Regenerating Cultural Ecosystems
Cultures, like our ecosystems, are dying out…
Photo: Amanda Pietra
A world once rich in cultural diversity is at risk of becoming a monocrop of western values, as many low-income countries abandon their traditions and heritage in an attempt to taste a modern lifestyle, made possible by economic productivity. While at the same time, many in the Global North are bloated from a consumerist diet, yet still hunger for a more meaningful life.
The rise of modern capitalism emerged from a genuine need - how can we grow abundance after the scarcity of the second world war? Putting ourselves in the shoes of those at the time, anything that yields comfort, security and global cooperation is far more desirable from what had just been lived.
However, the more we ploughed ahead with capitalist ideals, the deeper the seeds of economic growth were sown until the structures of society were changed. Western values were then farmed out around the world and emerging economies began to thirst for the glamour and wealth of industrialised nations. A new generation set its sights on these greener pastures, and little by little, the cultural habitat was eroded further. Soon, there was little space for the beautiful, delicate cultural variations that perhaps don’t fertilise the economy, but nourish the soul.
Photo: Tom Fisk
So here we are in the 21st century; globalisation has been instrumental in both the world’s unprecedented prosperity and its cultural extinction. Let’s use language as a demonstration of the latter - today, 97% of the world’s population speak only 4 tongues (English, Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish) and it’s expected that 90% of all languages will be extinct in just 100 years. That’s a striking loss of cultural diversity that has evolved over tens of thousands of years.
To give you a glimpse into what it might feel like to be the last one of your culture to speak its language, listen to this song by Blanco White. It follows the last Kauai O’o bird, once native to Hawaii and now extinct.
While the last native speakers may not feel alone in a physical sense, what might it feel like to know that the language of your ancestors disappears with you you on your final breath?
So what will happen if we continue to homogenise our human species and its cultures? Well, firstly the variety and depth of traditions, stories, worldviews, songs, architecture, language and so much more will diminish; what was once a vibrant bazaar of exotic flavours turns into the stale packaged goods found at your local corner shop.
We will also likely lose vital knowledge from the peoples who know true sustainability - those who live intertwined with living systems, not as a separate dominator or exploiter for its resources. If we fail to save these seeds of wisdom and resow them at a time we’re ripe for worldwide ecological collapse, this is surely what will push us over the edge of the ecological tipping point. There is an (ever diminishing) window of opportunity to turn things around, but how can we do that?
Photo: Joshua Holmes
Ecosystems are more resilient when they’re diverse. When each element plays a part of a bigger whole, the likelihood of disease and plague reduces. Instead of relying on artificial fertilisers to give nutrients to the soil, we can encourage legumes that fix nitrogen, composting cycles to encourage microorganisms and build fertile ground through mycelium networks. Establishing these ecological networks takes a lot longer than their destruction, but some of the scientific discoveries of the West can help us tend and garden our one and only planet back into a paradise for all plants and animals.
But what does this mean for culture? If we can move away from the cultural homogeneity and segregation we have created, and instead, begin to cultivate spaces where we embrace a wide variety of worldviews, we have the opportunity to feast on the abundance of human experience. This has not only the potential to create more equal societies, stimulate a sustainable economy, provide more meaning to peoples’ lives and solve some of humanity's greatest existential threats. It also provides us to unite and evolve together to truly become one species; from atoms, to molecules, to cells, to organs, to humans - to humanity.
On this small piece of mountainside in the Ecuadorian Andes, we’re inviting you to be a part of this seed of possibility. Our small team of international volunteers, interns and the local community are using cultural exchange to pioneer new ideas of sustainable development through tourism, ecology, culture and education.
Support us through a monthly donation, connect us to other forward-thinking individuals, build us up by volunteering within the community, do your own research project as an intern or visit us as a tourist to soak up the beautiful landscapes and cultures that the Ecuadorian Andes have to offer.
Until next time.
Joshua Holmes Founder, El Terreno
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