Cultural Vitality

Summary A holistic and integrated approach to sustaining both culture and biodiversity

Cultural Vitality

The concept of biocultural diversity is providing a holistic and integrated approach to sustaining both culture and biodiversity.

“BIODIVERSITY ALSO incorporates human cultural diversity, which can be affected by the same drivers as biodiversity, and which has impacts on the diversity of genes, other species, and ecosystems.” Even a decade ago, one would have hardly expected to see a statement like this one in an official United Nations document, such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)’s flagship report, Global Environment Outlook. Back then, academics and a few others had just begun to focus on the idea that the diversity of life on Earth is diversity in both Nature and culture, and that biodiversity and cultural diversity (including linguistic diversity) are intimately, indeed inextricably, linked – so much so, that they should be thought of as a unified whole, ‘biocultural diversity’. There was also an emerging concern that the world’s biodiversity and cultural diversity are severely under threat by many of the same global forces. Yet, in most fields of enquiry, policy and action, ‘Nature’ and ‘culture’ were still treated as separate categories, and few if any connections were made between conserving biodiversity and supporting the diversity of cultures and languages.

Resurgence 250 Sept/Oct 2008

Luisa Maffi is a linguist, anthropologist and ethnobiologist. She is co-founder and Director of Terralingua.