US Environmental History: Inviting Doomsday

By John Wills | Go to book overview

Epilogue: The Doomsday Seed

On the frozen Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, on the edge of the Arctic Circle, 620 miles (998 km) from the North Pole, 430 feet (131 m) above sea level, is an underground storage facility cut into the side of a mountain. Built at a cost of $9 million, it opened in 2008. Within it resides the doomsday seed.

Applauded as an international scheme with true environmental scope, the doomsday seed (officially titled Svalbard Global Seed Vault) set about tackling the age of global warming by preserving all of the seeds of the world. Time magazine called it a ‘best invention’ of 2008. Funders for the project included Bill Gates, the Rockefeller Institute (under the banner of the ‘Global Crop Diversity Trust’), along with the Norwegian Government and Nordic Genetic Research Centre. The vault offered storage for 4.5 million seed samples. Within its first year, 400,000 were collected, entered cold storage and offered secure protection for potentially hundreds of years. In July 2008, President Carter, Ted Turner, Madeline Albright, Tom Dashle and Larry Page, founder of Google, all visited. United States congressmen donated chilli pepper seeds.1

The seed project had its share of historic precursors. In the 1940s, the United States established seed banks as one response to the Dust Bowl. In 1958, the US government set up the National Seed Storage Laboratory at Fort Collins, Colorado. Seed banks outside the United States included Wahlberg in Moravia and the

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