Sanjay Khanna: Nature, Culture and Climate Change

Biocultural Diversity Key Asset for Century of Climate Impacts

Sanjay Khanna interviews Luisa Maffi for the Huffington Post. Below is an excerpt from the article:

Ten years before the U.N. declaration, in 1996, Luisa Maffi, a linguist, anthropologist, and ethnobiologist, co-founded Terralingua, an international NGO that she leads to this day. Terralingua researches, communicates, and seeks to ameliorate the loss of biological, linguistic, and cultural diversity — “biocultural diversity” for short — in part by communicating that nature and culture are inescapably linked.

Maffi says, “The existence of an ‘inextricable link’ between nature and culture was first affirmed in 1988 in the Declaration of Belém, issued by the International Society of Ethnobiology.”

In 1993, Maffi developed that idea into the now burgeoning field of biocultural diversity, which asserts that biological, cultural and linguistic diversity are intimately interrelated and interdependent. Humanity’s cultures and languages, in other words, are tightly integrated with rich and complex ecologies as well as the planetary system that’s being altered by climate change.

Since industrial civilization has dangerously degraded ecologies, the natural web of life has been radically disrupted, causing the loss of not only terrestrial and oceanic species, but also human species, in particular, Indigenous peoples, cultures, and languages that embody valuable knowledge of natural systems.

To assist with safeguarding nature and culture, Maffi advocates bringing the term “biocultural diversity” into common parlance.

“We want for ‘biocultural diversity’ to become a household name in every household and for everyone to reconnect with, and care for, the true web of life — in nature and culture.”
Maffi, author of On Biocultural Diversity: Linking Language, Knowledge and the Environment (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), is co-author with Ellen Woodley of the just-released Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook (Earthscan, 2010).

Having conducted fieldwork in Somalia, Mexico, China, and Japan, Maffi brings decades of academic and on-the-ground experience to her latest book, which skillfully interweaves her and co-author Woodley’s expertise with that of biocultural diversity conservation leaders around the world. Project leaders — from researchers to Indigenous traditional knowledge experts — contributed 45 projects to the book that illustrate how research, education, and policy can contribute to on-the-ground work that revitalizes the links between biological, linguistic, and cultural diversity.

“As the most biodiverse regions [of the planet] are typically under Indigenous stewardship,” she explains, “the accelerating loss of biodiversity correlates with a quickening loss of hundreds, if not thousands, of Indigenous cultures and languages.”

Since we’re in the midst of a “biocultural diversity extinction crisis”, as well as facing catastrophic climate impacts, Maffi, an International Fellow of the Explorers Club, emphasizes biocultural diversity’s role in providing resilient ways of thinking and being. These ways, in turn, would help humanity build greater socio-cultural resilience before catastrophic climate events occur — and would contribute lasting approaches for rebuilding and survival after such occurrences.

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