Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Vikings show the way

In an age when most of the first world plays the ostrich in the sand faster than the time it would take you to say "Kyoto Protocol", "Climate Change" or "Carbon Credits" and the 'tigers' and 'dragons' of the third world continue to provide encores as the innocent bystander, its heartening to see that good sense still prevails in some places. Guess who? Its Viking and Fjord country, Norway which seems to be leading the way in their own quiet way. Its time the rest of the planet dwelling in their fools paradise woke up to the truth that paradise is turning into hell.
Last year, Norway had pledged to go 'carbon neutral' by 2050 by cuting carbon dioxide emissions to nil. It was one of the most ambitious plans to offset cabon credits by any country. A couple of days back, a Labour led government in agreement with three of their opposition parties, decided to go one step further and drag the self imposed deadline down by 20 years to 2030.
And in case you still havent heard of the other big thing that the Vikings have been 'cooking up', there's the 'Noah's ark of seeds'. This sci-fi like project by the Norwegian government and the Global Crop Diversity Trust is located in the icy arctic, 600 miles from Norway in the archipelago. The Svelbard Global Seed Vault sits there 400 feet into a sandstone mountain with the vault's internal temperature being independent of the surrounding permafrost. Whats it for?

Its to safeguard all known crop species present on this planet in one place where it will be safe from all the wonderful things that we like to do to each other like nuclear war, floods and catastrophes from global warming, terrorist attacks. At 425 feet above sea level, protected by video surveillance and layers of metal doors, the three chambers inside are capable of holding 4.5 million samples of crop seeds.
The project also brings forth the question of 'agricultural biodiversity' which is almost as important as biodiversity of exotic plants and animals in faraway places. Artificial selection for high yielding varieties of crops make us vulnerable to losing the genetic variety of the lesser used wild strains. As we lose these strains to extinction, we lose the unknown benefits that those varieties could have provided us.
Its humbling to think that the apocalyptic future we read about in sci-fi books, may not be too far away.
There just seems to be one problem with the Svelbard Seed Vault, as a letter to New Scientist put it very crisply.. "Where are the keys?"

Original story of the seed vault on New Scientist

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