50 acres of tropical rainforest are said to be disappearing every minute. Millions of species of animals and plants around the world are going extinct at an ever-accelerating rate, many of them before they can even be identified or their existence is even known. (This particularly unfortunate type of extinction is known as Sentinelan extinction.) 2000 of the world’s 6000 remaining languages have less than 12 speakers and will be lost within this generation. The world’s cultural and biological diversity is under assault as never before in recorded history. What is the cause of the greatest extinction event in the last ten thousand years ? Not a meteor strike or a volcanic eruption, or the advance or retraction of an ice sheet, but our very success as a species. Human population growth and the spread of modern culture are doing in the planet. Rapidly multiplying local people need land and its resources—wood for fuel, water, wild animals to eat, gold and diamonds and other minerals for income. The modern culture with its hunger for resources, its technology and seductive lifestyle— what Claude Levi-Straus calls “progress with a little p and in the plural,” the journalist Simon Elegant calls “the cancer of modern life” and the Persian intellectual Ahmad Fardid calls “Westoxication”—is wreaking no less havoc on ecosystems and traditional societies. Not that there aren’t many positive things about the modern culture—its respect for individual freedom, its protection of civil rights, its abhorrence of totalitarian oppression, the numerous benefits that its technology delivers. And as the events of 9/11 have brought home so horrifically, this culture is as vulnerable as the traditional ones it is destroying.
Dispatches from the Vanishing World is a forum for documenting and raising consciousness about the world’s fast-disappearing biological and cultural diversity. It provides first-hand, in-depth reporting from the last relatively pristine places on earth, identifies who and what is destroying them, and who is engaged in the heroic and often life-threatening struggle to save them. It provides foundations involved in environmental or cultural preservation with two services : 1) a full, independent assessment their program or cause, and 2) publicity by adapting the assessment for publication in one of the top American magazines or as a book.
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