Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Biosphere - WBGU

Conserving natural and cultural heritage E 3.5


onmental problems, in the sense of adapting to

changes that have already occurred or in avoiding,

reducing or slowing down anticipated undesirable

changes is not explicitly visible in the network of

interrelations, but it should be analytically separated

from the two roles of polluter and affected party.

To underline the importance of human awareness

and action, for some time now it has been emphasized

repeatedly that environmental problems are

the result of maladaptive action and should therefore

be viewed as problems of culture, or resulting from

the development of civilization. Hence, both causes

and solutions must be sought in this sphere. The

environmental crisis is a crisis of culture; talking

about a crisis of nature would be a ‘cultural misunderstanding’

(Glaeser, 1992). Overcoming ‘environmental

problems’ thus depends on people recognizing

these problems in the first place and seeking ways

and means of solving them. Solutions will require

changes in maladaptive methods of managing nature

and, especially, in the perceptions, knowledge, values

and attitudes upon which these are based; in other

words a complete change in lifestyles. Another

promising approach, at a different level, concerns

institutional regulations, balancing out the differences

between the North and the South, and technical

developments (Section I 3).

In AGENDA 21, and even more strongly in the Convention

on Biological Diversity (CBD), it is pointed

out that for centuries many indigenous peoples and

traditional communities have practised a way of

managing nature and natural resources which does

not lead to the degradation and destruction of the

biosphere (Section E 3.1). If these indigenous and

traditional communities, previously often called ‘natural

peoples’, only rarely practised maladaptive

action, what is the explanation for this? Furthermore,

can conditioning factors for their actions be identified,

since some strategists would like to shape these

into a guideline for sustainable treatment of biodiversity?

Protecting the biosphere by changing the

patterns of cultural action

If the subject of biological diversity has been gaining

increasing amounts of (political) attention since the

negotiations for the CBD, there is a parallel process

that places the protection of cultural diversity at the

fore. In 1997 the ‘World Decade for Cultural Development’

designated by UNESCO came to an end. In

this context the President of the World Commission,

Perez de Cuéllar, submitted the report ‘Our creative

diversity’ in 1995.This report and the associated plan

of action not only calls for the conservation of cultural

diversity, but also for the elaboration of ‘culture-sensitive

development strategies’, in which cultural

diversity should be brought to bear as a creative

source in the definition and design of development.

In this context, the plea is made for conservation

of the environment and biodiversity as the bearers of

cultures but also, in the same vein, for the conservation

of linguistic diversity.The fear that by the end of

the next century 95 per cent of the approx 6,500 languages

in existence could have disappeared is not

only placed frequently alongside biological diversity

as a ‘second critical loss’, but is also viewed as

causally connected with it. Consequently the relationship

between biological and cultural diversity

becomes a matter for reflection, and the symbiotic

character of this relationship is taken as a basis for

further action. Ultimately, the way in which

humankind comes to terms with nature is what we

call culture.This is where there are possible points of

departure for political action.

If the human race is still to have a future, a change

in cultural awareness and action with respect to

nature and its resources is essential (Section E 3.1).

Its (cultural) patterns for action must also change

accordingly if humankind is to live more sustainably

than before and survive in the future. But the cultural

diversity of societies, and the associated linguistic

variations, systems of beliefs and patterns of action

with respect to nature and the environment, should

also be protected because they are considered to be

an important precondition for the conservation of

biodiversity. In general it can be assumed that cultural

diversity strengthens the capacity of societies to

withstand and deal with environmental crises.

This apparent contradiction between the call for

both cultural change and cultural conservation can

only be resolved if the general subject of this report

(humankind and the biosphere) is reflected upon

once again, so as to examine the hypothesis of a close

relationship between nature conservation and the

preservation of cultures implied in the heading of this

section. This requires us to reconsider the traditional

relationship between nature and culture which we

have inherited in our own society.

E 3.5.2

Human adaptation of nature

Humans are increasingly destroying their environment

and the natural foundations which sustain their

lives. This statement refers to a more comprehensive

set of problems that concerning the relationship

between humankind and nature. Many generations

of cultural philosophers have thought about the

‘place of man in the cosmos’ (Scheler, 1928). Traditionally,

the relationship between humankind and

nature is a subject studied in geography, cultural

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