Cary Fowler at TEDGlobal 2009: Running Notes from Session 3

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Cary Fowler is archiving biodiversity, and more specifically crop diversity. As this unassuming man begins his time on the TED stage it’s quickly evident how important and relevant his work is to us all.

After reading from The Apples of New York, a catalog of all the varieties of apples in the state that was published in 1903, he declares that we have lost more than 6,000 varieties of apple alone. The Fowler apple, namesake of his family, is luckily not one of them. The book describes Fowlers as not being especially good. So, he asks, why should we save it? Because we don’t know what the future holds and we don’t know what properties of pest or disease resistance that variety may contain. When we lose diversity, we lose options and we lose those options forever.

So, he’s begun a global crop diversity seed bank, in the side of a mountain in Svalgard, Norway. He shows us clips of the bank and its environs. It’s an absolutely unpopulated, startling white environment, dotted only by reindeer and polar bears. He chose this environment so that the bank would have a natural refrigeration. Fowler’s operation is a true bank. Norway owns the mountain, he says, but not the seeds. The seeds can be withdrawn whenever they are needed by the parties who deposited them.

This project is his life’s work. And in all seriousness, he refers to the cavernous, bleak stone walls of the seed bank projected behind him and says, “Some of the happiest days of my life have been spent here.”