Communicating the Urgency of Our Shrinking Biodiversity

"If we want to do something about future food crises, we should name them today, and name them properly. Problems unnamed or improperly named are problems left unsolved," writes guest blogger for Grist, Cary Fowler.

This post, similar in nature to the one about naming the climate crisis, also in recently in Grist, reminds me of the deliberate actions of non-English speaking countries in the face of an advance that we native English speakers don't usually register: the Anglicization of everyday life all over the world. Some countries, like Sweden, have taken an active stance against the omnipresence of English in media, medical terminology, technical jargon, and a hundred other places by forming a national language policy. This language planning aims to "cultivate" the native language, creating new words, if necessary, as an alternate to the already available English term.

If all language growth doesn't take place as an organic process, then. It makes me wonder whether environmentalists need to have some sort of language summit, with marketing experts present, to create some good, evocative, precise terminology for all the disasters we have brewing.  Otherwise, you have to read an article like Cary Fowler's to grasp how hugely impoverished the entire planet is, on the tiny seed diversity level.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust is partnering with those facilities to rescue the endangered varieties and deposit duplicate seeds of each variety in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. In the next few years this effort will rescue 100,000 varieties from the brink of extinction.

It is quite possibly the biggest effort to rescue endangered biodiversity in history.

"Food crisis" doesn't really capture it. With our modern hubris, it makes us think that the right technology or fertilizers are what's wanted to wrest some more fertility out of the soil. Or maybe it's a market problem, some by-product of political turmoil. What's actually the problem is the shrinking variety of seeds, which means there are fewer varieties with which native species can adapt to rapidly changing climates.

"Heirloom seeds" sounds kind of quaint. These traditional seeds, once carried as precious cargo across the seas towards unfamiliar continents, are turning out to be not simply vessels that preserve a taste or an identity. As Fowler's article suggests, biodiversity is taking on increasing importance in terms of sustaining human populations.

If only there was a term to efficiently express this need. Or maybe that's where the emoticon comes in. An earth with an unhappy face, perhaps?

Tags: Biodiversity, Disaster, Heirloom seed, Language, Marketing, Seed, Semantics

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