The president’s trashing of the Paris Accord on climate change as a “job killer” was juxtaposed with a near simultaneous online report by the Centers for Disease Control on a small massacre of wild mushroom eaters facilitated by California’s extraordinarily wet winter this year.
The details of the 14 cases of Amanita phalloidies poisonings (not without good cause known as “death cap” mushrooms) appeared in the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). All survived, but three underwent liver transplantation and one of those cases suffered permanent neurologic damage. The disparate stories of the victims nonetheless had themes in common with other mushroom mishaps: they had picked the fungus themselves or were given them by a forager and consumed them as a gastronomic treat (cooking doesn’t break down the toxin, unfortunately). In one case, “four men aged 19–22 years," became ill “after ingesting what they thought were psychedelic mushrooms picked from the wild.” One unusual feature of the outbreak was the inclusion of two women, one aged 86 and the other 93 years, going against the dictum that “there are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but not old bold mushroom hunters.”
But what did set this group of cases apart was the large number of those made ill. The underlying link was climate, specifically California’s very wet winter over the last year. The heavy rain was a blessing for the drought-stricken state, but underscores that climate instability can cut both ways. Thus, what can be a boon to mushroom enthusiasts can also be their bane. As noted in a post in the blog “Choosing Voluntary Simplicity” (subtitled ”A blog about finding balance in your life, connecting with who you are, and creating a lifestyle where you wake up each morning eagerly anticipating the day ahead”): “One of the interesting side effects of so much rain is the huge number of wild mushrooms that are growing in the woods across from our house. Although this year’s is a bumper crop, these woods have always been mushroom rich. I used to think that someday I would have learned enough about mushrooms so I could identify which mushrooms are safe to eat…But it is a very odd thing… the more information I absorb about identifying wild mushrooms, the more uncertain I become that I really want to take the chance of eating them.”
The CDC editorial writer at the MMWR was not exactly willing to commit to the role of rainfall. A bit of epidemiological doublespeak provides a watered-down caveat ending with a nice flourish of victim-blaming “Although weather conditions and increased numbers of A. phalloides poisonings do not prove a cause and effect relationship, early seasonal rainfall and warmer subsequent temperatures made a substantial contribution to mushroom proliferation. In addition, a general increase in naïve foraging and wildcrafting (i.e., gathering plant material from its native environment for food or medicinal purposes) activities raises risk for poisoning.”
Needless to say, abundant rain leading to mushroom poisoning is not the only and certainly not the biggest potential adverse human health effect of global climate change. The leitmotif of who by fire and who by water can be the setting for a litany of climate change dangers to life and limb. Even the CDC acknowledges this in its 2016 posting, which even includes a spiffy, multicolored mandala-like graphic. Just as long as the webpage remains up, that is.
So we are putting Youngstown ahead of Paris, in the words of the commander-in-chief (whose announcement was preceded by a military band playing soft jazz, according to the New York Times). But let’s change the subject. Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?