Skip to: Site menu  |  Main content


Home » 

Cultural and Ecological Health

We are all the guests of the green plants around us.
                                ~Ismail Serageldin 1997:5 1

Human and ecosystem health broadly encompasses perceptions and experiences of health and well being at individual, community and ecosystem levels. Our relationships with the natural world are defined by our beliefs, values, actions and inactions. Our choices and consumptive behaviours related to lifestyle, food production and health maintenance affect the sustainability of both near and distant ecosystems for future generations. So too, do the systems within which our major institutions are embedded – whether legal structures that permit environmental degradation, biotechnology industries that disregard cultural values on sanctity of life, government policies that maintain colonial inequities, or academic research practices that are divorced from local priorities and needs.

Biological diversity and cultural diversity are inextricably linked. Indigenous and local communities have contributed significantly to maintaining the world’s biodiversity, and also suffered tremendous losses because of ecosystem erosion. The past and continuing losses endured by Indigenous and traditional societies due to colonization and its legacies present an urgent problem with global implications. Economic, social and political pressures on the world’s biological and cultural systems are increasing due to industrialization, globalization and other forces. This presents an important challenge for society – and for contemporary scholars – to understand the fundamental role of biological and cultural diversity in fostering the health of individuals, communities, and the ecosystems in which they live.

At the core of “cultural and ecological health” is the awareness that our social and cultural systems are both dependent on and significantly affect the integrity and functioning of ecological systems. POLIS approaches questions related to cultural and ecological health from a number of inter-related perspectives – scientific, legal, political and ethical. Brad Bryan’s work involves application of political and legal theory to questions of health and the environment. He examines the interface of the “natural” and the “artificial” in law, and the nature of the "technological fix" as related to troubling systemic and structural "injustices" inflicted on the ecologies that sustain us. Kelly Bannister’s work on cultural and ecological health is through the lens of ethnobiology – the study of reciprocal relationships between human cultures and the natural world.

Related Projects and Initiatives

Related Resources



1. Serageldin, Ismail 1997. “Equity and Ethics: Twin Challenges, Twin Opportunities,” In Ethics and Equity in Conservation and Use of Genetic Resources for Sustainable Food Security. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome. Pp. 1-6.


Page last updated: 02/03/2013