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Hedging the Apocalypse
October 12, 2011 5:46 AM   Subscribe

Hedging the Apocalypse: Dornith Doherty’s documentary images of seed-saving facilities.
posted by OmieWise (28 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks - beautiful and chilling.
posted by odinsdream at 5:54 AM on October 12, 2011


Is there an animal equivalent? Some sort of Egg & Sperm Savings Bank keeping animal (including human) gametes and clonable tissues on ice?
posted by pracowity at 5:56 AM on October 12, 2011


Some of the criticism of the seed bank seems to my way of thinking rather spot on:

"Seed conservation should not have the narrow view of a seed bank as a cryogenic facility but look at a landscape as being able of functioning as a seed bank."

Is there an animal equivalent? I guess something like the endangered species act which works to preserve the environment in which animal species live. This is looking at the natural landscape as capable of functioning as an animal bank and it seems better than building zoos and seed banks.
posted by three blind mice at 6:05 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is looking at the natural landscape as capable of functioning as an animal bank and it seems better than building zoos and seed banks.

But isn't the whole point of a seed bank in case the natural landscape is a smoldering pile of ash? Ideally, yes, we save the landscape. But what if we can't?
posted by bondcliff at 6:20 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Gonna need a good hedge to keep the zombies out. Privet or Yew does the job.
posted by Not Supplied at 6:20 AM on October 12, 2011


Fascinating and disturbing. It's a little too evocative of The Windup Girl... though when I read the book, I thought, oh yeah, people are doing this stuff right now, for sure. And of course they are.
posted by taz at 6:26 AM on October 12, 2011


Kew gardens does some fantastic work on saving seeds from around the world. They aim to have 25% of the world's species stored for the future by 2020. That's some ark.
posted by arcticseal at 6:42 AM on October 12, 2011


Great post.

But if humanity gets to the point where these facilities are needed, I'll consider that proof that our species was a bad idea in the first place.
posted by Trurl at 6:42 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But isn't the whole point of a seed bank in case the natural landscape is a smoldering pile of ash?

OK, but without the landscape there is no Plan B.
posted by three blind mice at 6:47 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also hedging against aggressive bioengineered crops/seeds that might wipe out all the original varieties.
posted by taz at 6:53 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if humanity gets to the point where these facilities are needed, I'll consider that proof that our species was a bad idea in the first place.

It doesn't have to be a man-made disaster, or a global apocalypse, for this to be useful. A localized event like a volcano dumping ash on a rare species' entire range or a meteorite hitting the earth (ala dinosurs) can be potential events that need recovering from.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:06 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seeds are all well and good, but you have to wait for the stuff to grow. And I'm hungry nooow. So, to ensure that Humanity 2.0 truly pulls through, we are also stockpiling plenty of Kraft cheese (Wired) while waiting for the legumes and alfalfa...
posted by obscurator at 7:08 AM on October 12, 2011


That is amazing and I want to work there. I want to work there so bad.
posted by lydhre at 7:10 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really need to stop typing comments on my iPhone.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:19 AM on October 12, 2011


Fascinating and disturbing. It's a little too evocative of The Windup Girl...

Ditto. My brain instantly went "Ah! The treasure of the biodiversity martyr! Don't listen to the Calorie Men!"
posted by The Whelk at 7:26 AM on October 12, 2011


Cool, what an awesome idea. Also farsighted, how unusual for mankind.

It's kind of like a fire extinguisher, something you maintain but hope you never have to use.
posted by Gwynarra at 7:40 AM on October 12, 2011


russian scientists choose to starve rather than give up their seed bank: Pavlovsk

this makes me choke up a little
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:43 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


OK, but without the landscape there is no Plan B.

No! We build gigantic space-going greenhouses tended by robots and controlled by Bruce Dern! Nothing will go wrong, honest!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:48 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


this makes me choke up a little

The fact that the collection, preserved at such cost, may well be destroyed so developers can build homes chokes me up to. Actually, it makes me want to choke someone, but, hey.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:07 AM on October 12, 2011


Is there an animal equivalent?

I did a previous post on rare livestock breed conservancy.
posted by OmieWise at 8:13 AM on October 12, 2011


This is looking at the natural landscape as capable of functioning as an animal bank and it seems better than building zoos and seed banks.

They're not mutually exclusive endeavors. "Hedge" is a really good term for it. Having the seeds banked doesn't stop any initiative at all to preserve landscape. It could even help restore landscape already lost, if that's desired and people make it happen.
posted by Miko at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2011


Two problems:

1) [Foxes guarding the chicken coop]
Clearminded individuals should ask an important question: why are biotechnology giants such as Dupont, Monsanto, and Syngenta so heavily invested in this project? Is this pure philanthopy? Why is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation involved? There is good reason to be skeptical about the ultimate intentions of companies deeply involved in GMO research. It stands to reason that companies which sponsor expensive GMO research expect to reap a generous return on their investments. What happens to the seeds when pesky reporters are not around?

GM seeds in the doomsday vault?

"Doomsday Seed Vault" in the Arctic



2) [Limited Shelf Life] Even if we have no qualms about allowing agribusiness giants to control the world's food supply, freezing still poses problems. Are all seeds suitable for freezing? How long will it be viable? Frozen seed, no matter how well preserved, slowly continues to deteriorate. Freezing seed is at best a hedge against disaster in the short run. Genetic diversity can only be maintained by planting and replanting unmodified seeds. As our environment continues to change, local varieties of food crops will continue to slowly adapt to changes.
posted by juifenasie at 8:57 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


why are biotechnology giants such as Dupont, Monsanto, and Syngenta so heavily invested in this project?

Genetic engineers like genetic diversity.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:03 PM on October 12, 2011


It doesn't really take something catastrophic to change the free-range world. Citrus canker has knocked out the native citrus in Florida in one generation. They have no clear idea how long it will be before the soil is clear of it.

To spend an entire growing season working on a food crop and then have it destroyed by blight a week before harvest generally doesn't reinforce faith in the Universe, either.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 12:08 PM on October 12, 2011


Two of her large lenticular photographs are on display at the New Mexico Art museum, and they're always on our rounds to visit. Just super nifty. Thanks for the article!
posted by korej at 4:05 PM on October 12, 2011


As a USDA employee, I've had the privilege of touring the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, which is in Fort Collins, CO, twice. Their collection includes both plant and animal germplasm. The large tanks shown in one of the photos are used to store semen and embryos. There are some good scientists working there, too.
posted by wintermind at 5:20 PM on October 12, 2011


@halfbuckaroo

"To spend an entire growing season working on a food crop and then have it destroyed by blight a week before harvest generally doesn't reinforce faith in the Universe, either."

When people say "the Universe," do they perhaps mean that forbidden word, "G..o..d?" The Universe doesn't look out for us, but God does. God gave us Free Will: that's why human beings need moral rules (puppets don't need rules--their owners pull the strings however they see fit). God lets us decide: He expects us to use our brains to look out for ourselves. That's why GMO monocultures are a bad idea. If we rely on a handful of bioengineered crops to provide all of the world's food (a good way for biotech giants to make fortunes), what was once a localized crop failure (drought, disease etc.) can easily turn into a global disaster. The 20th century taught us that technology solves old problems while creating new ones:

Better living through chemistry! Pesticides! Antibiotics! Plastics!
Silent Spring? Endocrine disruptors? Bacterial resistance?

Nuclear power is perfectly safe!
Chernobyl? Fukushima?

I'm not knocking the immense skills and know-how that bioengineers have developed, but we can't always count on their having just the right genes available to save our crops. Nature got along fine for billions of years before bioengineers came along to improve things. Biotech companies are in a hurry to make a profit on their investments, but are GMO crops our only choice? Are we really so sure we can and will control everything? As a society, maybe we should slow down and consider our values and where we want to go. Perhaps we need a good measure of humility.
posted by juifenasie at 5:20 AM on October 13, 2011


When people say "the Universe," do they perhaps mean that forbidden word, "G..o..d?"
Just for the removal of doubt, when I say something like this it is explicitly not any reference to an invented supernatural being called god. I suspect halfbuckaroo would have said god if the intention was to blame citrus canker on a god.
posted by bystander at 10:04 PM on October 16, 2011


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