Dispatches from the Vanishing World


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.

      This is a reader’s website.

Welcome, and Read On.

Alex Shoumatoff
Images courtesy of the website

[Originally posted 2.23.04]