Saturday, November 19, 2016

Post Election Action

Note: This program first aired November 19, 2016.

I know many of you listen to this show because you like hearing about the natural world, learning things you didn’t know before, and getting insights into the amazing mysteries of nature. I know this show, and this radio station as a whole can serve as a respite from the 24 hour news cycle, the information overload and the go go go culture we are awash in, even here in eastern Maine.  And I know that after the last two weeks we’ve had, I should be offering you a show about kittens and puppies, just to provide something distracting, hopeful, sweet and kind.

I think you know what is coming. I can’t do that. Not yet anyway. I’m in the camp with the majority of those casting votes in the last election who are not happy with the results of the election. There are so many reasons, but one especially relevant to this show is the appointment of Myron Ebel to lead the Trump administration’s transition at the Environmental Protection Agency, an appointment that many presume will lead to Ebel’s nomination to lead that agency after the transition of power. 

Ebel is a known and vocal climate skeptic who directs policy on energy and the environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that both the New York Times and the National Review characterize as libertarian. While he says that he believes human caused climate change is real, he follows that up with the belief that it isn’t really a big deal, and certainly not something we need to worry about or more importantly, spend any money on right now. The main targets of his derision are the models and forecasts developed and constantly honed by climate scientists, in an attempt to predict the near climate future. And I quote:

*“… the scientific consensus is not based on known scientific facts.  It is based on discredited climate model projections, such as the ones promoted by Gavin Schmidt at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and fantasy reconstructions of past climate history, such as the infamous hockey stick.”*

Climate models to have a degree of uncertainty, and scientists work tirelessly to revise the models, using “back casting” as a way to test them (can they run and accurately predict the climate trends we have already experienced? If so, than then you can have a relatively high degree of confidence in the model, within the strict limits of what it is designed to test). The International Panel on Climate Change reports take great pains to report confidence intervals with each of their predictions and prioritizations of climate related problems. So while Ebel seems to delight in denigrating what he calls unfounded climate alarmists, many of the forecasts he is critical of are coming with acknowledgements of the uncertainty.

Ebel’s think tank’s most recent policy position promotes anti regulation legislation, and that seems to be at the heart of this issue. Lowering the regulatory threshold is one of the main pillars of the Ebel’s career, and with climate change, the easiest way to do that is to deny the problem that the regulations are supposed to be addressing. If climate change isn’t really a problem, of course there is no need for the Clean Power Act, or the Paris Climate Treaty. It seems that the answer to when was America Great in the first place is the time before industry faced any kind of regulation. Annoying regulations like the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act.

So for all the reasons to be concerned about the ramifications of the recent election, and there are many, incredibly serious ramifications, this one might be the most important. Climate change doesn’t just screw it up for us in America, it screws it up for everyone on this planet.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t technically a cabinet level position, but it is high enough in the ranks to require Senate approval. We’ll get back to the trees and fungus and forests, plankton and algae and whales, the plants that run our lives, the winds that bring the weather and yes the kittens and puppies make us smile in the coming weeks. But in the mean time, call your senators. Tell them how you feel about someone who doesn’t take climate change seriously leading the agency tasked with protecting the environment we all share and depend on.

Senator Angus King: Augusta Office: 207 622 8292, Scarborough office: 207 883 1588

Senator Susan Collins: Augusta Office: 207 622 8414, Bangor office: 207 945 0417


The Competitive Enterprise Institute, where Ebel is Director of  the energy and the environment policy division

 The Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of climate skeptics and deniers Ebel leads

*Source of the quote from the show: Myron Ebel’s blog post about a New York Times article attacking the climate scientist Willie Soon:

Where he said that he thinks anthropogenic climate change is real, but that its not a big deal:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Eating Acorns

Note: This program first aired November 5, 2016.

Food anchors us to the land(*), it places us in a landscape and timescape. Food also anchors us in our community. We share a common language with those who eat the same things we do, and food gives us a currency with which to exchange culture with people with different traditions.

I never feel more human than I do when I am eating wild foods. Whether it is incorporating a daily morning berry foraging walk that provides my summer breakfast, harvesting and tincturing a medicinal herb to support a loved one’s health, stumbling on an edible fungus in the fall or collecting favorite algae at the sea shore, nourishing myself from uncultivated yet bountiful sources feeds something as old as time in me.

I don’t as of yet hunt animals, so the wild food gathering I undertake is primarily focused on plants. With this in mind I signed up for a class with Arthur Haines, a well respected botanist here in New England and passionate and generous advocate for the wild food and rewilding movement. Our topic was acorns, how to collect, preserve, process and enjoy this at times prolific nut.

I was delighted to hear Arthur sing the praises of the Northern Red Oak acorn (Quercus rubra), a member of the Black Oak subfamily that includes Scarlet Oak, Pin Oak and many others. I live in a Red Oak forest, the acorns literally drop onto my door step in the fall. Northern Red Oak acorns are distinguished by their nutritional profile, they are nearly 50% lipid (or fat). Crack open a fresh Red Oak acorn and you will feel the oiliness on your fingers. That fat is mainly oleic acid, the same monounsaturated fatty acid that is found in olive oil. The rest of the bulk of the nut is complex carbohydrate, and a small percentage of protein.

The process of using acorns for food begins with gathering and sorting. It turns out not all acorns are created equal. Some are damaged right from the start, fail to develop to full size and are shed by the tree early. Others look like regular acorns, but when hefted in the hand reveal a lighter than average weight. They weigh less because they are hollow, or are in the process of becoming hollow.  They are hollow because they are being eaten from the inside out by the larva of the acorn weevil, a small beetle that lays its eggs in the developing acorn. As the acorn approaches maturity, the egg hatches and the tiny larva, now housed inside its own food source, begins to eat. As it eats, it also respires, and just like we exhale carbon dioxide and water, so does the larva. That gas has mass and dissipates through the acorn shell, so as the larva eats the acorn, the acorn gets lighter and lighter. Once the larva has eaten all of the goodness inside, it exits the acorn through a little hole it creates---thus any acorn you find with a tiny circular hole in the side is no good—it is just full of acorn frass. Any acorn you find without the tell tale exit hole, that feels feather light, much lighter than all the others in your hand-if you cracked that one open it is likely you would find a number of acorn weevil larvae still munching away inside.

We can’t just shell an acorn and pop it into our mouths, and this is something aboriginal populations world wide figured out thousands of years ago. Acorns contain tannins, a group of chemicals that yield both a bitter taste and an astringent feel in the mouth. Primarily thought of as a defensive compound for the plant,  some tannins have anti nutrient properties, while others (like the ones in tea) have strong nutritionally beneficial anti oxidant properties. The tannins in acorns are of the former variety, and make them in their unprocessed state, an unpleasant eating experience.

The processing may be one reason these native nuts have fallen out of favor, after drying, cracking and shelling, you still have to chop or grind them and then leach out the tannins. The process, though not intensive throughout, takes weeks. The result at the end though is a relatively bland flour, with a high healthy lipid content, and a very low glycemic index, suitable to mixing in with other flours in baked goods, or eating as a hot cereal with maple syrup. If you like getting connected with your food source, aren’t afraid a little work and are up for a culinary adventure, this would be a good year to try eating acorns. For many of us in eastern Maine, they are falling on our doorsteps.


On acorn weevils from Iowa State Extension service:

Encouragement from the Earth Island Journal for eating acorns at Thanksgiving:

Delta Institute of Natural History (and website of Arthur Haines, the botanist and wild food advocate mentioned in the program):  *The first line of this show (about food anchoring us to the land, comes from Arthur’s description of the acorn workshop)

There are lots of references online for how to process acorns, some using hot water to leach the tannins, others using cold. Some crack the nuts immediately, others dry the acorns first (they are A LOT easier to shell if dry, and can be stored dry in the shell for years). The work shop I attended emphasized making the process efficient, but regardless—go ahead and experiment! There’s lots of info out there to get you started!