Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Lee County Democratic Primary 2018- Eco-focused voting guide

Note 1: This is not a journalistic quality ballot guide. It’s more of a stream-of-consciousness look at what my pre-voting thought process was. (I voted early, by mail. If you're not voting by mail, the actual voting day is August 28th.)

Note 2: A sample ballot, including options for both the democratic and the republican primary, can be found here: https://www.lee.vote/Portals/Lee/Sample%20Ballots/SB_17X17_Primary_072418_LeeSOE_Final-2.pdf

Note 3: I'm posting this in installments so I can get it online faster. The first installment is about the candidates for governor, then I 'll add the other stuff asap.



Candidates for Governor: Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Phillip Levine, Alex “Lundy” Lundmark, John Wetherbee

Picking a gubernatorial candidate took longest of all my decisions on this ballot. I tried to base on it on who I thought would be the best “antidote” to the Big Development / Big Sugar / Big Oil / Big Pharma corruption that I think plagues Florida politics. But a competing thought was, “which one of these candidates has the political savvy and resources to win the general election?” That second thought made it easy to rule out “Lundy” Lundmark, who doesn’t even have a campaign website. John Wetherbee is the other “amateur” contender- a slightly awkward engineer with no prior political experience. However, he at least has a nice website, where he comes across as having genuine good intentions and thoughtful stances on Florida issues. I ruled him out only because he didn’t quite seem in “fighting shape” for winning the general election.

Two of the remaining candidates are millionaire businessmen from Miami: Chris King and Phillip Levine. Levine is also the current mayor of Miami Beach, and seems to be doing a pretty good job addressing climate change and sea level rise and such in his vulnerable city. Chris King is to the left of Levine politically, and was the first of the gubernatorial candidates to refuse to take any money from the Big Sugar lobby. (The other candidates followed suit, though it was too late for Gwen Graham who had already taken money from Big Sugar [but promised to give the money to a good environmental organization].) Chris King is relatively young (just 39 years old), handsome, and Harvard-educated. I was a little uncomfortable to read that he made his fortune largely in real estate development, because I associate that with cutting down the forests and creating more suburban sprawl. But apparently he does the kind of "redevelopment" within cities that doesn’t destroy nature, so that's good. There was some bad press about Chris King offending farmers when he was speaking strongly about the harmful effects of sugarcane farming in the Everglades Agricultural Area. However, at the democratic gubernatorial debate at FGCU he was careful to articulate his concern for and plans to bring economic benefits to the people around the EAA as it’s converted more from farmland to water storage and filter-wetland areas. I dug that, and decided I favor King over Levine.

One of the candidates, Jeff Greene, is a billionaire from Palm Beach. You know who else is a billionaire from Palm Beach? Donald Trump. Greene is positioning himself like he’s the only one big and strong enough to take on Trump, like we better vote for King Kong to fight off Godzilla. To be honest, I didn’t even look that much into Jeff Greene. The Palm Beach Billionaire thing just turned me off, especially with him barging into the race at the last minute and throwing more money at ads and stuff than anyone else. Too much hubris, not enough humility and humanity. Also, he used to be a republican, and might secretly still be. No thanks.

Gwen Graham is the most politically experienced and accomplished of the candidates, having been a US Senator. That also means that she has a big voting record we can review to see how environmental she is. She got 89% and 69% scores from the League of Conservation Voters for her votes in 2015 and 2016. For reference, Bill Nelson got 100% and 84%, respectively, for those years, and Marco Rubio got 6% and 0% (FAIL!). So Graham is obviously way better on the environment than Marco Rubio. However, there is the sketchy business about her taking Big Sugar campaign contributions, and there’s some more sketchy business about her family financial ties to a mega mall development proposed for a wetland area on the edge of the everglades. She has been dodgy in her comments about that. For that reason, I’ve ruled out Gwen Graham for the primary, although she's obviously still much greener than the republican competition, so I'll wholeheartedly support her if she is the one who wins the democratic primary.

The only candidate among the five serious contenders who is not a millionaire is Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee. Gillum seems to be a very active and popular mayor, pushing lots of programs to improve all aspects of the community, from law enforcement to early-childhood education. His statements on the environment seem to be “correct” but fairly standard- he believes the scientists on climate change and sea level rise, he will address Florida’s water management and algae bloom problems, etc. Some of the info we have on Gillum’s environmental views is from his criticisms of Gwen Graham, who I think he sees as his #1 opponent in the primary. E.g., he criticized her “yes” vote on the Keystone XL US-Canada oil pipeline deal. Something that might come up if Gillum makes it to the general election is racial and religious prejudice. That’s because Gillum is black, and his main campaign donor is a Jewish billionaire holocaust survivor named George Soros, who right-wing conspiracy theorists have been trained to view as some kind of godfather of evil. I thought for a little while, “Maybe I shouldn’t vote for Gillum, because his republican opposition will surely capitalize on the racist and anti-Semitic fears of some of their base to tear him apart with ugly, Trump-style campaign rally tactics.” But then I realized that if I went down that path of thinking, the racists and right-wing conspiracy theorists would have already won. Also, the more I thought about Gillum and his campaign, the more I decided he offered something really unique and important. That was coming from the lower class (son of a construction worker and a bus driver), attending public schools and universities in our state, and working for years in un-glamorous local government roles where the emphasis is on actually handling problems and bringing the community together. Gillum’s progressive policies, like support for Bernie Sanders style medicare-for-all healthcare, seem to fit with an overall theme of making sure everybody in the state, not just millionaires and billionaires, can have a good life. I voted for Gillum.



Candidates for Attorney General: Sean Shaw, Ryan Torrens

Attorney General is a really important office for Florida. Our current one Pam Bondi is awful on environmental and social justice issues, and has made some nakedly partisan rulings, like protecting Trump’s scam “Trump University” when it stole money from a bunch of poor, duped people. Sean Shaw seems to be the most ethical of this pair, with Ryan Torrens already having gotten himself into trouble for breaking campaign finance laws. I voted Sean Shaw. Shaw is very experienced and endorsed by respectable non-partisan organizations like the Tampa Bay Times newspaper. https://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/Times-recommends-In-Democratic-primary-Sean-Shaw-for-attorney-general_169764486



Candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture: Nicole “Nikki” Fried, Jeffrey Duane Porter, Roy David Walker

Roy Walker is the only scientist and environmentalist in the bunch. He got my vote easily.



Candidates for US House of Representatives, FL Congressional District 19: David Holden, Todd James Truax

David Holden is the stronger candidate in this pair, with a fancy Harvard education, well-funded and well-organized campaign, and good environmental and social justice values. I’ve seen him and his family campaigning at all the local environmental meetings and stuff I’ve been to lately, so the issue is obviously on his radar, and he’s working hard to get the green vote. The only thing that gave me some pause about Holden is that he’s a millionaire who made his fortune working for the corrupt bank Wells Fargo. That doesn’t mean that Holden was personally responsible for Wells Fargo’s corruption, but still, it’s a thing. In comparison, Todd Truax is much less funded, less organized, and less environmentally focused, but seems to be strongly ethically motivated by senior issues and healthcare issues, which I admire. He talks about getting out the “grey” vote as opposed to strictly the blue or red vote, and I reckon that could work well in this area. I actually voted for Truax, although my trusted Sierra Club president friend told me later that Holden is really best bet for beating horribly anti-environment GOP candidate Francis Rooney the general election. Probably Holden will win the primary, and I’ll vote for him in the general election without reservations.



Florida State Representative District 76: Neilson Croll Ayers, David Bogner

I liked David Bogner because my friend shared his page on facebook and he seemed to be deeply concerned about our state’s algae bloom problems. In contrast, I couldn’t find ANYTHING online about the other guy. So I voted for Bogner. Later, though, I heard that Bogner is a swell guy, but terrible at public speaking and likely to have trouble against slick republican incumbent Ray Rodrigues in the general election. My trusted Sierra Club president friend said I probably should have voted for Ayers. Oh, well. Maybe Bogner will rise to the occasion and find the strong voice to challenge Rodriguez before the general election.



This next batch were nonpartisan races that can be on the democratic primary ballot as well as the republican primary ballot, depending on where you are in the county. I only commented on the ones that were on my ballot for Bonita Springs.

Candidates for Circuit Judge 20th Judicial Circuit Group 8: James Wesley Chandler, John Owen McGowan

I voted for Chandler, but I now I can’t remember why.



Candidates for County Judge Group 7: Maria E. Gonzalez, David McElrath

Gonzalez is a lot better organized with more of a web presence, and seems to be active and involved in the community and kids and young people’s issues in particular. I voted for her.



Candidates for School Board Member District 6: Nicholas Alexander, Lori Fayhee, Betsy Vaughn, Karen Putnam Watson

Betsy Vaughn really seemed to be very qualified, organized, and “on it,” with an active campaign including personal engagement on social media. She was a highschool teacher for decades before getting into politics. She seems to have a strong motivation to provide equal educational opportunities for all, including poor and minority students, and special needs students. I voted for her.



City of Bonita Springs Proposed Charter Amendment on term limits:

I voted yes on this amendment to have a limit of two, four-year terms on positions in the Bonita Springs mayor and city council, with no exceptions for discontinuous terms. I know term limits are a two-edged sword. Y’all can make your own decisions about this.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

EUTROPHICATION: A word every Floridian should know

As of today, 28 July 2018, Florida is suffering from at least three different kinds of harmful algae blooms, happening at the same time.

1. We have a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) bloom filling Lake Okeechobee and spilling out into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. The main species of cyanobacteria in that blue-green bloom is Microcystis aeruginosa, which is toxic to both humans and wildlife.

2. We also have "Florida Red Tide" extending along much of the Gulf Coast of the state. For many months it has been shifting and changing shape, flaring up in one spot or another but never going away. We've seen countless dead fishes of all kinds washed up on beaches from Tampa to Naples, hundreds of dead sea turtles, scores of manatees, and most recently a 7.9 meter long, otherwise-healthy young male Whale Shark whose corpse ended up rolling in the surf off the luxury vacation spot of Sanibel Island.



The organism that causes Florida Red Tide is a type of single-celled algae called a dinoflagellate. It has two whip-like flagella and is covered in protective plates, like some kind of alien sperm. The species name is Karenia brevis, and it makes a toxin called brevitoxin.

3. Finally, we have seaweed (multicellular algae; macroalgae) blooms on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, with unprecedented volumes of stinky red and brown multicellular algae washing up on the beaches. On the Atlantic Coast, most of the seaweed washing up is brown macroalgae in the genus Sargassum. The Sargassum macroalgae bloom is affecting the entire Caribbean this year. On the Gulf Coast the red seaweed washing up on the beaches is a mix of hundreds of different species of macroalgae that normally grow attached to the bottom but easily break loose and drift around with the waves and currents.



What do these nasty algae blooms have in common? They are all examples of EUTROPHICATION.

Eutrophication is the excessive growth of algae or nuisance plants in a body of water.

Eutrophication is usually caused by nutrient enrichment. You can remember that nutrients cause eutrophication because eutrophication rhymes with “nutrification.”

Nutrients are dissolved chemicals like nitrate and phosphate, which all plants and algae need to grow. Nutrients usually occur in small concentrations that favor healthy amounts and type of plants and algae. But excessive nutrients lead to excessive growth of undesirable types of plants and algae.

Most problems we have with eutrophication are man-made problems, because the excessive nutrients come from man-made sources like sewage and fertilizer-laden runoff.

Eutrophic growth of algae is sometimes called an “algal bloom.” Both microscopic algae (known generally as phytoplankton) and macroscopic algae (known generally as seaweed) can “bloom” in response to eutrophication.

Besides excessive nutrients entering the water, another factor that contributes to eutrophication is a lack of the organisms that normally eat the problematic plants and algae. For example, seaweed blooms can be worsened by a lack of seaweed-eating fish, and phytoplankton blooms can be worsened by a lack of filter-feeding shellfish like oysters.

Eutrophication can have a variety of harmful effects. For example:

*Some of the types of algae that increase in response to eutrophication exude toxic chemicals that can kill wildlife and sicken humans. For example, the Karenia brevis red tide and Microcystis aeruginosa blue-green algae mentioned above.

*Even non-toxic algae can kill wildlife in an indirect way. The algae become so abundant that they run out of space and light and start dying off in mass. As the masses of algae decompose, the oxygen levels in the water go down, because the process of decomposition consumes oxygen. When the water is oxygen depleted, organisms that get their oxygen from the water, like fish, die. This phenomenon is called "hypoxia and anoxia" and it is the cause of the infamous "dead zone" in the ocean near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Hypoxia due to eutrophication has also been the cause of many fish kills recently in the Indian River Lagoon on the East Coast of Florida.

*Dense blooms of algae make the water murky green or brown, which reduces the amount of light penetrating the water. This can be fatal for the “good” plants, like seagrasses (not to be confused with seaweeds), that are trying to grow on the bottom underneath. (All plants and algae need light to grow.)

*Even when algal toxin levels are not concentrated enough to kill the aquatic organisms from direct exposure, they can be dangerous for animals higher in the food chain, like big fish, birds, and humans, who eat contaminated seafood. This is because the sea creatures we eat, like fish, clams, and oysters, can concentrate the toxins in their flesh to much higher levels than they were in the water itself. For example, direct exposure to Florida Red Tide waters irritates the eyes and respiratory system of humans, while eating shellfish contaminated with the red tide causes much more serious Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP).

The best way to prevent eutrophication is to avoid putting nutrients in the water in the first place. If the nutrients are already in the water, then you need to remove them. The best way to remove excess nutrients from the water before they cause eutrophication is to have the water run through lush wetlands, where the “good” wetland plants can suck up the excess nutrients before the water gets into rivers, lakes, or the ocean. The Florida Everglades are a giant wetlands that are great for storing water and filtering out excess nutrients. Unfortunately the man-made water flow in Florida mostly bypasses the Everglades, due to ill-conceived canal and dam projects begun over a century ago. The Everglades are now left dry and unused, while the unfiltered, nutrient-polluted water is ushered straight to the coasts, resulting in major eutrophication effects along the coasts. In addition to the "major plumbing problem" of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, we have the "death from 1000 paper cuts" eutrophication effect of nutrients leaking out from myriad sources in urban, suburban, and agricultural landscapes. I propose that we address those problems with some emergency regulations.


A Modest Proposal
Whereas almost the entire coastline of Florida, and many of the state’s freshwater lakes and rivers are experiencing harmful algae blooms,
Whereas these algae blooms are causing massive damage to the ecology, economy, and spirit of the state,
Whereas these algae blooms flourish on nutrient-polluted runoff,
And whereas a substantial portion of this nutrient-polluted runoff stems from commercial and residential landscape management practices that serve merely aesthetic purposes,
We propose a moratorium on those non-essential landscape management practices that contribute to nutrient pollution, effective immediately and continuing until such time as the harmful algal blooms have abated.
The moratorium will include:
*The sale and use of fertilizers for all non-agricultural purposes. This shall include fertilizer-weed-killer mixtures.
*The chemical treatment of ponds and canals with herbicides such as Copper Sulfate, because this practice results in the release of nutrients to downstream waters from decomposing plants and algae. (The moratorium should also cover the sale of such chemicals.)
*The clearing, mowing, or poisoning of vegetation within stormwater detention areas or within five feet of the waterline in these areas, because destruction of such vegetation limits the nutrient-filtration and removal abilities of these areas.


What do you think? Would you support that proposal?