Ecotourism with a Hand-Lens: A Field Environmental Philosophy Experience from the South of the World

The Biocultural Ethic Conceptual Framework

Earth is not only a biophysical entity; it is also a word that influences the way we understand and relate to the biophysical reality of the planet. Scientists often forget the gravity of words and focus on the biophysical reality. Conversely, philosophers often focus on examining the language of cultural reality, ignoring the biophysical realm. Biocultural ethics unites biological and cultural realities in one conceptual framework (Rozzi, 2001). In addition, it promotes a contextual and systemic approach that shows consideration for the vast biophysical and cultural diversity found in different regions of the world.

In this chapter, we focus on a transdisciplinary endeavor launched in 1999. This long-term project advocates for a biocultural perspective at the southern end of the American continent, in the Cape Horn County of Chile. A team of philosophers, scientists, artists, members of the Yahgan indigenous community, government authorities, Navy officers, schoolteachers, and members of the local community in the world’s southernmost city, Puerto Williams, created the Omora Ethnobotanical Park.1 This endeavor has resulted in changes in the local sciences, arts, and humanities curricula and educational activities at all levels of formal education, as well as with tourists, members of the public, and policymakers from inside and outside Chile.

The research, education, and conservation program at Omora Park was organized using the conceptual framework of a biocultural ethic. This ethic values biological and cultural diversity, the indissoluble links among specific habitats, the diverse co-inhabitants (human and other-than-human),2 and their life habits (Rozzi et al., 2008a). This biocultural integration contrasts with the main schools of modem ethics, e.g., utilitarian ethics (Palmer, 2013) and deontological ethics

(Aguirre, 2015). These schools focus on presumed universal human habits without considering the diversity of co-inhabitants and habitats where they take place, “as if’ societies and individuals, their well-being and identities, could exist in isolation from their biocultural environments. Consequently, mainstream modern ethics has been both anthropocentric and Eurocentric. This philosophical blindness to the full diversity of co-inhabitants and the complexity of their habitats promotes educational programs and development policies that drive losses of biological and cultural diversity as well as processes of biocultural homogenization and socio-environmental injustice (Rozzi, 2013).

Biocultural ethics counteracts this philosophical blindness by explicitly valuing the vital links among specific habitats, co-inhabitants and their life habits. These “3Hs” of the biocultural ethic involve, in turn, three interrelated dimensions of socio-ecosystems: biophysical, cultural-linguistic, and institutional-socio-political-technological (see Figure 15.1). In 2000, to build on these three dimensions, we established the Subantarctic Biocultural Conservation (SBC) Program at Omora Park, Puerto Williams, capital of the Antarctic Province of Chile. Today, this program is co-coordinated by the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB) and the University of Magallanes (UMAG) in Chile and by the University of North Texas (UNT) in the USA ( At a regional scale, it seeks to better understand, value, and protect biological and cultural diversity, and their interrelationships, in southwestern South America. Using the conceptual framework of the biocultural ethic, the SBC Program seeks to make visible and protect:

  • • A habitat that before 2000 lacked its own name: the subantarctic ecoregion of Magallanes (Rozzi et al., 2012);
  • • The life habits of subantarctic co-inhabitant (human and other-than-human) animals that are much less known than those of the subarctic regions in the Northern Hemisphere (Contador et al., 2012);
  • Co-inhabitants that live in a region that was considered poor in its biodiversity and is now recognized as a world hotspot for non-vascular plants and other small organisms (Rozzi et al., 2008b).
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