Will Lake Erie Turn the Tide?

Does anyone remember this, from Erick Erickson, editor of RedState.com? “Washington State has turned its residents into a group of drug runners – crossing state lines to buy dishwasher detergent with phosphate,” Mr. Erickson wrote in 2009. “At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot? At some point soon, it will happen.”

Yes, because there’s no possible reason for meddling politicians to interfere with Americans’ God-given right to use phosphates however they like.

Oh, wait.

According to an article in The New York Times earlier this month about Toledo, Ohio: “It took a serendipitous slug of toxins and the loss of drinking water for a half-million residents to bring home what scientists and government officials in this part of the country have been saying for years: Lake Erie is in trouble, and getting worse by the year.

“Flooded by tides of phosphorus washed from fertilized farms, cattle feedlots and leaky septic systems, the most intensely developed of the Great Lakes is increasingly being choked each summer by thick mats of algae, much of it poisonous.”

It’s true that farms are the biggest problem, but every little bit hurts.

Oh, and when it comes to the obvious public health and safety concerns associated with pollution from farm runoff – well, you know what happens when the Environmental Protection Agency, cooperating with state governments, tries to do something: “Earlier this year, a group of 21 attorneys general from states as far away from the Chesapeake Bay as Alaska and Wyoming submitted an amicus brief that aims to strike down the EPA’s Chesapeake cleanup plan,” wrote Katie Valentine at ThinkProgress.org in April. “The A.G.’s argue that the cleanup plan raises serious concerns about states’ rights, and they worry that if the plan is left to stand, the E.P.A. could enact similar pollution limits on watersheds such as the Mississippi.”

As far as I can tell, there isn’t a well-organized phosphate denial campaign insisting that runoff has nothing to do with algal blooms. But I’m sure one will arise as policy action grows nearer.

The Empiricist Strikes Back

If climate change doesn’t scare you, and our failure to act doesn’t inspire despair, you’re not paying attention. And the great sin of the climate deniers is their role in delaying action, quite possibly until it’s too late.

But there are other, smaller evils, and one that strikes close to home for me is the campaign of personal destruction waged against Michael Mann.

Mr. Mann, as some of you may know, is a hard-working scientist who used indirect evidence from tree rings and ice cores in an attempt to create a long-run climate record. His result was the famous “hockey stick” graph, which showed sharply rising temperatures in the age of industrialization and fossil fuel consumption. His reward for that hard work was not simply the assertions that he was wrong – which he wasn’t — but a concerted effort to destroy his life and career with accusations of professional malpractice, involving the usual suspects on the right but also public officials, like the former attorney general of Virginia.

As you can imagine, I find it easy to put myself in Mr. Mann’s shoes; obviously a lot of people would like to do something similar to me, although they haven’t (yet?) found a suitable line of attack.

Now for the slightly encouraging news: In 2012, Mr. Mann filed suit against National Review for defamation. And as D.R. Tucker pointed out this month in Washington Monthly, the latest response from the magazine sounds very much like a publication running scared.

Also encouraging is the evident inability of National Review to understand how to defend against a charge of defamation. You don’t repeat the false allegations – sorry, guys, but courts also have access to Google and Nexis, and can find that all the charges have been rejected in repeated inquiries. You try, instead, to show that you made the allegations in good faith. But, of course, they didn’t.

Good for Mr. Mann in standing up here – he’s doing all of us a service.