Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In This Month's Seed Magazine: "In Defence of Difference"

In Seed Magazine ("Science is Culture"), Maywa Montenegro and I survey an emerging paradigm that defies the "environmentalist" bifurcations of nature and culture, the wild and the tamed, artificial selection and natural selection, the town and the country, and so on. Our essay, In Defence of Difference, situates biological diversity within the same realm as diversity of the cultural and linguistic sort, and presents the case for protecting and defending both.

Once you come around to this way of thinking, what you find is that all these things are related:

This past January, at the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, friends and relatives gathered to bid their last farewell to Marie Smith Jones, a beloved matriarch of her community. At 89 years old, she was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. In May 2007 a cavalry of the Janjaweed - the notorious Sudanese militia responsible for the ongoing genocide of the indigenous people of Darfur - made its way across the border into neighboring Chad. They were hunting for 1.5 tons of confiscated ivory, worth nearly $1.5 million, locked in a storeroom in Zakouma National Park. Around the same time, a wave of mysterious frog disappearances that had been confounding herpetologists worldwide spread to the US Pacific Northwest. It was soon discovered that Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a deadly fungus native to southern Africa, had found its way via such routes as the overseas trade in frog's legs to Central America, South America, Australia, and now the United States. One year later, food riots broke out across the island nation of Haiti, leaving at least five people dead; as food prices soared, similar violence erupted in Mexico, Bangladesh, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia.

You could say that the culprit animating these catastrophes is globalization, but that would be oversimplifying things. Lines of cause and effect run in several different directions, and neither global human progress nor universal values need be impaired or circumscribed in order to maintain ecological functioning and protect defensible cultural traditions. The emerging field of resilience theory, based solidly in the methodologies of empiricism, offers voluminous evidence that demonstrates why this is so.

It's all here. The central idea was also the subject of my most recent book.


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