Manifesto on Biocultural Diversity

According to the latest United Nations report on biodiversity, the world will lose one million species in the upcoming years. In parallel, it has been demonstrated that the degradation of biological diversity has a negative effect on cultural and linguistic diversity, as declared by UNESCO. Today, a third of the world’s languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers left, and a majority of those languages are predicted to disappear by the next century. Yet culture is linked and influenced by locally specific relationships between people and the environment, resulting in different values, knowledge and practices related to biodiversity (in a variety of life forms including genes, species, ecosystems), while in parallel biodiversity conservation is expressed using words and vocabulary through the social genes of culture.

In this manifesto we claim that biodiversity and cultural diversity are intimately related and interconnected. But as indicated by recent research, there is an important decline in biocultural diversity across the globe. Even though several nations have implemented laws and strategies for the protection of existing biodiversity, we, the undersigned, do not consider this a sufficient line of action. We also state the urgency to act in front of this correlated loss of languages and cultural diversity across the globe. 

The following manifesto is an attempt to indicate ways in which we can make these connections concrete, and develop alternatives by which we can positively contribute to preserving the complexity of environments and communities around us, towards a truly sustainable future – a world where many worlds co-exist. For this, we need to address the systemic connections between the global and the local scales of biocultural diversity loss.

Cultural practices and knowledge systems transmitted through language and linguistic cultures impact us either positively or negatively, as well as our approaches to preservation of the earth’s resources and biodiversity. This is why we urgently have to transform cultural practices and develop a language of sustainability and coexistence that can have a chance of positive outcomes.

Economy and the environment

Humanity and nature are interconnected, as well as the way humans situate themselves in the world. Understanding the interconnectedness of nature and society is critical for dealing with our changing world, adapting to it and working for resilience. Yet the current economic system is a system of extraction that does not envision an end to natural resources. The accumulative effects of this extractionism affect biocultural diversity. Moreover, it denies seeing ourselves as species and as part of the ecosystem.

Governments, public and private entities and the entire society need to be accountable for their actions, transparent about their practices and switch to new visions to articulate effective strategies. They need to care about the materiality of our natural resources, as well as the meanings and narratives of these materials for different cultures. For this specific challenge, we propose the following: 

  1. Creation of a production-related label for cultural diversity and biodiversity (comparing indigineous and preserved assets in relation to monocultures, as well as diversity of people’s cultures and backgrounds in organizations).
  2. Specific template programs for organizations to become labelled only after practical actions, in terms of preserving biodiversity and cultural diversity.
  3. Formalization of a broad biocultural diversity definition and a quantitative index accordingly (building up on existing ones like the Entropy index, the Shannon iIndex, the Simpson index or the Berger-Parker index).
  4. Promotion of multidisciplinary research on the redistribution, impact and cost of biocultural preservation into the price of final products (from cultural products to commodities and food) as well as services.
  5. Policies for preserving cultural standpoints of stakeholders in a sustainable economic negotiation, making sure no ecosystem is left out with a representative culture. 
  6. Incentivisation of private and public organizations for fully adopting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals related to biocultural diversity.
  7. Explore how biocultural impact, redistribution, governance and taxation could be effectively embedded into new financial policies.
  8. Measures to promote, invest and contribute to wide research and documentation of initiatives on biocultural diversity for allowing the replication of practices in other places.
  9. Promotion of participatory actions for interaction and dialogue in local environments, for both raising awareness about biocultural diversity and for the co-creation of ad hoc policies.

Education and awareness 

In today’s society, there is a pressing need to foster the understanding, awareness and critical reflection of the interplay between culture and language related to diversity, and in this sense education is key to reach across generations. For this, education as a structured and social process should not be understood as a vertical and unidirectional(‘knowledge holders’ vs. ‘knowledge demanders’), but as a horizontal and shared circulation of practices and knowledge, including every individual and every group, regardless of their situation in society. In our understanding, education is a means of sharing practices and knowledge in a collaborative and ethical approach. From such perspective, increasing awareness on diversity by means of education is a must, as part of every citizen’s civic life.

Learning is also connected to the notion of transmission, especially the transmission of diverse practices and knowledge already existing within different cultural and social groups, including indigenous people – and not limited to scholars, teachers or people perceived as legitimated by systems of accreditation and acknowledgement. In this sense, wider awareness on biological, cultural and linguistic diversity involves several different stakeholders.

The main questions to be addressed by learning and awareness to defend biocultural diversity are the following, rooted in a balanced approach:

  1. Diversity as something biological, cultural and linguistic should be introduced in all educational curriculums in order to foster diversity in its complex reality, mixing anthropology, agriculture, ecology, environmental studies and social studies. 
  2. It is key to target children as well as adults, and all kinds of social groups, with accessible education methods and materials adapted to the reality and needs of every population, regarding the support of biocultural diversity. 
  3. It is urgent to develop new programmes, curricula and content on biocultural diversity conceived, presented and discussed in a collaborative way, through a variety of methods, tools, approaches and contents.
  4. Alternative learning methods are to be fostered: immersive experiences, mutual visits, workshops, games, as well as sustainable uses of technology – that have to be ethically promoted from an environmental-centered perspective. 
  5. Regarding learning environments, schools and education spaces should be designed according to sustainability needs, reflecting local biocultural diversity. Also, the process of learning should take part outside of schools and other education spaces, when possible, so that experiences on biodiversity and culture can surround learners with what should be studiedpreserved, supported or developed further.
  6. All external stakeholders have to contribute as much as possible to educational and awareness programmes,philosophies and to local realities.
  7. Since visual aspects can be very important for the promotion and transmission of ideas regarding biocultural diversity, coherent approaches based on interactive technologies should be developed for increasing inspirational artwork and research.
  8. Education and learning are here to be conceived as basic means to foster, maintain and disseminate the general idea of diversity as something positive, necessary to preserve, to engage with and support.
  9. Education should be reoriented to share agency and caring among citizens, to be aware of the inherent systemic complexity and interconnective nature of diversity, and to acknowledge the representations and views of the world that circulate within societies and cultures.
  10. A respectful balance between learning, being and doing needs also the analysis and questioning of meaning, in the broad sense of the word: from biases and stereotypes to archetypes, symbols, representations. 
  11. Another key is the study and dissemination of concepts of balance and equilibrium, in order to understand and think of the link between human societies and their environment.