What is Biocultural Diversity?

What do you think of if you hear about the “web of life”? More likely than not, you’ll be thinking of biodiversity: the millions of species of plants and animals that have evolved on earth, interconnected with one another and with the ecosystems in which they live.

But now think again.

biocultural diversity
Credit: Jessica Brown

For millennia, we humans have been part of nature and have co-evolved with it. Over time, people have adapted to their local environment while drawing material and spiritual sustenance from it. Through this mutual adaptation, human communities have developed thousands of different cultures and languages: distinctive ways of seeing, knowing, doing, and speaking that have been shaped by the interactions between people and the natural world.

This, then, is the “true” web of life: the interlinked diversity of nature and culture — or “biocultural diversity,” as we at Terralingua call it.

biocultural diversity
Credit: Saori Ogura

Biocultural diversity is the expression of the bountiful potential of life on earth. It’s what gives vitality and resilience to this planet — our home — and sustains the life systems that sustain us. It’s a precious gift to be cherished and nurtured for the future of all life — us included.

And yet, we carelessly squander this invaluable gift. Life in urban environments has fostered a profound disconnect from the natural world and the loss of the “biocultural link.” Global economic, political, and social forces are rapidly eroding the health of the world’s ecosystems and cultures, and are silencing the voices of the world’s languages.

The very fabric of life in nature and culture is coming unraveled, leaving our biocultural world increasingly fragile and the outlook for humans and all other species increasingly uncertain.

It’s a “converging extinction crisis” of the diversity of life in all its forms. But life is not expendable. We are foolishly cutting the grass under our own feet.

Busy with our everyday lives and caught up in our daily pursuits, we may be tempted to brush off this troubling thought. Or we may hastily conclude it’s something happening to someone else somewhere else, in some remote place “out there,” and of no consequence to us “here.” But that’s not so. Nobody is immune to the impact of biocultural diversity loss.

We’re all affected, no matter who we are and where and how we live, so we all have a responsibility to act.

biocultural diversity
Credit: J. J. Kohler

Join the effort to sustain the biocultural diversity of life! How? It starts with learning more. Read on.