Survival of the Diverse

| January-February 2009

Every two weeks, a language dies. Every few minutes, a species goes extinct. Not long ago, these phenomena would have been relegated to their separate realms: culture and nature. Now, an interdisciplinary contingent of linguists, anthropologists, and biologists are showing that today’s epic loss of languages and of species are inextricably linked.

Scientists don’t quite know why, but areas of cultural and biological diversity tend to overlap geographically. These bicultural hot spots, according to Seed (Sept.-Oct. 2008), are threatened by the onslaught of Big Agra monoculture crops like corn and wheat, invasive species such as the beetles devastating Canada’s pine forests, and the increasing domination of the English, Spanish, and Chinese languages.

When indigenous cultures lose their languages and practices, the world loses potentially useful agricultural or medicinal species and land-use systems that keep crucial ecosystems in balance. Resurgence (Sept.-Oct. 2008) sees hope in Indigenous Community Conserved Areas—dozens of homegrown conservation initiatives from the Amazon to Australia that rely on indigenous groups’ traditional knowledge to manage their lands sustainably.

This diversity of solutions may be our best weapon against a rising tide of sameness.

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