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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

Restoring what is lost

If we agree to merely conserve diversities, we would ensure their loss. Macroeconomic forces advance effectively and with great momentum. Slowing or stopping the processes of degradation may take too long; most global diversities might be gone, along with the flexibility necessary for human survival. Therefore, we must develop more ambitious strategies, allowing not only conservation but also reconstruction of lost diversities.

In some cases, only small surviving testimonies or isolated species remain; in others, most elements are still present. There are cases of lost ecosystems, where most of the component species are still alive. In the case of cultures, there may be documents, oral traditions, or rituals integrated into the new standardizing cultures. Because ecosystems and cultures do not exist separately, the task must be undertaken in a holistic manner. To reconstruct a local diversity, it is necessary to restore not only the species and their relations, but also the associated culture.

Consequently, the most difficult task, but surely the most rewarding one, will be to rebuild ecocultural systems in which all the restored elements can be managed with revived cultural patterns in a recovered ideological framework, including some cultural elements of the present that, finally, will also play a role in making the survival of the recuperated systems possible.

Using the past to build the future

Rebuilding ecocultural systems presents many difficulties and challenges. First, the remnants of lost diversities may be so scarce that accurate reconstruction is impossible. Second, many reconstructed elements may interfere with elements in current complexes. Finally, reestablishing old diversities may endanger others, both old and new, that may be particularly valued by local or traditional societies.

Gaps in information about lost systems will require some imagination to design the “missing links.” The new systems will certainly have new elements, including some that never existed before. However, this can be minimized by focusing on a coherent philosophical framework compatible with the system that is being restored.

Old and new visions, beliefs, myths, rituals, and feelings of populations may provide the needed elements to ensure integration and conceptual coherence of the systems. In many cases, it may be necessary to delve into every aspect of a culture to ensure that all the pieces of the puzzle are integrated harmoniously in a new complex to ensure the viability of the project.

Restoration of past diversities is a complex ecocultural process that forces choices between species, cultural patterns, and sometimes between aspects of ecology and culture. Not all options will be possible. Life is full of options, however; in each personal or collective decision, we are forced to select among several alternatives. The concept of liberty is about the opportunity to make choices among the largest number of options without interfering with others’ rights to have their own range of options. In this sense, the restoration of old diversities can become a new dimension of freedom.

We have some idea of how to go about restoring diversity, but in practice, we do not know how effectively this exercise can be carried out. Common sense indicates that finding appropriate methods will not be easy. There are huge material, social, natural, historical, and ethical limitations and many reasons for not proceeding. However, the task is possible and desirable and, in the near future perhaps, we may find that it is unavoidable for survival.

The challenge is huge. So many valuable diversities have been lost. How are we to select between them? How are we to decide how much energy and resources can be dedicated to restoring an ecosystem, culture, or ecocultural complex? In many cases, the decision will be made on the basis of ethics; it will be necessary to define some values that society has ignored for a long time. We may need to restore a larger dimension of solidarity that has been forgotten in human rights declarations solidarity with our ancestors who lost their lives and identities through ecocultural aggression and genocide and with the billions who are not yet born, but have the right to inherit not only the richest diversities of the present but also all ancient diversities.