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Biocultural Homogenization: A Wicked Problem in the Anthropocene

  • Ricardo RozziEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Ecology and Ethics book series (ECET, volume 3)

Abstract

Wicked problems are difficult or impossible to solve. To overcome this dilemma, I propose an approach to better understand and contribute to solve a wicked problem that is particularly pervasive in the Anthropocene: biocultural homogenization. This approach can also help to guide biocultural conservation processes. Toward this aim, I propose to use the “3Hs” conceptual framework of the biocultural ethic that values the vital links among unique life habits of co-inhabitants who share specific habitats. A first outcome is the identification of feedback processes entailing interwoven losses of biological and cultural diversity. Then, I organize these feedback processes in a hierarchical sequence of increasing structural complexity. Analysis of these processes offers a theoretical framework for understanding the interrelations between the homogenization of habits and habitats and the consequences of biocultural homogenization for the lives of diverse human and other-than-human co-inhabitants. Co-inhabitants are subjects (not objects). They co-constitute their identities and share habitats that they co-structure through co-inhabitation relationships of complementarity and reciprocity. Habitats are the condition of possibility for the existence and well-being of the co-inhabitants. I have introduced the notion of co-inhabitants as an ethical justification to oppose biocultural homogenization and to demand biocultural conservation in terms of socio-environmental justice.

Keywords

Co-inhabitants Ethics Habits Traditional ecological knowledge Environmental justice 

Notes

Box 2.3 Biocultural Conservation: Habitats and Life Habits in Germany’s First Protected Area

The reciprocal links between habitats and life habits can be appreciated in the historical dynamics of the first protected area in Germany: the Drachenfels (Dragon’s Rock) (Fig. 2.2). It was established during the 1830s as a natural monument (Naturdenkmal) to protect the ruined Drachenfels castle that was built in the twelfth century on the summit of a hill on the banks of the Rhine south of Bonn. Later, the area was extended to include the surrounding hills in the nature protection area (Naturschutzgebiet) in Siebengebirge. Both the hills of the Siebengebirge and the ruin of Drachenfels had, however, a high symbolic value in the context of romanticism and the search for national identity in Germany, which at that time was divided into many small, more or less independent states (Jax and Rozzi 2004). The Drachenfels Naturdenkmal shows how in Germany the conservation movement began not as a movement to protect “wild” landscapes but as Heimatschutz (Dominick 1992, Knaut 1993), involving the protection (Schutz) of biocultural landscapes that formed traditional habitats or homeland (Heimat).
Fig. 2.2

Biocultural conservation in Germany’s first protected area . Above: Biocultural habitats including the Drachenfels castle (left) and a mosaic of native forests, rocks, and vineyards (right). Below: The protection of habitats has enabled the continuity of traditional life habits such as viticulture, as well as more recently developed practices such as tourism involving navigation, hiking, wine tasting, and visits to the restored castle. Photographs by Kurt Jax and Wolfgang Schumacher

The rock and the ruins gained popularity in the romantic era, and a neo-Gothic castle (Schloss Drachenburg) was built lower on the hill in 1882. A rack railway was also built at the end of the nineteenth century to satisfy growing demands from tourism. Today, tourism activities are complementary to viticulture practices on the slopes that are maintained and harvested by hand, since they are too steep for machinery. The case of this German protected area could apply to other cases that illustrate the intimate bonds between life habits and habitat conservation, and how these links are dynamic, and can satisfy multiple needs.

Box 2.4 Biocultural Homogenization: Replacement of Mangrove Habitats and Life Habits by Shrimp Farms

The disruption of vital links between native habitats and life habits of local communities takes place in a variety of global development projects that overlook socio-ecological problems associated with biocultural homogenization. A notorious example is the industrial farming of Ecuadorian shrimp, famous in today’s international cuisine. Commercial cultivation of two species of shrimp, Penaeus stylirostris and P. vannamei, began in Ecuador in 1968 and in 1983, respectively. Since then Ecuador has become the world’s principal producer of shrimp. This monoculture industry yielded such a large environmental impact that in 1995 the extension of shrimp ponds surpassed that of mangroves along the Ecuadorian coast (Suárez and Ortiz 2006) (Fig. 2.3).
Fig. 2.3

Biocultural homogenization (BH) driven by the replacement of mangrove habitats by shrimp farms in Ecuador, Northwestern South America. Left: Pictures illustrate the mangrove habitats where life habits of fishermen (above) and concheras (below) take place. Concheras are women who collect conchas or shellfish for subsistence in mangroves. If the mangrove habitats are destroyed, their conchera life-habit cannot continue. Right: Pictures illustrate a nearby area after replacement of mangroves by shrimp farms. The graph shows the area of shrimp ponds exceeded the area of mangroves in 1995. Photographs by Luis Suárez and Ricardo Rozzi

In tropical regions of the world, mangroves are key habitats that act as “ecosystem membranes” between terrestrial and marine ecosystems, recycling nutrients and regulating hydrological flows (Anthony and Gratiot 2012). Their massive conversion to shrimp ponds dramatically increases the levels of sedimentation in coastal waters and the loss of nutrients that are limited in tropical soils. The destruction of mangroves, diversion of streams and rivers, and pollution of estuarine ecosystems drastically affect the diversity and population levels of species of algae, fish, crustaceans, and mollusks, all of which depend on mangroves at some phase of their life cycles (Mera 1999) as well as the health of humans who traditionally gather and consume shrimp, crabs, oysters, and other coastal organisms (Hagler 1997).

The shrimp industry causes serious social problems by limiting the access of local communities to coastal natural resources and by increasing income differences between a few rich people and a growing number of poor people (Veuthey and Gerber 2012). Local communities, particularly concheras of Ecuadorian and Central American coastal communities, have resisted the shrimp industry since the 1970s. Concheras are mostly African-American women who collect conchas or shellfish for subsistence in mangroves. These women have attempted to stop deforestation of mangroves, risking their lives by lying down in front of bulldozers that are used to create the shrimp ponds. On March 11, 1999, a conchera wrote that:

we are struggling for something which is ours, our ecosystem, but not because we are professional ecologists but because we must remain alive, because if the mangroves disappear, a whole people disappears, … I do not know what will happen to us if the mangroves disappear, we shall eat garbage in the out-skirts of the city of Esmeraldas or in Guayaquil, we shall become prostitutes… (in Martínez-Alier 2001, pp. 715–6).

The conchera expresses a clear understanding about the vital links between the conservation of mangrove habitats and the life habits and well-being of her community. Her criticism also makes obvious that large-scale natural resource exploitation models generally satisfy the needs of consumerist societies in distant places and not those of local people. More than 90% of the shrimp produced and exported by companies based in Ecuador are consumed only by people of three regions: the USA (51%), Japan (27%), and the European Union (17%) (Suárez and Ortiz 2006).

The export boom of Ecuadorian shrimp has not only provoked drastic habitat losses and degradation , but it also had a less well known “side effect”: it disrupted life habits and brought a reduction in the quality of life of local people inhabiting the coastal regions of all Northwestern South America. The case of Ecuadorian shrimp could apply to numerous analogous cases throughout the planet that forcibly displace local communities that have sustainable life habits in their native habitats.

Box 2.5 Biocultural Conservation: Native Habitats, Co-Inhabitants, and Life Habits in the Subantarctic Archipelagoes of Chile

The vital links among habitats , habits, and co-inhabitants are embedded in a coevolutionary history in the archipelagoes of Cape Horn at the southern end of South America. The evergreen beech (Nothofagus betuloides) provides critical foraging and nesting habitat for the Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus) (Fig. 2.4). The woodpecker controls the populations of insect larvae that infect the beech. Healthy beeches also enable an essential life habit of the Yahgan indigenous people (Rozzi et al. 2010). The tree’s bark is used to build canoes to navigate the waters of Cape Horn. Hence, the evergreen beech is a biocultural keystone species, which enables a bird species and a human culture to inhabit the landscapes and seascapes of Cape Horn by being part of a community of co-inhabitants. Trees, woodpeckers, and humans participate in webs of ecological interactions that make possible co-inhabitation and co-constitute biological and cultural diversity.
Fig. 2.4

Biocultural conservation in the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve in subantarctic archipelagoes of Chile. Left: Habitats include the subantarctic evergreen rainforests dominated by the evergreen beech tree Nothofagus betuloides , on mountainous archipelagoes crossed by intricate fjords and channels. Center: Co-inhabitants include the Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus), the largest woodpecker of South America, and an endemic endangered species. This bird depends on Nothofagus for foraging and nesting. In the past, Yahgan indigenous people gather barked of N. betuloides trees to build canoes. Right: Life habits include picking tree bark from only one side of the trunk so that the tree stays alive, and building canoes with this bark to navigate fjords and channels. Today, bark canoes are built as handcrafts for educational and ecotourism purposes. Photographs by Paola Vezzani, Jordi Plana, and Ricardo Rozzi

The Magellanic Woodpecker is called lana by the indigenous Yahgan people. This name derives from the Yahgan word lan, which means tongue . The name alludes to the habit of this woodpecker of extending its long tongue to extract larvae from the holes it pecks in the trunk of old growth Nothofagus trees. The scientific name of the bird also alludes to its feeding habit and habitat : Campephilus means “larvae (Campe in Greek) lover” (Philo in Greek), and magellanicus (Latinized) indicates that it inhabits the Magellanic forests. Its English common name, Magellanic Woodpecker, also defines the identity of this bird by its habit of pecking wood in the Magellanic subantarctic forests (Rozzi et al. 2008). Hence, the intimate links between the habitats and the habits of this bird inhabitant are recognized both by the ornithological knowledge and by names in indigenous, scientific, and English languages.

The Magellanic Woodpecker belongs to the same genus of the two largest woodpecker species known worldwide, the Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (C. principalis). These two species inhabited the forests of North America and today are presumed to be extinct due to the destruction of their habitats and hunting pressures. Like its congeneric species from the temperate forests of the northern hemisphere , the Magellanic Woodpecker could become extinct if the relationships between its habits and habitats are not understood, are not valued, and are not incorporated into current conservation policies.

The understanding of this type of complex relationships among trees, humans, and birds is now of critical importance because globalization policies frequently overlook and override local specific biocultural interrelationships, which make it possible for human and other-than-human life to be unique and sustainable.

Box 2.6 Biocultural Homogenization: Replacement of Native Temperate Forests by Eucalyptus Monospecific Plantations

The temperate forests of Chile in Southwestern South America are classified as a world “biodiversity hotspot” because of their high species diversity and high endemism (Armesto et al. 1998, Arroyo et al. 2004). However, since the 1970s these native forests have been subjected to an accelerated process of replacement by monocultures of Monterrey pine (Pinus radiata) and Eucalyptus species (Echeverria et al. 2006) (Fig. 2.5). Since 1974, these monotypic plantations with exotic fast-growing tree species have been subsidized by Government Decree Law 701 that provides 75% to 90% of the cost of planting and that gives tax exemptions for the products obtained from these plantations (Pastor-Barrué 2004).
Fig. 2.5

Biocultural homogenization (BH) driven by the replacement of native temperate forests by Eucalyptus monospecific plantations on Chiloé Island, Chile, Southwestern South America. Left: Pictures illustrate the diversity of forest habitats associated with small forestland ownership; habits that include gathering plant fibers, berries, and medicinal plants. The communities of co-inhabitants include indigenousMapuche families; the foye (Drimys winteri), an endemic tree species sacred for the Mapuche people; and the chukao (Scelorchilus rubecula), an endemic terrestrial bird species. Right: Pictures illustrate a nearby area after replacement of the native forests by Eucalyptus plantations. The sign reads: “Entrance Forbidden” (Entrada Prohibida in Spanish); access to local people is not allowed inside this plantation. Photographs by Iván Díaz, Paola Vezzani, and Ricardo Rozzi

The massive substitution of native forests by exotic monocultures causes severe losses of biodiversity, soil erosion, and compactness and is detrimental to the hydrological cycle, provoking floods during winter and droughts during summer (Salas et al. 2016). A strong migration of rural population to urban centers is promoted because of the following: (1) Small owners have sold their lands to the tree companies; the consequent concentration of the land ownership has entailed displacement of local communities. (2) Forestryplantations require less labor than other agriculture, and labor is required only during intermittent years for planting, thinning, and cutting. (3) Most of the labor force comes with companies from other regions of Chile. (4) Other multiple uses and values of native forests are eliminated.

The living conditions of Mapucheindigenouscommunities have declined with the transformation of native forests into homogenous plantations of exotic trees. Today, Mapuche resistance movements demand recovering access to the land, restoring native forest and its natural water cycles that have been disrupted significantly by the forestryplantations, and autonomy and opportunities for framing their own development strategies (Torres-Salinas et al. 2016). The Mapuche environmental justice movement offers an example to the world of how to defend biocultural conservation as an alternative to biocultural homogenization.

Box 2.7 Other-Than-Human Beings

I use the expression “other-than-human” beings instead of the more common expression “non-human” beings for three reasons. First, to avoid a simplistic dichotomous thinking between humans and non-humans. This dichotomy generates a fracture between humans and other beings; it is anthropocentric and hierarchical because it distinguishes between humans and the “rest.”

Second, the concept of “other-than-human” beings refers to a set of beings that exist at different scales and levels of organization in the natural world, some of which are not commensurable with humans. “Other-than-human” beings can include biotic beings (humans, other animals, plants) and abiotic beings (rivers, rocks, glaciers). The multiple scales and levels of organization of “other-than-human” beings are understood not only from an ecological scientific point of view but also from other ecological worldviews. For example, the Aymara and Quechua Native American people in the high Andes of South America, the sun, moon, lightning, frost, hail, mountains, lakes, and springs, in addition to plants, animals, and humans, are subjects (Rozzi 2001). In addition, their interconnectedness with the land, air, and oceans is acknowledged through symbolic interactions and caring practices (May 2015, 2017).

Third, the expression “other-than-human” enables us to understand that these beings inhabit not only biophysical reality but also the images, symbols, and values of each culture. Therefore, they are co-inhabitants in the minds as well as in the biophysical habitats. Habitats include biophysical as well as linguistic domains of reality. Both domains influence (and are influenced by) cultural expressions, which take place in dreams (during the oneiric phases of our lives) and in the perceptions, association of ideas, and social practices (during the Waking phase of our lives) (Rozzi 2012).

This understanding of the concept of other-than-human beings is consistent with recent policy documents that aim to overcome dichotomies between humans and nature which have been associated with colonial practices and are responsible for some of the negative anthropogenic impacts that drive the Anthropocene. For example, the preamble of the Political Constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia approved in 2009 states that:

In ancient times mountains arose, rivers moved, and lakes were formed. Our Amazonia, our swamps, our highlands, and our plains and valleys were covered with greenery and flowers. We populated this sacred Mother Earth with different faces, and since that time we have understood the plurality that exists in all things and in our diversity as human beings and cultures. Thus, our peoples were formed, and we never knew racism until we were subjected to it during the terrible times of colonialism.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Religion and Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA
  2. 2.Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation ProgramUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA
  3. 3.Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad and Universidad de MagallanesPunta ArenasChile

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