Book Club

The Chair read for you Algues vertes – l’histoire interdite by Inès Léraud

Published on 22 September 2020

Algues vertes – l’histoire interdite (1) is a comic about the political management of a Breton environmental pollution: green tides. At the end of the 2000s, an emergency doctor from Lannion hospital, Pierre Philippe, wonders about several deaths or poisonings on beaches at the Breton coast. Through his questioning, the reader is introduced to the pollution problem caused by ulva rigida.

Green algae accumulate into different Breton estuaries. When decomposing, they release a toxic gas with a putrid odor; hydrogen sulphide (H2S). By drying, algae merge with the sand, and walkers may get bogged down. H2S quantities are sometimes so important that the gas paralyzes the nervous and respiratory systems of trapped persons or animals and might lead, to death. Intensive agriculture leads to excess nitrogen that eutrophies waterways, this eutrophication is the cause of green algal blooms. This is the heart of the problem; a polluting but well-organized industry prevents the implementation of a policy aiming at protecting Breton beaches from green tides.

The comic makes it possible to identify the different actors of this environmental management problem. On the one hand the environmental associations, represented by André Ollivro, the doctor Pierre Philippe or even some mayors who understood the hazardousness of green algae. They try to obtain evidence of the guilt of H2S (through autopsies and other blood tests) in the deaths of people or animals who have been in contact with green algae. On the other hand, leaders of the big Breton agricultural cooperatives, farmers often in debt, but also mayors who are afraid of the impact of such a scandal on tourism.

This book summarizes a well-documented and pleasantly illustrated investigation. It provides an understanding of the forces involved and the methods they use. The methods used by the defenders of the Breton intensive agricultural model are, moreover, reminiscent of those used by fossil fuel industries in the context of global warming; recruitment of dissident scientists, factory of doubt, negation of the link between intensive agriculture and pollution with green algae…

Maxime Ollier, Research Fellow « Climate change effects on inequalities of farmers’ income »

(1) Scriptwriter Inès Léraud, Illustrator Pierre Van Hove, Colorist Mathilda, Algues vertes – l’histoire interdite, 2019, Editions Delcourt