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Uh, that'd be 'not'

22 Apr 2020 | OP ED Watch

NBC profiles a student who grew a canoe out of mushrooms. Which is totally cool, including because if you got lost camping you could eat it. We admire someone not embarrassed to have a weird hobby and like James Bond we’re always willing to listen to a passionate expert regardless of the subject. But NBC headlines the piece “Is fungus the answer to climate change?” No. No it is not.

The student, Katy Ayers, is a true believer in mushrooms and their role in protecting the environment. And we do mean it in a good way. (Also, she says “Since I’m from Nebraska, I love to fish” which has deepened our understanding of the Nebraska landscape. Apparently it’s not all dirt.)

NBC concedes that “Mushrooms aren’t exactly mainstream”. Which parents who’ve tried to slip them onto a plate can also testify. But as part of a climate change assignment from her English professor (sigh) she discovered a 2013 documentary “Super Fungi” and has never looked back. NBC says “In addition to their ability to break down harmful pollutants and chemicals, Ayers pointed out that mushrooms can be used for everything from household insulation to furniture to packaging, replacing plastics, Styrofoam and other materials that are hard to recycle and harmful to the environment.”

If it’s really true that we could get something genuinely biodegradable, naturally produced, and reasonably sturdy from mushrooms it would be outstanding in its field. But here’s the problem.

Climate change is meant to be this apocalyptic threat that’s going to wipe out civilization, devastate ecosystems and just basically ruin everything in about 30 years, 80 if we’re lucky. And now we’re being asked to believe a fungus coracle can be the modern Noah’s Ark? It won’t do. It’s also odd that the story says she’s been out in this strange craft several times “and plans to do so again as soon as the weather warms up in the rural part of Nebraska where she lives”. But but… if it’s the hottest year ever why’s it cold? Also, to create her “Myconoe” she and a helper harvested mushroom spawn (yes, it’s a thing) and then hung a frame in a warm, wet place. See, life loves warmth and moisture and…

So count us intrigued rather than totally convinced on the environmental benefits of mushrooms, while insisting that either climate change is vastly exaggerated or else, whatever its merits, this strange craft won’t carry us all to safety.

Incidentally in case you’re planning to order one and think you’re packing your vessel and lunch simultaneously, it’s from “mycelium, the dense, fibrous roots of the mushroom that typically live beneath the soil”. So probably not tasty. On the other hand, when you paddle in it, it “fruits”, so you do get a side to go with your freeze-dried omelette. Or sizzling portion of Nebraska fish.

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