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Water Quality Report: Climate change, doom and gloom, and a reality check

Tom Toro/Yale Climate Connection


Climate Change Gloom and Doom: A Reality Check

Part two of a two-part series

Back in graduate school one of the toughest assignments I ever had to do was nothing.

Each of us in the tightly-knit program at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg was prohibited by assignment to consume mass media for a week. No movies, no television, no streaming. No computer, no radio, no cell phones with screens, no music CDs, no comic books. Only the Bible for those inclined.

It is so very much harder than it sounds.

Mass media refers to the means of communication designed to reach a large audience. It encompasses a range of platforms, including traditional forms like newspapers, radio, and television, as well as digital media, social media, and blogs.

The internet was out there, but it did not have the World Wide Web interface allowing for today's home pages and easy navigation, so that was no big deal. But can you imagine that now: "What! No Internet? Oh, C'MON, man!"
If you've never longed for something that used to be an everyday part of your life but is now gone, and think that is easy, try it yourself: Next time you get home for the day, for two hours, do not allow yourself to turn on the television, radio, or computer. Do not interact with Alexa or Siri; in fact, cover the devices’ screens. Shut off your cell phone lest you scroll, stream, play music, or listen to a podcast. No novels. No magazines. No video games.

“Is there still time to reduce global warming, or is it too late?” — one of the top questions Americans have about climate change according to a recent survey by Yale University and George Mason University

It will get uncomfortable very quickly. After 20 minutes you’ll wonder if an hour has gone by. You’ll know there is so much going on 'out there' to learn about, respond to, and worry about if you only knew about it. It’s brutal and lonely and you want to do something – anything – to change your situation back to the way it was.

That is exactly how a growing number of people worldwide feel about climate change: I know it’s happening, but it is not here with me. I can’t do anything about this thing that may result in my death, or worse, that of my children.

The feeling is so prevalent it is now an identified condition called “climate change doomism.” Therapists still talking to patients working through the hopelessness they felt during the COVID-19 pandemic are now working with clients feeling helpless in the face of global warming.

“So someone you love is feeling doomy about climate change. Maybe they’ve experienced a catastrophic storm and know there’s more where that came from. Maybe they lost hope when the latest round of temperature records were shattered. Maybe they think it’s too late to fix the problem (it’s not), or that not enough people care,” Yale Climate Connections author Daisy Simmons wrote in an article last month. “Maybe the doomer is you. At least on some days.”

Daisy Simmons
Daisy Simmons

In Florida, climate change is already casting a pall over the quality and quality of water the nine million of us count on daily for drinking and bathing.

Underground, we're over-pumping some of our aquifers, causing the water extracted to become more salty as the sea fills the underground cavities being drained of fresher water.

On the surface, global warming is causing the sea to expand as things do when they
heat up, and melting glaciers that add water back into the oceans at an accelerated rate. It is only a matter of time before days with the highest high tides push seawater over top the surface of the Everglades' River of Grass, ruing that drinking water supply, too.

On the beach, red tide and blue-green algae are already making good use of the excess nutrients being flushed into rivers and out to the ocean, feeding blooms so they grow larger and maybe even last longer than they otherwise would.

Harmful algae blooms suck the oxygen from the water causing a mass fish kill, which once again sends the visible results of climate change up onto land where the fish rot, tourism grinds to a halt, and nobody can enjoy the beach.

Anyone paying attention may join those concerned that Florida's population (and tax base) is soon to plummet as people move away from the on-again-off-again nasty beaches and ridiculously high price for freshwater that has to be trucked in from somewhere else or drilled from ever deeper and expensive depths.

Simmons interviewed several climate doomism experts about what can be done to help ease such doomist feelings, including Susan Joy Hassol, the climate communication veteran who served as the senior science writer on three National Climate Assessments, and Emma Lawrance, who leads the Climate Cares Centre at the Institute of Global Health, Innovation, Imperial College London, which works to understand and support mental health amid today’s climate and ecological crises.

“As we hear more about climate science — much of which is cause for alarm — there can be an adaptive response to feel afraid or worried,” Lawrance said. “Sometimes that anxiety can be a motivation to act. But when we feel like, ‘This is too big, too overwhelming,’ and we feel powerless, it can be really defeating and overwhelming. Our body sort of shuts down to it, trying to keep us safe in what feels like an unsafe world.”

But our feelings about climate change are rarely one-dimensional.

“Sometimes people report it’s not one feeling or the other. They feel a lot of ways at once, and feelings can change day to day.” One day might bring a mix of fear, grief, anger, guilt, hopelessness, or numbness.”

Especially when you read the news, Hassol said.

“The headlines in the media are almost always about the problem,” she said. “It’s about this terrible heat wave, this terrible storm, this terrible — whatever it is! And then there are the headlines that say something like, ‘We have X years to act on climate’ that leads people to think, ‘Well, if we don’t act in five years, then what? We’re screwed, right?’”

Doomism comes easy when you think it’s too late (it’s not), Simmons wrote.

Bayles, Tom

“We can’t afford to think that way — and it’s not true,” Hassol said. “The science is very clear that it is not too late to avoid the worst. … The temperature in the atmosphere should not keep rising once we get emissions to zero.”

“It’s already dangerous. It’s already here,” Hassol says. “But what we can avoid still is global catastrophe. And we need to start from where we are now.”

“Is there still time to reduce global warming, or is it too late?” is one of the top questions Americans have about climate change according to a recent survey by Yale University and George Mason University

“If we had started 30 years ago, yes, that would have been better. But you don’t pass your exit and say, ‘Screw it.’ You just get off the highway when you can,” she adds.

“I think ultimately when you examine it, doomerism doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny because it’s too black or white, too win or lose,” Lawrance said. “At every point in time, there are better or worse paths forward. There are always things that can be saved.”

Simmons wrote that to achieve that better path forward, the International Energy Agency says the world needs to do much more this decade, including tripling renewable energy capacity, halving energy intensity, and cutting methane emissions from fossil fuels by 75%. It’s going to be hard work. But we can do hard things; people have done hard things for millennia, she said.

“This is the fight of our lives, and it’s a multigenerational task,” Hassol said. “We need what’s been called ‘cathedral thinking.’ That is, the people who started working on that stone foundation, they never saw the thing finished. It took generations to get these major works done. This is that kind of problem. And we have to all do our part.”

Which may require putting doomish feelings at bay, at least long enough to contribute to efforts in your community.

The more I act, the better I feel, because I know I’m part of the solution,” Hassol said. “I just turned 65. And like Martin Luther King said, ‘I may not get to the promised land, but I believe that we as a people will eventually get there.’ ”

Now, we rejoin this week's WGCU Water Quality Report already in progress.


Over the past several weeks, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel Island treated an adult laughing gull and a ruddy turnstone, both admitted for suspected toxic red tide exposure. Both died within 24 hours. Then an adult great egret and two juvenile double-crested cormorants were also admitted with the same build-up of red tide toxin and are still in care.

It's a mystery because these animals are being sickened and dying from red tide toxins but without the local presence of a red tide bloom. (It won’t remain a mystery long. I’ll figure it out and report what’s going on at WGCU.org and on-air at WGCU FM 90.1)

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sampled for the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, and reported it was not found in any of the samples

No reports of fish kills suspected to be related to red tide were received over the past week, nor was there any respiratory Irritation reported in Florida over the past week related to the harmful algae bloom.


The Lee County Environmental Lab reported moderately abundant components of blue-green algae upstream of the Franklin Locks as streaks with some accumulation along the lock and shore. More was present at the Alva Boat Ramp, appearing as specks.

The agency reminds residents that winds and tides tend to push the components of blue-green algae around, so people in that region should be watchful for the potentially toxic bloom.

The Lee County Department of Health lifted a health advisory issued on May 16 for harmful blue-green algae toxins in Caloosahatchee River — North Canal Circle. Follow-up water samples tested by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection did not detect algae toxins, indicating the public may resume water-related activities.

The FDEP says it is important to remember the blue-green algae potential is subject to change due to rapidly changing environmental conditions or satellite inconsistencies.

What is red tide?


Red tide is one type of harmful algal bloom caused by high concentrations of the toxic dinoflagellate K. brevis, which is a type of microscopic algae found in the Gulf of Mexico.

 Red tide typically forms naturally offshore, commonly in late summer or early fall, and is carried into coastal waters by winds and currents. Once inshore, these opportunistic organisms can use nearshore nutrient sources to fuel their growth.

Blooms typically last into winter or spring, but in some cases, can endure for more than one year.

Is red tide harmful?

K. brevis produces potent neurotoxins that can be harmful to the health of both wildlife and people. Wind and wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release toxins into the air. This is why you should monitor conditions and stay away from beaches where red tide is in bloom.

People in coastal areas can experience varying degrees of eye, nose and throat irritation during a red tide bloom. Some individuals with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic lung disease might experience more severe symptoms.

ed tide toxins can also affect the central nervous system of fish and other marine life, which can lead to fish kills.

What causes red tide?

 A red tide bloom develops naturally, but recent studies have discovered mankind's infusion of other nutrients into the mix can make the red tide last longer or get stronger. But biology (the organisms), chemistry (natural or man-made nutrients for growth) and physics (concentrating and transport mechanisms) interact to produce the algal bloom. No one factor causes the development of a red tide bloom.

What is blue-green algae?

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are a group of organisms that can live in freshwater, saltwater or brackish water.

Large concentrations, called blooms, can change the water color to blue, green, brown, orange or red. Some cyanobacterial blooms can look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of freshwater lakes and ponds. As algae in a cyanobacterial bloom die, the water may smell like something with a naturally unpleasant odor has now started to rot, too.

 Is blue-green algae harmful?

Different types of blue-green algal bloom species can look different and have different impacts. However, regardless of species, many types of blue-green algae can produce toxins that can make you or your pets sick if swallowed or possibly cause skin and eye irritation.

The FDEP advises staying out of water where algae is visibly present as specks or mats or where water is discolored. Pets or livestock should not come into contact with algal bloom-impacted water or with algal bloom material or fish on the shoreline. If they do, wash the animals right away.

What causes blue-green algae?

 Blue-green algae blooms occur when the algae that are typically present grow in numbers more than normal. Within a few days, a bloom can cause clear water to become cloudy.

Winds tend to push the floating blooms to the shore where they become more noticeable. Cyanobacterial blooms can form in warm, slow-moving waters that are rich in nutrients. Blooms can occur at any time, but most often occur in late summer or early fall.

If any major type of water quality alert is issued, you can find the details here in WGCU’s Water Quality Report.

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