The Seeds Of Doom  

Posted by Big Gav

AP has a report on Norway's far-sighted plan to build a secure repository for the world's crop seeds. Maybe they could eventually extend this to include all seeds ?

It sounds like something from a science fiction film — a doomsday vault carved into a frozen mountainside on a secluded Arctic island ready to serve as a Noah's Ark for seeds in case of a global catastrophe.

But Norway's ambitious project is on its way to becoming reality Monday when construction begins on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, designed to house as many as 3 million of the world's crop seeds.

Prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland were to attend the cornerstone ceremony on Monday morning near the town of Longyearbyen in Norway's remote Svalbard Islands, roughly 620 miles from the North Pole.

Norway's Agriculture Minister Terje Riis-Johansen has called the vault a "Noah's Ark on Svalbard."

Its purpose is to ensure the survival of crop diversity in the event of plant epidemics, nuclear war, natural disasters or climate change, and to offer the world a chance to restart growth of food crops that may have been wiped out.

The seeds, packaged in foil, would be stored at such cold temperatures that they could last hundreds, even thousands, of years, according to the independent Global Crop Diversity Trust. The trust, founded in 2004, has also worked on the project and will help run the vault, which is scheduled to open and start accepting seeds from around the world in September 2007.

Oil-rich Norway first proposed the idea a year ago, drawing wide international interest, Riis-Johansen said. The Svalbard Archipelago, 300 miles north of the mainland, was selected because it is located far from many threats and has a consistently cold climate.

Those factors will help protect the seeds and safeguard their genetic makeup, Norway's Foreign Ministry said. The vault will have thick concrete walls, and even if all cooling systems fail, the temperature in the frozen mountain will never rise above freezing due to permafrost, it said.

While the facility will be fenced in and guarded, Svalbard's free-roaming polar bears, known for their ferocity, could also act as natural guardians, according to the Global Diversity Trust.

The Nordic nation is footing the bill, amounting to about $4.8 million for infrastructure costs.

"This facility will provide a practical means to re-establish crops obliterated by major disasters," Cary Fowler, the trust's executive secretary, said in a statement, adding that crop diversity is also threatened by "accidents, mismanagement and shortsighted budget cuts."

Already, some 1,400 seed banks around the world, most of them national, hold samples of their host country's crops.

Of course, its possible that the permafrost on Svalbard may not be around for all that long.
With global temperatures rising, the Arctic’s “permanently” frozen soil—permafrost—isn’t staying frozen. A type of soil contained deep within thawing permafrost—loess—may be releasing significant, and previously unaccounted for, amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, according to authors of a paper published this week in the journal Science.

Some have been warning about the danger of melting permafrost for a number of years. For example, Svein Tveitdal, managing director of GRID-Arendal in Norway, a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) information center, warned of the potential in 2001:
Permafrost has acted as a carbon sink, locking away carbon and other greenhouse gases like methane, for thousands of year. But there is now evidence that this is no longer the case, and the permafrost in some areas is starting to give back its carbon. This could accelerate the greenhouse effect.

The just-published work by the scientists from Russia, the University of Florida, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks found that loess permafrost—extending more deeply into the permafrost layers and covering more than a million square kilometers in Siberia and Alaska—is a very large carbon reservoir with the potential to be a significant contributor of atmospheric carbon, yet one seldom incorporated into analyses of changes in global carbon reservoirs.

O'Reilly Radar has a post on GreenLeaf: A Virtual Farmer's Market. One commenter notes this idea is similar to Local Harvest.
Via Growers & Grocers, this is interesting:
The Internet-based business, Greenleaf LLC, gets under way this summer. [...] Greenleaf could be a virtual farmer's market that never closes.

Local farmers will be able to post what they have to sell, such as fresh produce and meats.

Buyers will be able to browse through the offerings and make online purchases from the farmers.

Greenleaf will charge sellers a fee, perhaps 2% of a sale. Buyers will pay an annual subscription fee, that hasn't been finalized, to use the service.

Buyers and sellers will be responsible for making their own arrangements for payments and deliveries. [Former Whole Foods employee Heather] Hilleren said she will stay out of the transactions as much as possible.

"It's strictly between the buyer and the seller," much like eBay, she said.

AP has a story on farmers trading tractors for animals.
Metal clinks against rocks in the soil as four of Jim Cherenzia's horses pull his harrow through seven acres of hay.

Cherenzia rides behind in a small cart, rolling gently over the grass as the blades of the harrow, a piece of cultivating equipment that cuts and smooths the soil. The air fills with the sounds of the creaking harrow, harness bells and occasional soft snorts as the procession moves steadily through the field.

"There's nothing more enjoyable than plowing hay with a horse," Cherenzia said.

He is among a small but dedicated group of farmers who use animals rather than machines to do work around the farm. While they embrace modern conveniences in other parts of their lives, they say shunning tractors helps the environent and saves money on gas.

Cherenzia uses Percherons _ large, sturdy war horses originally bred in France _ to plow and spread manure. Over the years, he has used them to log, bale hay and plant corn, and in warm weather, he hitches them to carriages for weddings and other events.

"Tractor's probably a whole lot more sensible," said Cherenzia, who owned one briefly in the 1970s. "But I'm trying to make some nice horses too. And it's enjoyable."

The U.S. Census Bureau stopped tracking the number of farms using animal power after 1960, when it counted 4.7 million tractors and 3 million horses and mules used for work.

Today, there's no good estimate on the number of farmers using draft animals like horses, mules, and oxen, but it's probably tens of thousands, said Leah Patton of the 4,500-member American Donkey and Mule Society.


John Trombley, 53, of Carney, Mich., has had horses and mules for several years and uses them to cultivate his field and pull a wagon. He also takes teams to church on Sundays, saving on gas.

"It's fun, and it never hurts to save a few dollars at the same time," he said.

Driving animals makes economic sense only if farmers have enough land _ about 40 acres _ to grow food for them, he said. Otherwise, they have to pay for commercially grown hay.

Trombley, who also teaches math and computers, said the animals give him a break from the hectic pace of modern life. He turns off his cell phone when he climbs onto the wagon and rides back to a simpler time. "If I come home from school," he said, "and it's been a stressful day, the best thing for me to do is hook up the team and go for a ride. In 15 minutes, the stress is gone."

Peak Oil Passnotes latest musings are on Oil Wave Ripples (which are probably making fellow investors a little seasick lately).
The Dow, the Nasdaq and the FTSE have all been centre stage. The rises, the dramatic falls, then the slight respite as we go to press. How the U.S. markets have seen 9% falls off of their heights. How it affects shareholders, business, investment. Everyone has been talking about it, the mass media have been all over it.

But here sits a primary problem of the way markets both act and are reported. All of which is centred around the reality of oil and energy and the way it is underreported on big networks and newspapers. Because if you watch, listen or read these news organs you might think that this problem was just something that affected the floor on Wall Street. But it is not so.

The U.S. and European markets have taken hits of anywhere from 9-12% it is true. But they did relatively well. In contrast India’s Sensex in Mumbai fell a terrifying 28%, in one month.

The basic reason is energy, and in the future the ones who will pay, are the weakest. It is the oil inflation chain, the ripples of the oil wave.

Boing Boing points to a debate between Chris Mooney and some pitiful global warming denial monkey - Science advocate destroys global warming/AIDS dismisser
Last week, Ira Flatow of NPR's Science Friday program did a segment on politics and science, bringing on Tom Bethell, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, and Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science. The former is the author of a book that accuses the left of distorting science to fabricate the AIDS crisis, global climate change, the prohibition against stem cell research, and other well-known politically charged scientific crises. Mooney, the Washington correspondent for the excellent SEED magazine, which is the best science and policy magazine on the stands, is especially masterful in the debate.

Bethell has nothing going for him -- he's regurgitating throughly debunked pseudo-science ("the Earth actually cooled at the start of the 20th Century") and rather than let this turn into a "I'm right-No, I'm right" talk-show, Mooney just quietly, thoroughly and masterfully destroys Bethell. He is firm, concise and sharp, while Bethell is meandering, incoherent, and fuzzy.

Tom Whipple's latest peak oil article is on Recognizing the Peak (my version: price goes up, supply goes down). Tom takes a detailed look at the various bodies collating data on oil production.
It is conventional wisdom among students of peak oil that worldwide peak oil production will not be recognized, and certainly not "officially" certified by some organization or other, until some years after the event has passed. The exception to this, of course, is if some natural or man-made catastrophe shuts down a lot of oil production in a manner not likely to be restored for many years.

Without such a catastrophe, recognition of peak oil will be gradual, with month after month of volatile production statistics trending downward. At some point, even the most optimistic prognosticator will be forced to admit it is unlikely that world production will ever again climb above the highest production record previously achieved.

The world is currently producing somewhere around 84-85 million barrels a day of oil. Pessimists say the current production rate is beginning to look a lot like a peak. Maybe another million or so a day, but that’s it. Moderates on the issue will allow that another five million barrels per day looks possible and see a peak around 90 million barrels a day. Until recently, the optimists were talking 120 million barrels day, 20 or 25 years down the line, but numbers like this are appearing less frequently

The IHT has an article on "Iraq's disastrous 'black oil' swamps" (which combines an environmental crime along with sheer waste of oil - though there is plenty more where that came from).
An environmental disaster is brewing in the heartland of Iraq's northern Sunni-led insurgency, where Iraqi officials say that in a desperate move to dispose of millions of barrels of an oil refinery byproduct called "black oil," the government pumped it into open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs next to the Tigris River and set it on fire.

The resulting huge black bogs are threatening the river and the precious groundwater in the area. The suffocating plumes of smoke are carried as far as 65 kilometers, or 40 miles, downwind to Tikrit, the provincial capital that formed Saddam Hussein's base of power.

An Iraqi environmental engineer who has visited the area described it as a kind of black swampland consisting of oil-saturated terrain and large standing pools of oil stretching across several mountain valleys. The clouds of smoke, said the engineer, Ayad Younis, "were so heavy that they obstructed breathing and visibility in the area and represent a serious environmental danger."

At Iraq's damaged and outdated refineries, as much as 40 percent of what is produced pours forth as this heavy, viscous substance, which used to be extensively exported to more efficient foreign operations for further refining. But the insurgency has stalled government- controlled exports from the area containing Iraq's major northern refinery complex at Bayji, the officials say.

So the backed-up black oil - known to the rest of the world as the lower grades of fuel oil - was sent along a short pipeline from Bayji and dumped in a mountainous area, called Makhool.

If you haven't seen it, this interview with a Republican congressman on the Colbert Report (Quicktime Windows Media) is kind of jaw dropping - I'd be willing to bet there isn't a single elected politician in Australia or Britain who is this stupid (or even close to it) - what sort of democracy are you people running up there ? Via Crooked Timber and Boing Boing.
In this video, Stephen Colbert nails Georgia Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a Congressman who's co-sponsored a bill to require the display of the Ten Commandments in the House of Reps and the Senate. After bantering with Westmoreland for a couple minutes, Colbert says, "What are the Ten Commandments?"

Stephen Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments?

Lynn Westmoreland: What are all of them?

SC: Yes.

LW: You want me to name them all?

SC: Yes.

LW: Uhhh.

LW: Ummmm. Don't murder. Don't lie. Don't steal. Ummmmm.

LW: I can't name them all.

Also at Crooked Timber, a post with a title I just can't resist: "The Fascist Octopus Pipes Up from the Gamma Quadrant or the Region Surrounding Cygnus X-1, Depending".
OK, it’s dumpster-diving, but I was quite taken with the writing style of this post on the Arrogance and Evil of Crooked Timber.
I’m reading through more and more of the comments now, and the hideous intellectual dishonesty of the leftists continues to alternatively make my blood boil in anger, and run cold in fear of the kinds of totalitarian “reforms” they would make if they ever seized control of society.

The boiling blood running ice cold and then boiling up again makes for quite an arresting metaphor. But then, don’t watery liquids simultaneously boil and freeze in the vacuum of deep outer space? (perhaps the author is trying to tell us something about where he’s dialing in from).


Re the permafrost on Svalbard:
According to RealClimate, April'06 was warmer than any previously recorded May, and January '06 was warmer than any previously recorded April.

It's one of the areas of the planet warming fastest right row. But I don't think that will matter all that much for a seed bank. Melting the ground that deep will still take a lot of time.

Ah, the continuing adventures of democracy in Iraq.

Hmm -- I wonder what poor sap of an Iraqi voted for valleys of burning oil and brimstone, and petro goo in the rivers? I wonder how they sold that one?

"Black rivers is the new black"

Hi Harald - thanks for the extra info - its incredible how fast the climate is changing in the far north.

But you're quite correct about the bedrock of Svalbard staying frozen for quite a while yet - I take a few liberties trying to link stories together sometimes.

MG - I trust you can put together a suitably pithy post and graphic on the burning lakes of "black oil".

Ah - Iraq - garden of eden one day (meaning biblical times, not the Baath days), desert filled with burning heavy hydrocarbons and thousands of Zarqawi clones the next...

I guess a good media consultant can sell anything - presumably Netvocates are hard at work in Iraqi chatrooms right now telling them just how good they have it (in some sort of pigeon Iraqi that only a Pentagon official would pay for).

But hey - they got to vote in an election and they've got the purple fingers to prove it - next stop - theocracy (after 10 more years of insurgency and death squads).

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