The Loss of Diversity

But don’t languages and cultures change all the time anyway? True, as with biological species, human languages and cultures are not static. They naturally change and evolve over time. All human cultures are capable of adapting to new circumstances and creating solutions to new problems. And all human languages are capable of developing to accommodate new needs for communication and expression.

The point is that, as with biological species, human languages and cultures need time to change and evolve by themselves. Normally, that process may happen slowly, from one generation to the next, as people find new ways of responding to new challenges and opportunities, and new ways of talking about what’s new.

But increasingly, things are not happening that way anymore. The pace and scale of change have grown exponentially, and so has the intensity of the pressures that economic, political, and social forces are placing on the biocultural web of life. These forces, and the changes they impose the world over, are far outpacing the natural ability of natural and cultural systems to respond and adapt.

By promoting an unsustainable way of life, these dominant forces are eroding the vitality and resilience of the world’s diverse ecosystems, languages, and cultures.

biocultural diversity
Credit: Younes Tazi
biocultural diversity
Credit: John Gritts

Sweeping global change is especially affecting Indigenous Peoples and local communities: dispossessing them of their lands, resources, and lifestyles; forcing them to subsist in highly degraded environments; trampling their cultural traditions or hampering their ability to maintain them; and forcing them into linguistic assimilation and abandonment of their ancestral languages.

Losing one’s linguistic and cultural identity often goes hand in hand with losing traditional ways of life that teach understanding of and respect for nature. The consequences are profound for both the well-being of people and the health of the natural environment. Forcing cultural and linguistic assimilation on Indigenous Peoples and local communities not only violates their human rights; it also undermines nature conservation.

Creating “monocultures of the mind” has the same effect as creating monocultures in farming: it makes our planet more fragile and vulnerable to both natural disasters and human-made crises.

But today’s dominant ideology ignores this warning and seeks easy-to-control uniformity instead of organic unity in diversity.

It’s a “global steamroller” that’s crushing diversity all across the planet.