Biocultural Diversity in the United States

Endangered Biocultural Diversity in the United States, by Jordan Engel
Endangered Biocultural Diversity in the United States, by Jordan Engel

This map was inspired by a TED Talk by Wade Davis, in which he said “The Twentieth Century, three hundred years from now, is not going to be remembered for its wars or its technological innovations, but rather as the era in which we stood by and either actively endorsed or passively accepted the massive destruction of both biological and cultural diversity on the planet.”

Humans have recently increased the species extinction rate to 10,000 times the historically normal rate, and of the planet’s 6,800 languages, between fifty and ninety percent are predicted to disappear in the next one hundred years.

In the mid 1990’s, ethnobotanist Luisa Maffi coined the term “biocultural diversity,” a portmanteau that she defined as “the total variety exhibited by the world’s natural and cultural systems”. The study of biocultural diversity has since helped to identify the most diverse places on Earth, but never before has the biocultural fabric of the United States been specifically mapped. The United States is a case study of biocultural diversity collapse and its history should be an alarm for the rest of the world not to follow.

This map is a display of where biocultural diversity still exists in the US, the importance of which is resilience. Resilience is the ability of a system to withstand environmental flux without collapsing. The more biologically and culturally diverse a system is, the more resilient it is against disturbance. With the many “disturbances” our society faces today – climate change, peak oil, economic collapse, food insecurity – resilience is the key to our survival. With growing agreement among scientists that it may be too late to stop climate change, the next step is adaptation. Even Bill McKibben recently acknowledged that “We’re no longer at the point of trying to stop global warming. It’s too late for that. We’re trying to keep it from becoming a complete and utter calamity.” While the fight to prevent further climate change continues, the fight to preserve biocultural diversity must also escalate as we buffer the systems of resilience.

Note: Languages are mapped using a single point at the relative center of the area where the speakers live, or in certain cases, where the largest speaker community lives.


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