07/14/2011 06:14 pm ET | Updated Sep 13, 2011

A Sick Joke

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Ok.) probably didn't have William Shakespeare in mind when recently joking about being "attacked by the environment". He was undoubtedly unaware he was affirming the Immortal Bard's observation that "ne'er a truer word is said than in jest" when he made light of his recent respiratory illness contracted from exposure to a toxic algae bloom. The senator's quip was a product of his well-publicized disbelief in the global warming implicated in his malady and the gravity of environmental threats in general.

Blinded by this skepticism, Inhofe ridiculed a bona fide environmental health threat, even when the joke was at his own expense.

The reality is that harmful algae blooms such as the one whose fumes temporarily put the senator out of commission are becoming more prevalent due to rising global temperatures. These blooms are adversely impacting the quality of the water not just for swimming but for fishing and drinking purposes.

Maybe if Inhofe weren't so dismissive of environmental hazards, he would have thought twice about swimming in the green slime he had never seen before on the lake near his Oklahoma home. Too late for Inhofe though, because state authorities subsequently issued a warning against swimming in the lake because of the unprecedented toxic algae bloom occurring in record hot weather.

Inhofe needs to be more accepting of the research conducted by federal scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They have found a distinct linkage between warmer temperatures and unusually high concentrations of harmful algae blooms both in fresh and salt water. Moreover, they have concluded that on the basis of historical evidence, it is likely that future unchecked climate warming will cause more and earlier toxic blooms and extend their range.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin's Sea Grant Institute also warn that "increasing water temperatures and decreasing oxygen concentrations in conjunction with lower water levels [due to drought] favor an explosion of harmful algae growth".

This essay began with a Shakespearean maxim that puts Inhofe's misguided belittlement of environmental pollution's menace in its proper place. Let us close with a Chaucerian saying just as appropriate for highlighting the deluded nature of Inhofe's witticism. At the end of the day, "the chickens come home to roost".

Edward Flattau's fourth book, 'Green Morality,' is now available.