cultivate culture

Drive clean or guard your seeds?
March 29, 2008, 12:11 am
Filed under: biology, environment, society

Isn’t global warming the phrase of the decade? I mean what other phrase has mobilized/forced politicians, consumers, and companies to have a say on it? You can’t avoid it … I don’t mean global warming; I mean having a say on it. Anyway, while some consumers may feel like they’ve done their part in the fight against global warming by buying a cleaner car, others are focusing on what may arguably be the larger issue: maintaining biodiversity.

An ecosystem is a complicated network of dependencies. The more diverse the group of species within an ecosystem, i.e. the more biodiversity it has, the more robust it is against being toyed with. In the same sense, reducing biodiversity means increasing the fragility of the biosphere and increasing inability of life to sustain itself through tough times.

So, global warming or not, a great way to strengthen life’s presence here on earth is to make sure there are lots of different species. Unfortunately, species are dropping like flies due to things like habitat destruction and, yes, to some extent global warming. However, with all the focus on global warming, other issues that affect biodiversity may not be getting the attention they deserve.

Take the politics of seed diversity as a case in point. The market and economy, through seed-selling companies, have had a huge effect in last hundred years on crop biodiversity. There has been a trend in the market towards a more controlled seed biodiversity enforced by ownership laws. In the strange world in which we live, as a company you can own a genetic strain of a crop. Anyone who is caught producing from those genes without your permission is liable. A natural consequence is that companies, even though they certainly have seed vaults of their own, are homogenizing the seed market by pushing only a few varieties: you push the strain you sell. A homogeneous seed market is just waiting for a bug to devastate it and we are back to the threat of dwindling crop biodiversity.

It seems we are entering an age of drastic measures when it comes to biodiversity: Global Crop Diversity Trust is building a seed vault under a mountain near the north pole as a safe guard to our extinctionizing tendencies. Filled with millions of strains of different crops, the Trust, funded by various government organizations, is like a Noah’s Arc for crops. Popularly known as ‘the doomsday vault’, it does seem a little drastic, perhaps overly so, but who are we kidding – this is important, not only for life on the planet, but more directly, for putting food on the table of our children. So, when driving your clean cars, be careful not to drive over your neighbors exotic garden, the future of our food may depend on it.


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