If we define humanity as a diverse matrix of overlapping traditional ecological practices, it is the aggregation of the landscape impacts of these practices that has pushed the earth into the Anthropocene Age, where nearly every system has been altered or shaped by humanity. Unfortunately, nuanced environmental practices are threatened by modern globalization. Western Europe, aside from conquering the globe physically, has also conquered our global ideology, replacing indigenous traditions and practices with economic efficiency and intensive agriculture. Even more odious, increasingly technocratic rhetoric has framed tradition as obsolete and science as infallible. Many of my fellow educated Americans now speak about science as if they were talking about religion, and any opposition must be backed by an indoctrinated (peer-reviewed) source.
While science has definitely added transparency and quantifiability to management and decision making, framing deductive science as absolute leaves no room for adaptation. Indeed, modern science is a tool derived from the alchemy of olde but it has rationalized rather than replaced it. Ignoring millennia of local adaptation in favor of Euro-centric development is much like cultural appropriation without context; fashionable ideas spread because they benefit the elite, further marginalizing true diversity and equality of ideas. Potatoes originated in South America, where there are thousands of varieties, each adapted to local climatic conditions. When a single variety was planted throughout Ireland, one pathogen was able to decimate a nation’s food supply. Extrapolating, adopting western science everywhere is much like monocropping and managing a field that you as a farmer have never visited. Resiliency implies redundancy, for without multiple crops, unanticipated change almost certainly spells disaster.
Following the adage that “change is the only constant,” diversity is the only solution in our quest to “think global [and] act local.” Local people share an intimacy with a landscape that has no substitute. I’ve heard many scientists legitimize themselves and gripe about “uninformed locals,” but can anyone really know the absolute truth? Country bumpkins and greenhorn city-slickers alike are interacting with the landscape and becoming local experts through their own experience. So why do we keep trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ of knowledge, instead of trusting local TEK to do what it has always done; inform regional-scale adaptive management, that is.