Senator McCain thinks the effort to preserve our horticultural record and a potential treasure trove for medicinal science is a waste of money.
This morning, I went to Senator McCain’s town hall meeting at the Jewish Community Center in Denver. The Rocky Mountain News made it sound as if I was part of some sneaky infiltration:
"The mainstream media has basically given McCain a free ride so far by not asking him tough questions," wrote Michael Huttner, president of ProgressNow. "So it’s important for citizens to ask those questions ourselves."
The group became concerned, however, when the McCain campaign switched from an online reservation system to one that required people to RSVP by telephone.
Alan Franklin, a ProgressNow member, made reservations first online and then called to make sure he and his wife and a friend were on the list. [link and emphasis added]
Franklin discovered that the online system had been taken down. When he asked why, he said he was told there was a concern about "some group."
But, actually, I wasn’t there with "some group"–on the other hand, I went in as a swing voter. I honestly felt that I could go either way in this election. While I didn’t agree with all of his platform, I sort of liked McCain. He was moderate and charming. I’d heard Obama and Clinton each speak last summer, and while they were likable, they hadn’t necessarily won me over. I was keeping an open mind.
I’d seen McCain speak, once before, too. That was when he made such a charming impression on me. "Colorado, I’ve come for your water!" he declared as he came on stage. The crowd roared with an amused chorus of boos. Of course, that time, he spoke in between Ann Coulter and George W. Bush; most likely anyone would have sounded charming placed in between the Wicked Witch of the East and Mr. Nuk-yuh-ler.
So I was a bit tickled this morning when the senator from arid Arizona started off by joking about the water again. This time, he was a little more gracious. "Thank you for the water," he said, "thank you, thank you thank you." Then he complained that California had been stealing some. It was a good opener… it brought a good chuckle, and showed concern about preserving our precious liquid resources.
Then he blew it for me.
It was supposed to be one of those campaign promises that makes everyone feel good–give us a break on the gasoline tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day… take some money away from those useless pork belly projects, he said. All right, I thought… I’d rather he be encouraging alternative transportation, but why not? No one likes wasteful government spending, right? We’re talking two thousand dollar toothbrushes, right? Yeah… boo to pork belly projects!
"Barack Obama wants to use that money to build a seed museum. Do you want your tax dollars going to a seed museum?"
"No!!" the crowd shouted.
Wait… I thought… is he talking about the seed bank in Svalbard?
"Yes!!" I shouted against the crowd. I realized no one heard me. Maybe they didn’t hear him. Maybe they didn’t know what he meant. Maybe they thought he meant some little hole in the wall museum with leftover packs of Burpee seeds. Maybe they thought he meant a sperm bank, not a seed museum. Maybe they’d never heard of Svalbard. But I really hoped that John McCain had!
I would think he had… I’m guessing this is what he was referring to:
In 2006, Obama requested $1 million for the Chicago Botanical Garden to support its Seed Bank and Plant Conservation Center. In April of 2003, the Chicago Botanic Garden was asked by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to participate in the Millennium Seed Bank Project. This Project seeks to safeguard the most endangered of the world’s plants by conserving more than 24,000 species of seed-bearing plants by 2010. [Obama Request Letter To The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, 4/6/06]
Yep… he was talking about seeds for Svalbard.
The seed vault in Svalbard is an international effort to store a complete record of our planet’s flora. But to call it a museum is both a misnomer and an understatement. First, the facility in Svalbard isn’t a museum–chances are, you can’t go take a handy tour of the place while on your cruise to the south of France. You might be able to get a tour of the seed bank at your local museum, but you usually need to ask around–they aren’t usually kept in the air and light. In other words, the seeds are meant to be preserved, not seen. Secondly, the seed bank holds much more than just a display of curios and novelties–it contains our future.
Due to climate change, deforestation, urbanization, and simple cases of bad luck, countless species of plants are going extinct faster than we can check them out. The reports vary. According to one study, where 15% to 37% of all species everywhere are at risk of going extinct in the next 42 years, 30% to 40% of one family of flowering plants are threatened just on the cape of Africa. Other estimates for the loss of biodiversity can easily be found, but none are small. It’s hard to tell–we don’t know exactly how fast the climate is changing, or how adaptable all these threatened species may be. In some cases, forests are cut down before native species are ever examined, so we don’t even always know what we have lost.
And that’s the trouble… we don’t know what we’re losing. This seed might sprout into some tasty, easy to grow food. This one might provide a cheap source of fuel for a developing country. This seed might contain the right combination of proteins to cure a deadly disease. This one might prevent heart disease. If we don’t hang on to them, how will we ever know?
That "pork belly seed museum" just might contain the cure for cancer. Senator McCain, as a cancer survivor, speaking at a town hall meeting on health care, you really ought to know better. Shame on you for trying to bribe me with cheaper gas. Thanks, but, I think I’d rather keep the seeds and take the bus.
Illustration of Svalbard via by Don Foley for Wired Magazine.