Saturday, July 31, 2010

How rich is your heritage?

On Heritage Day, think of those events in the indefinite past that brought us to this point in history. What a great reason for a long weekend.

Take a look at your civic heritage. As communities enter their second century we already have a rich civic legacy in buildings, infrastructure and stories we can tell about our cities. One hundred years, however is young for a city.

If you look at cities in eastern Canada cities become much older, and then if you look at Europe or Asia they become much older still. Thousands of years. Cities learn, adapt, and slowly forget their stories as generation after generation enjoys the spotlight.

Then there is your ethnic and cultural heritage. This provides a grounding in a certain code of ethics and way of making a living. We have learned how to live with each other. This is encoded in things like the food we eat and the holidays we celebrate. As we become a global culture, the cuisine of a variety of ethnic heritages is becoming widely available. You can eat Chinese, Mexican, or Italian food at restaurants and supermarkets everywhere.

We also have a rich biological heritage, which you see as you look back at your family tree and figure out what your grandparents' parents must have been like, and which genetic traits were passed on to you.

Sequencing the human genome will provide a tremendous amount of information about who you are and what your prognosis for health looks like many years in the future. Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google) knows he has a predisposition for Parkinson's Disease and though he still doesn't have any symptoms, he's working towards finding a cure and taking preventative steps now.

The richest heritage of all, though, is our ecological heritage. Over millions of years, every plant, animal, and insect has become highly adapted to it's particular niche. The specificity and detail of these practical innovations and adaptations is so rich, and the web is so interwoven that removing any one species is a devastating loss which we can never recover.

The web of life is like a fishing net. If you cut some of the strands, the net will still catch fish, if you cut some more, it will still work for a while, but once you cut too many the net becomes useless. Keeping the natural systems healthy will be important as we take on our role as the alpha species on the planet.

As we reflect on how we got here and what makes us who we are, remember the ecology of the planet and the web of life we rely upon completely.

We have a rich heritage. Let's take care of it.

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