Avoiding Earthquakes & Tornados?

Earthquakes and tornados are some of nature’s deadliest weapons. For many years, researchers have gathered data on their frequencies and magnitudes. What can we learn from that information?


Here’s a map created by John Nelson, a mapping manager with data-visualization software maker IDV solutions. It shows every major earthquake (203,186 in total) that has been recorded since 1898. You probably already knew this, but if you want to avoid earthquakes, stay away from the Pacific Rim.

“We only started recording hard core in the late 1960’s. Also, you’d be right to assume that areas with more sensors record more earthquakes (but that’s why they are there, so round and round we go), though they can pretty well pinpoint epicenters from all over.” ~ John Nelson, Mapping Manager


John has also created an interesting map showing the path of tornados over the United States. It includes all tornados that “touched down” between 1950 and 2011. Nelson has several other related tornado maps on his website, showing the data by season as well as by F-Scale. Most of the activity takes place in Tornado Alley, usually known as the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. But there’s more activity on the East Coast than we anticipated. The brightness of the lines indicates the F-Scale, or Fujita Scale, of the Tornado. The F-Scale measures the intensity of tornados based on the amount of damage they inflict on buildings as well as vegetation.

Interestingly enough, West Virginia is surrounded by tornados yet appears to get very little activity within its borders. We suppose that could be a data flaw. But if not, your best bet to avoid tornados seems to be sticking to the West Coast or holing up in West Virginia.

The Pleistocene Rewilding?

Some 13,000 years ago, gigantic animals roamed what is now the United States. Is it not enough to mourn the loss of these animals? Should we attempt to “resurrect” them via programs like the Pleistocene Rewilding?

What is the Pleistocene Rewilding?

The Pleistocene Rewilding concept was the brainchild of a geoscientist named Paul S. Martin. Martin is perhaps most famous for his “Overkill” theory. He believed that the first settlers in North America overhunted the existing megafauna, such as mammoths and mastodons, to extinction.

Martin went on to propose the idea of “rewilding” North America with Pleistocene proxy animals. For example, the American mastodon is obviously extinct. However, the Sumatran elephant, which is an extant relative of the mastodon, still lives in Indonesia. Thus, breeding populations of Sumatran elephants on American soil would supposedly help fill an ecological niche.

“…the future of North America’s reserved lands needs to become a broad and magnificent debate that attempts to deal with the heart of the problem: ever since the extinction of the megafauna 13,000 years ago, the continent has had a seriously unbalanced fauna.” ~ Tim Flannery, The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples

Pretty cool huh? I mean, who wouldn’t want to be driving around the U.S. and stumble upon a family of elephants? Or Grant’s Zebra, playing the role of the Hagerman horse? Or even the Siberian tiger, in place of the American lion?

Rewilding: Pro-Animal…or Anti-Human?

Well, as you might expect, there’s a catch. In the August 18, 2005 edition of Nature, Josh Donlan and eleven other authors proposed the creation of “ecological history parks” which would “cover vast areas of economically depressed parts of the Great Plains.

And there’s the rub. If you’re going to import new megafauna to the U.S. as part of a crazy scheme to restore an ancient ecosystem, you need lots of land to do it. Also, all manmade structures should ideally be removed in order to support free migration. And barriers should be built to keep people out of the rewilding zone. Indeed, many of the scientists who support rewilding wish to implement it with as little human interaction as possible.

“It could be argued that taxa have an inherent moral right to continue evolving free of human intervention, or even that Earth as a whole has a right to demonstrate its fullest possible evolutionary potential. It could be argued that, as the species responsible for the extinction of so many taxa, humans have a corresponding responsibility to attempt their restoration when feasible.” ~ Paul S. Martin, Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America

But why stop at the Pleistocene epoch? Why not go further back in time? Well, at its core, rewilding is a strange, almost anti-human concept. It seeks to restore ecosystems to a pre-human or at least a pre-European state. In other words, the arrival of humans upset the pristine (and mythical) balance of nature and now we must seek to fix it.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Lost in the mix is a very important question. What’s so great about ancient ecosystems anyway? In truth, there is very little, if any, scientific evidence that pre-human ecosystems were superior to the ones that we enjoy today. Many ecosystems do just fine with both native and non-native plants and animals. They’re just as productive and they contain just as many species.

And yet, conservationists continue to seek the preservation or in the case of rewilding, the resurrection, of historical ecosystems. Part of this is practical. Ecosystem management requires some kind of baseline, something to shoot for. Otherwise, why manage it in the first place? The other part of it is blind faith. Many conservationists just know that historical ecosystems are desirable without a shred of proof to that effect.

All in all, the North American Pleistocene rewilding project is a fascinating idea. If private land owners want to lend their property to Pleistocene Parks, more power to them. However, they should know that such parks will be impossible to maintain (and here’s the ultimate irony) without human interference. Nature doesn’t exist in a steady state. It’s always changing, always evolving. The only way to keep it from doing so is with lots of human interference. And if that’s the case, then what’s the point of returning to a pre-human ecosystem? Why not just let nature evolve on its own?

“Nature is never in balance. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of balance. When an ecological system experiences a disturbance, whether it’s a forest fire or an ice storm or something else, it never comes back in its original form. Instead, the system evolves in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.” ~ David Meyer, The Mythical Balance of Nature


Guerrilla Explorer’s Man vs. Nature Coverage

Garbology: The Archaeology of…Garbage?

Archaeology is, in many respects, the study of ancient human garbage. But in 1973, Professor William Rathje of the University of Arizona took this to a whole other level. Yes, he assigned his students to study garbage. But not ancient garbage. Instead, he asked them to study modern garbage from people living in Tucson, Arizona. What did The Garbage Project and garbology teach us about modern man?

The Birth of Modern Garbology?

The garbology project was led by the central tenant that “what people have owned — and thrown away — can speak more eloquently, informatively, and truthfully about the lives they lead than they themselves ever may.” It consisted of two parts. First, trash from various urban neighborhoods was examined, sorted by raw material, and recorded. Second, the contents were compared with anonymous questionnaires filled out by people living in those areas. The results were, to put it mildly, shocking.

For example, 10-15% of all garbage was food. The students discovered large amounts of edible food, with middle-income households “wasting” more food than either the poor or rich. Also, people underreported the amount of alcohol they drank, by as much as 60% in some neighborhoods. Middle-class folks consumed the cheapest alcohol. Rich and poor alike tended to drink more expensive stuff.

“Garbage doesn’t lie. The evidence of junk-food wrappers, liquor bottles and girlie magazines often flies in the face of what we tell ourselves — and what we tell others — about what we do.” ~ Witold Rybczynski, We Are What We Throw Away

Most people have little understanding of their own trash. And they have even less understanding of trash as a whole. Remember those fast food containers environmentalists hated so much in the 1980s? Well, from 1980-1989, they accounted for less than 0.1% of all landfill garbage. Disposable diapers – another product scorned by many environmentalists – were less than 1%.

Garbology: The Truth about our Garbage?

So, what kind of trash dominates landfills? Paper is the #1 contributor, making up 40-50% of landfills. Construction debris adds another 20-30%. The third largest category is yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, and the like). Much of this garbage has yet to biodegrade due to the fact that landfills tend to be “mummifiers” (this is the case with ancient landfills as well). Thus, newspapers from as far back as 1952 have been recovered in readable condition and food scraps “remain unchanged after 30 or 40 years.”

Interestingly enough, garbology studies show modern society produces far less trash per person than our predecessors. Much of this is due to technological advances. For example, individual homes no longer produce 1,200 lbs of coal ash per year. And modern packaged foods produce far less waste than the alternative.

Another interesting conclusion is that modern society recycles far less than you might expect. During the 1980s, 78% of people claimed to recycle. But only 26% actually did, irregardless of income level, political views, or even environmental views. And to be honest, recycling as a whole is somewhat of a sham. 40% of what we recycle actually ends up in landfills. For example, outside of PET soda containers, most plastic ends up being dumped in landfills, due to its low value and lack of usability. Paper and glass often suffer the same fate.

While there is plenty of physical space for all this trash, bureaucrats have made it increasingly difficult to open new landfills. So, is there a way to further reduce the amount of trash society creates? Recycling is one option but it only goes so far, especially since much of it ends up in landfills anyway.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

In their book, Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage, William Rathje and Cullen Murphy suggest charging individual families different prices for garbage removal, presumably based on volume or weight. I would take this one step further and suggest privatizing and deregulating the entire garbage industry.

Rather than bureaucrats hiring politically favored contractors, let trash collection companies compete against each other for business. If they saw fit, they could charge consumers based on individual trash, rather than the current one-size-fits-all strategy. Consumers would be incentivized to produce less trash. Landfill owners would be incentivized to make better use of their space as well as find profitable uses for materials already stored within their own landfills. And garbage firms would be incentivized to recycle trash in order to resell it. Let the free market work and who knows? Maybe the so-called trash problem will resolve itself.

The Wave of Poseidon?

In 479 BC, the mighty Persian army marched toward the tiny Greek colony of Potidaea. The northern Aegean Sea had mysteriously retreated, making conditions ideal for a siege. Then disaster struck. The sea surged and hundreds of Persian soldiers died. Potidaea was saved, all thanks to a strange event that has come to be known as “The Wave of Poseidon.”

The Wave of Poseidon?

“When they had made their way over two-fifths of it, however, and three yet remained to cross before they could be in Pallene, there came a great flood-tide, higher, as the people of the place say, than any one of the many that had been before. Some of them who did not know how to swim were drowned, and those who knew were slain by the Potidaeans, who came among them in boats.” ~ Herodotus, The Histories

Herodotus, like many other ancient Greek historians, considered the wave to be of divine providence. It was the work of Poseidon, the god of the sea. In his infinite wisdom, Poseidon had decided to thrash the Persians and thus, save the villagers of Potidaea.

“The Potidaeans say that the cause of the high sea and flood and the Persian disaster lay in the fact that those same Persians who now perished in the sea had profaned the temple and the image of Poseidon which was in the suburb of the city. I think that in saying that this was the cause they are correct. Those who escaped alive were led away by Artabazus to Mardonius in Thessaly. This is how the men who had been the king’s escort fared.” ~ Herodotus, The Histories

Over time, The Wave of Poseidon became a thing of myth. And indeed, that is how modern historians initially viewed it. But over the last few decades, scholars started to study the event in depth, attempting to find a real life explanation for it. They noticed that Herodotus’s account, which was written ~50 years after the actual event, bore some resemblance to a tsunami. Now, new evidence has emerged to bolster this interpretation.

“We wanted to see if these historical accounts are correct and then try to get an assessment of the coastal areas — are they safe or are they not safe?” ~ Klaus Reicherter, Aachen University

A research team led by Klaus Reicherter recently realized the area’s geological conditions were ripe for a tsunami. The seafloor is shaped like a bathtub. Underwater earthquakes and landslides occur from time to time. Models show a regional tsunami could get as high as 16 feet.

Reicherter also discovered layers of sediment that appear to have been carried inland by massive waves. In addition, they excavated numerous shells in a nearby city, far away from land. A dating analysis indicates the shells landed in the soil around 500 BC, give or take 20-30 years.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Many historians view historical accounts of magic and divine intervention as pure myth. But we here at Guerrilla Explorer tend to think many of these strange stories have real-life roots. It appears we can now add The Wave of Poseidon to this category. Interestingly enough, if the tsunami had happened a few decades later, it might have never achieved its mythical status. About fifty years later, in 426 BC, the Greek historian Thucydides became the first person in recorded history to speculate that earthquakes, and not some ancient god, were behind massive waves.

“The cause, in my opinion, of this phenomenon must be sought in the earthquake. At the point where its shock has been the most violent the sea is driven back, and suddenly recoiling with redoubled force, causes the inundation. Without an earthquake I do not see how such an accident could happen.” ~ Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

The Mythical Balance of Nature?

The Balance of Nature theory states that an ecological system, if left to its own devices, will essentially self-correct. In other words, if nature gets out of whack, it’ll eventually fix itself. It’s a popular theory, believed by practically everyone…except for ecologists that is.

The Mythical Balance of Nature?

“This concept of natural equilibrium long ruled ecological research and governed the management of such natural resources as forests and fisheries. It led to the doctrine, popular among conservationists, that nature knows best and that human intervention in it is bad by definition.” ~ William K. Stevens, New Eye on Nature: The Real Constant Is Eternal Turmoil

Yes, it’s true. Nature is never in balance. In fact, it’s the complete opposite of balance. When an ecological system experiences a disturbance, whether it’s a forest fire or an ice storm or something else, it never comes back in its original form. Instead, the system evolves in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. And predators and prey, contrary to popular opinion, don’t maintain constant population levels relative to each other. Instead, their numbers vary wildly over time. Sometimes, predators drive prey to extinction. Other times, predators die off on their own accord.

The Origin of the Balance of Nature Theory?

The Balance of Nature theory is very old, tracing all the way back to Herodotus, who is often considered the first historian. However, it entered the scientific world in the 1950s thanks to the efforts of two brothers named Howard T. Odum and Eugene Odum (see The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts by documentarian Adam Curtis). The Odums viewed nature as a self-stabilizing, cybernetic system filled with nodes and feedback loops. If a disturbance occurred in nature, it would be recognized via feedback loops. Nature would then adjust itself to eliminate the disturbance.

Over the next few decades, Howard Odum collected data and modeled ecosystems as electronic networks filled with nodes and feedback loops. Eventually, he and Eugene took the idea of “nature as a system” and made it the basis of ecological studies. Unfortunately, their work was deeply flawed. The brothers ruthlessly simplified and cherry-picked the data to fit their predetermined models. But no one realized that at the time and their ideas became gospel.

The Failure of the Balance of Nature Models?

Later, a systems ecologist named George Van Dyne attempted to model a small piece of land as a complete ecosystem. He gathered tons of data and built a computer simulation, hoping to gain a better understanding of how nature self-stabilized. But as he gathered more and more data, he began to realize his model didn’t even begin to resemble the real world. In fact, he found nature to be extremely unstable and ultra-complex.

But while the scientific theory behind the Balance of Nature was no longer considered accurate, it remained widely believed by the greater public. Indeed, the mythical Balance of Nature theory continues onward today, driven largely by poorly trained educators, popular culture, New Age environmentalism, and ancient romanticism. Will that ever change?

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Let’s hope so. The Balance of Nature might seem like a romantic idea, but nothing could be further from the truth. It views nature in machine-like fashion. Plants, animals, insects, and everything else are mere nodes in a network, reacting to constant feedback loops. However, nature is far more complex and unstable than even our most sophisticated computer models. It’s wild, ever-changing, and full of surprises. It’s unpredictable and remains beyond our understanding. And that, at least from where we stand, is a far more romantic…and accurate…idea of nature.


Guerrilla Explorer’s Man vs. Nature Coverage

The Year without a Summer?

In 1816, average global temperatures fell. A strange fog drifted across the Northern Hemisphere. Sunlight dimmed. Crops died due to unusual amounts of dust. What caused “The Year without a Summer?”

What was the Year without a Summer?

“The Year without a Summer” was indeed a strange year. It was most apparent in the northeastern United States, Atlantic Canada, and western Europe. These regions experienced a heavy summer frost which killed off crops, summer snow, persistent fog which reduced and reddened the sunlight, icy lakes and rivers, and rapid temperature changes. In turn, these factors led to rising food prices, famine, riots, arson, looting, disease, and death.

What caused the Year without a Summer?

The Year without a Summer lasted past 1816, into 1817, and possibly into 1818 as well. What could’ve caused such an extended period of climate change?

Well, most scientists attribute the event to the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Incidentally, Mount Tambora was the largest eruption of the last 1,300 years and one of the three largest eruptions of the last 2,000 years. Along with four other significant eruptions between 1812 and 1814, Mount Tambora kicked up huge amounts of volcanic dust into the upper atmosphere, which served to block incoming sunlight. Making matters worse, this occurred during a period of significantly reduced solar activity.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Year without a Summer was one of the most horrible ones in recent history. But even in bad times, good things can sometimes arise. The volcanic dust in the upper atmosphere led to a period of incredible sunsets, which were immortalized in J.M.W. Turner’s paintings (including the one at the beginning of this post). The vast crop failures also caused American families to seek out better growing conditions. This led to the settling of western and central New York as well as the Upper Midwest.

Joseph Smith’s family was one of those who left New England. His move to Palmyra, NY was an essential step in his founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (it should be noted that past periods of violent climate change have often resulted in the growth of new religions). Also, large amounts of rain in Switzerland led Mary Shelley and John William Polidori to stay indoors for most of the summer. During that time, Shelley wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus while Polidori wrote The Vampyre.

Still, the event must be remembered for the awe-inspiring destruction it wrought throughout the world. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the Black Death, which may have been caused by the loading of cometary dust into the upper atmosphere. “The Year without a Summer” serves as a reminder of how much we depend on nature for our survival…and how easily it can be taken away.

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

In 1967, Dial Press published a book called Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. It remains one of the most controversial works of all time. Who wrote the Report from Iron Mountain? What does it say? And most importantly…is it real?

What is the Report from Iron Mountain?

The Report from Iron Mountain purports to be the findings of a 15-man Special Study Group. It hints that it was commissioned in 1963 by the Department of Defense and was produced by the Hudson Institute, which is located at the base of Iron Mountain in New York. The purpose of the supposed top-secret study was “…to determine, accurately and realistically, the nature of the problems that would confront the United States if and when a condition of ‘permanent peace’ should arrive, and to draft a program for dealing with this contingency.”

The Report from Iron Mountain states that from a historical perspective, war has been the only reliable way for a government to perpetuate itself. Fear of an enemy will cause civilians to accept government intrusion into their lives. Also, war creates loyalty for political leaders. But during times of peace, people begin to turn against taxes and intrusion.

“The war system not only has been essential to the existence of nations as independent political entities, but has been equally indispensable to their stable internal political structure. Without it, no government has ever been able to obtain acquiescence in its ‘legitimacy,’ or right to rule its society. The possibility of war provides the sense of external necessity without which no government can long remain in power. The historical record reveals one instance after another where the failure of a regime to maintain the credibility of a war threat led to its dissolution, by the forces of private interest, of reactions to social injustice, or of other disintegrative elements.” ~ Report from Iron Mountain

The Report from Iron Mountain sought to find a credible substitute for war and considered several ideas such as an alien invasion. However, aliens were ultimately discarded for an “environmental-pollution model.” In passages that are eerily prescient of the current global warming debate, the Report proposes that people would be willing to accept a lower standard of living, higher taxes, and increased governmental intrusion in order to “save Mother Earth.”

Was the Report from Iron Mountain Real?

As you can imagine, the Report from Iron Mountain sent giant waves rippling throughout the world back in 1967. It became a New York Times bestseller and was translated into fifteen languages. Its authenticity quickly came under question, a debate that continues to this day.

On one hand, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s an authentic document. In 1967, the U.S. News and World report claimed that the report was real and that it had confirmation to that effect. In 1976, John Kenneth Galbraith (under a pseudonym) wrote in the Washington Post that he had been invited to participate in the Special Study Group.

“As I would put my personal repute behind the authenticity of this document, so would I testify to the validity of its conclusions. My reservation relates only to the wisdom of releasing it to an obviously unconditioned public.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

On the other hand, Leonard Lewin, who wrote the original introduction to the book, came forward in 1972 and claimed to be the author. He said that it was meant to be a satire. Supposedly, he got the idea from a New York Timesarticle that discussed how a “peace scare” led to a stock-market sell-off.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, who wrote the Report? In all likelihood, Lewin was indeed the author. In 1990, Liberty Lobby published its own edition, claiming that the study was in the public domain since it was a U.S. government document. Lewin sued for copyright infringement and received an undisclosed settlement.

The bigger question regards its authenticity. Most scholars consider it a hoax. Still, numerous groups continue to believe that the Report from Iron Mountain is genuine and that Lewin only called it a hoax on orders from the United States government. Others would say that whether its authentic or not misses the point. What really matters is that the ideas presented in the document are no longer just ideas…they are rapidly becoming a reality.

Christopher Columbus: Climate Change Villain?

Christopher Columbus, the great explorer who brought the Old and New Worlds together, has been lauded in some quarters as a hero while attacked in others as a villain. Now, climate researchers have weighed into the debate, suggesting that Columbus’s arrival in the Americas may have touched off the Little Ice Age. Was Christopher Columbus a “Climate Change Villain?”

Did Christopher Columbus cause the Little Ice Age?

The Little Ice Age was a period of global cooling “that lasted from about A.D. 1550 to about A.D. 1850 in Europe, North America, and Asia.” It affected both Hemispheres and led to colder temperatures as well as increased ice formation. The Little Ice Age was characterized by crop failures, famine, hypothermia, strange weather patterns and bread riots. How in the world could a single explorer cause all that?

Well, it’s a pretty roundabout path, according to geochemist Richard Nevle. Prior to Christopher Columbus, some 40-100 million people lived in the Americas. They periodically burned vast swathes of land in order to farm crops, leaving large charcoal deposits in their wake.

Then Christopher Columbus arrived. While his own voyages were harmless, the same cannot be said of those of his successors. Europeans quickly followed in Columbus’s path. They sailed to the New World and set about colonizing it. It’s estimated that ~90% of the indigenous population died from either war or disease during this period.

The devastation left far fewer people to care for crops. Charcoal deposits vanished and trees began to grow in formerly-cleared areas. This new flora absorbed as much as 2-17 billion metric tons of carbon-dioxide in the process. The reduced levels of this greenhouse gas left the atmosphere unable to trap as much heat as in the past. And thus, the planet cooled.

“We have a massive reforestation event that’s sequestering carbon … coincident with the European arrival.” ~ Richard Nevle, Stanford University

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

It should be noted that this reforestation theory is not a new one. And it’s not necessarily limited to the Americas either. For example, paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman has suggested in the past that the Black Death, which reduced Europe’s population from somewhere between 30-60%, reduced farming and thus, allowed for new tree growth.

In terms of evidence, Nevle and his team point to ice core samples from Antarctica. Samples corresponding to the Little Ice Age tend to have increasingly higher concentrations of carbon-13, which could be explained by the fact that tree leaves tend to absorb carbon-12. Also, the samples “suggest that levels of the greenhouse gas decreased by 6 to 10 parts per million between 1525 and the early 1600s.

“6 to 10 parts per million? Wow. That’s an extremely small change and, from what I understand, far too small to account for a significant geological event like the Little Ice Age. Plus, this data can be interpreted in other ways. For example, the oceans might’ve absorbed the carbon-dioxide, “perhaps in response to cooling induced by lower solar activity and increased aerosols due to volcanoes.”

To be fair, Nevle is on record stating that reforestation in the Americas was not the only factor that led to the Little Ice Age. But he does consider it a significant one. And the idea that changes in land-use might foster long-term climate change is an intriguing and potentially viable concept.

“…change and variability in land use by humans and the resulting alterations in surface features are major but poorly recognized drivers of long-term global climate patterns … these spatially heterogeneous land use effects may be at least as important in altering the weather as changes in climate patterns associated with greenhouse gases.” ~ Roger Pielke Sr.

Still, the fact remains that a carbon-dioxide reduction of just 6-10 parts per million is far too small to account for the resulting change in temperatures associated with the Little Ice Age. At the same time, there are plenty of other natural variables out there that seem far more likely, namely orbital cycles, reduced solar activity, increased volcanic or cometary fragment activity, inherent variability of climate, and/or a slowing of thermohaline circulation. It’s even possible that it was caused by natural forces we don’t yet understand.

Future evidence could change things. But for the moment, I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Columbus and the explorers that followed him were most likely not a major factor in bringing about the Little Ice Age.

The Doomsday Seed Vault?

Just 810 miles from the North Pole lies one of the strangest and and most secure facilities in the entire world…a global seed bank of epic proportions. Could it one day save the Earth? Or is it at the center of a sinister conspiracy to gain control of the world’s food production?

The  Svalbard Global Seed Bank Conspiracy?

In 1984, the Nordic Gene Bank entered an abandoned coal mine on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is located in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago. Inside the mine, they secured frozen seeds of various Nordic plants. The location was chosen due to a lack of tectonic activity in the area as well as the permafrost.

By 2006, after many years of collecting and depositing seed samples, the Seed Bank decided it needed a new location to store its growing treasure chest. This facility, called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, opened in 2008.

This seed bank cost $9 million to construct and is located within a sandstone mountain. At the present time, no research takes place within its walls. It’s just a vault, designed to duplicate existing seed banks from around the world. That way, if a regional seed bank is ruined via natural disaster, war, or in some other manner, it can be easily replenished.

Numerous high-security technologies protect the Vault from temperature fluctuations, changes in the sea level, and even terrorist attacks. It currently holds somewhere around 1.5 million seed samples with capacity to hold an additional 3 million samples. These seeds could last within the facility for several centuries, maybe even millennia.

Why do we need a Doomsday Seed Bank?

Collecting and preserving seeds has taken on increased importance these days, at least in the eyes of government officials and scientists. Specifically, fears over things like climate change, epidemics, and nuclear war, in the view of some, “creates the need for an inaccessible ark.”

“Seed saving and its role in preserving biodiversity is of utmost importance. We are in an era called the Holocene extinction, which is notable for its decline in biodiversity.” ~ Dornith Doherty, Photographer of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy, a seed morphologist, agrees.

“We are essentially up against a deadline to collect the seeds of plant species before they go extinct. The current worldwide economic crisis makes it difficult to raise the funds necessary for this kind of work.” ~ Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy

The Dark Side of the Doomsday Seed Bank?

However, there is a little known dark side to this story. The Vault is financially backed by a mix of governmental organizations and large corporations and foundations such as Monsanto Corporation, Syngenta Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Gates Foundation. While these groups claim to have pure motives, others are not so sure.

“The whole research agenda of countries like India is driven by what is dictated by outside agencies with vested interests; they are using state-of-the-art laboratories and trained scientists to work toward the production and distribution of genetically modified seeds.” ~ Sunita Rao, Adjunct Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment

Many researchers believe that Monsanto and other companies plan to use the Vault to eventually extend their control over the world’s food supply. And internal squabbles within the industry seem to bear this out. By gathering seeds from around the world and implementing international treaties, these companies will be able to conduct proprietary research with the purpose of creating and producing IP-protected, genetically modified seeds for all areas on earth. As you might expect, the money behind these seeds is immense.

“Monsanto, the corporate food giant with influence in the last three presidential administrations (including the current one), owns genes that can be found in 90% of America’s soy. Wind inevitably blows the seeds from Monsanto crops to those owned by smaller farmers, after which the company claims intellectual property rights over the land and forbids farmers to save seeds – a traditional agricultural practice – and even sues farmers for merely “encouraging” the violation of these patents.” ~ Anthony Gregory, Sustainable Living, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Urban Farms

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Even putting that aside, I have to admit I’m still highly skeptical of the so-called Doomsday Seed Vault at Svalbard. If one wants to protect plants from going extinct, I can think of no worse way to do that than to turn over control of regional seed banks to a single, centralized fortress. While I understand the need for redundant facilities, Svalbard seems ill suited to the task.

A series of regional, independent banks freely trading samples with each other seems far more likely to help unique seeds survive disasters. In the end, the best way to ensure the future of the earth’s seeds is not to restrict them to one place…it’s to set them free and to spread them as far as possible.

The Birth of Frankenstein’s Monster?

On March 11, 1818, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. It was one of the first science fiction novels and remains one of the most influential pieces of literature of all time. For many years, scholars have doubted Mary’s account of how she wrote the book. Now, thanks to modern science, we may finally know the truth about her famous “waking dream.”

Mary Shelley’s Waking Dream of Frankenstein?

According to the third edition of Mary’s Frankenstein book, Lord Byron challenged her, her husband Percy Shelley, and a physician named Polidori to each write a ghost story in mid-June 1816 during the so-called Year without a Summer. Byron and Percy, to the best of my knowledge, never followed through on the challenge. Polidori launched the romantic vampire genre with his short story, The Vampyre. Meanwhile, Shelley tossed and turned until she finally found her inspiration for Frankenstein on June 16 “during a sleepless night in her dark room, behind closed shutters ‘with the moonlight struggling to get through.'”

“I saw with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life …” ~ Mary Shelley

Mary claimed that she saw a “bright and shining moon” over Lake Geneva and that she proceeded to write the novel about Frankenstein while in a “waking dream.” However, scholars have long doubted her account, considering it a tall tale designed to sell more books. And indeed, certain entries in Polidori’s diary have cast doubt upon Mary’s version of the events. Did she really see moonlight on June 16 and begin writing her novel shortly afterward? Or was the moon impossible to see that early morning?

Does Mary Shelley’s Story fit the Facts?

Enter Professor Donald Olson, an astronomer from Texas State University. Olson specializes in using astronomical tables and geographic reference points to solve some of the world’s most famous historical mysteries such as “the time, date and location of paintings by Edvard Munch and Vincent van Goghthe Battle of Marathon in 490BC and Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 55BC; and even…a freak Breton tide mentioned in Chaucer’s The Franklin’s Tale.”

In August 2010, a team led by Professor Olson visited the Switzerland villa where Mary had her vision. They made “extensive topographic measurements of the terrain” and analyzed “weather records for June of 1816.”After a thorough investigation, Olson “determined that a bright, gibbous moon would have cleared the hillside to shine right into Shelley’s bedroom window just before 2 a.m. on June 16.” However, by June 22, it was a “waning crescent, masked by a hillside.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Thus, it appears that Mary’s version of events is supported by the evidence. Olson believes that Byron made his challenge between June 10-13. A few days later, Mary woke up in the early morning of June 16, between 2am and 3am, and started to write about Frankenstein.

“Mary Shelley wrote about moonlight shining through her window, and for 15 years I wondered if we could recreate that night. We did recreate it. We see no reason to doubt her account.” ~ Professor Olson

And the rest, as they say, is history.