language barrier. I am already a fan of comics and graphic novels, so the medium was an added bonus for me and gave me more material to think about, whether that be how the art relates to the message - industrial agriculture in this case - or the art by itself. I am always more invested in research or projects with artistic elements, so Algues vertes was a highlight of this semester.

Art for an ecohorror/anti-poaching zine (Artwork by Sarah Heyrman)

Works Cited 

Léraud, Inès. “Algues vertes, l’histoire interdite.” Delcourt, 2019

NOAA Writers. “What is eutrophication?” National Ocean Service, 20 Jan. 2023, estuaries.-,Harmful%20algal%20blooms%2C%20dead%20zones%2C%20and%20fish% 20kills%20are%20the,to%20estuaries%20and%20coastal%20waters

Ollier, Maxime. “The Chair read for you Algues vertes – l’histoire interdite by Inès Léraud.” Chaire Economie du Climat, 22 Sept. 2020,