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close this bookDiversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature (IDRC, 1995, 234 p.)
close this folder13. Diversity and human survival
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDocumenting diversity
View the documentResources for the future
View the documentDiversity of living systems
View the documentCauses and effects of the loss of natural diversity
View the documentDiversity and culture
View the documentRestoring what is lost
View the documentBiodiversity and research


In earlier chapters, we examined the widespread processes of environmental degradation that are taking place throughout the world and tried to understand their causes, past and present, as well as the effects that new trends will have on the environment in the years to come. The effects of human action have been profound and cumulative. Earth’s atmosphere is being modified, introducing uncertainties about potential consequences, which could be life threatening. Water is being contaminated on every continent, in coastal areas, and even in the open ocean. Simultaneously, the principal fish species are being exploited far beyond replacement levels, introducing profound disturbances in the main aquatic ecosystems. Elimination of vegetation is promoting widespread erosion, changes in hydrological regimes, and, frequently, floods and droughts in areas in which they were previously unknown. “Scars” that are often irreversible are being produced by mining operations, as well as by quarrying for building construction or engineering works such as highways or dams.

The combined effects of these processes are affecting many species of plants and animals, which are finding it increasingly difficult to survive in a changing environment to which they have not had time to adapt. As a result of human activity, the equilibrium of ecosystems is being altered and widespread modifications of their species compositions and interspecific relations are taking place. A main consequence of the deterioration of the physical and biological support of ecosystems is the general loss of biodiversity - both number of species and varieties.

Along with this biological impoverishment, social and economic standardization are rapidly reducing the richness of the world’s hundreds of cultures and resulting in the loss of a huge volume of knowledge about nature that has been accumulated over many generations. Macroeconomic trends are forcing local communities into high-productivity, monospecific agriculture or raising animals for commercial purposes, replacing the enormous range of traditional crop and animal varieties by a few that meet the conditions for short-term competitiveness imposed by globalized international markets.

In much the same way in which species and varieties are becoming extinct, languages, beliefs, traditions, empirical knowledge, and whole environmental management systems are being wiped from the face of the Earth by a shortsighted, mainstream culture that does not offer appropriate substitutes for the sustainable long-term strategies that are often part of the older and more experienced cultures.

The human and biological diversity that is under attack represents the bulk of the planet’s natural and human resource base; reducing diversity will result in a gradual loss of options for the future, not only for the current generations, but also for the many to come.