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Cultural Diversity and Biodiversity for Sustainable Development

Ben Murphy discusses the role culture and indigenous groups can play in climate action, and the importance of working with traditional knowledges.
© Ben Murphy, University of Glasgow

Across Indigenous cultures, everyday life is guided by core values of reciprocity, balance, solidarity and collectiveness with nature and in society. Many indigenous cultures recognise that there is only one planet. But there are many different worldviews with varying socio-economic approaches and different ways of perceiving and interacting with natural ecosystems. 

Therefore natural ecosystems cannot and should not be understood, managed or conserved without engaging and recognising the human culture that shapes them. Since ecological and cultural diversities are interdependent and mutually reinforcing they offer a resilient basis for how to achieve sustainable development. 

Local knowledge of environmental management in indigenous communities is the result of centuries old sustainable practices that both serve human health and maintain ecological functioning. Today, indigenous communities safeguard many of our most biodiverse areas – almost 50% of the world’s land mass (minus Antarctica) is occupied, owned or managed by indigenous communities. Within this land, approximately 40% are labelled as protected or ecologically sound. Although indigenous groups make up only 6% of the world’s population, they successfully manage over 80% of the biodiversity left in the world. 

Please now watch this talk from Robin Kimmerer, an acclaimed writer and professor of Environmental Science and Forestry. Kimmerer is of Potawatomi ancestry. In this powerful lecture, Robin Kimmerer braids Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) with modern tools of botanical science to explore the question: “If plants are our teachers, what are their lessons, and how might we become better students”?

Please click the following link to watch the talk ‘Robin Kimmerer – Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass | Bioneers‘ (Approx. 21 mins).

Cultural diversity encompasses all ways of life in the world, each with their own identity determined by ethnicity, history, language, religion and art.

Biodiversity is the biological wealth of a certain area or ecosystem. For humankind, biodiversity holds multiple values for direct use, such as for nutrition, but also for indirect uses such as watershed protection or the maintenance of soils. Both cultural diversity and biodiversity have existed in a continuous evolutionary cycle, adapting themselves to the internal and external changes in planetary systems (like climate). Until now, these cycles have been able to adapt to the Earth’s changing climate. But now, due to the severity of global warming, the diversity of people, flora and fauna are gravely threatened by unsustainable practices. Of the estimated 6,000 cultures in the world, between 4,000 and 5,000 are indigenous (UNESCO 2003), highlighting the importance of listening to, and working with, indigenous practices when thinking about sustainable development.

Furthering Reading:

The following articles all contain case studies of sustainable and ecologically positive practices. We would like you to now engage with one of these articles and feedback to others your reflections on what you have read or watched. 

Purwanto, Y. & Sukara, Endang & SabilaAjiningrum, Purity & Priatna, Dolly. (2021). Cultural diversity and biodiversity as foundation of sustainable development. 
© Ben Murphy, University of Glasgow
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Introduction to Climate Justice and Equity

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