Tales of the Ethnosphere

For explorer Wade Davis, the culture of indigenous peoples is a precious resource -- and listening to their stories is vital to our survival

| March / April 2004

"Ethnosphere" is Wade Davis's word for the imaginative contributions of humanity to the planet -- everything from dreams to scientific theories to stories. We may not think of these things as global resources -- like air, water, and green life -- but they truly are. And they, too, are threatened by rampant modernization and globalization. Here are two reports that remind us of the value and show us the urgency of preserving these priceless treasures. -- The Editors

"I really mean it when I say that storytelling can change the world," Wade Davis tells me over the telephone. Despite myself, I'm surprised by his statement. I think of Davis as a man of action, and storytelling strikes me as a rather subtle and hands-off approach to social change. How can telling stories compare to direct actions like documenting rare species of rainforest plants, or raising money for an indigenous group to defend their human rights, or serving in an organization that supports environmentally sensitive economic development? In fact, Davis has done all of these things at one point or another in his career. Yet when I ask him what title best describes his work, he responds: "I define myself as a storyteller."