Wade Davis: Connecting Humanity and Nature

2013-2014 Issue 2
Wade Davis - Recipient of an honorary doctorate at this year's convocation.

Wade Davis – Recipient of an honorary doctorate at this year’s convocation.

Of the 7000 languages spoken on Earth at Wade Davis’ birth, half will die out within a single generation. Languages, he believes, are a rich intellectual, spiritual and social legacy that humans must preserve.

As a National Geographic Society Explorer, Davis travels the globe to find stories to share about the human value of aboriginal cultures in our modern landscape. He gives us an anthropologist’s view of their worlds. He alerts us as to how their lives intersect with our very different realities, and he aptly describes their connections with our planet and its fragile ecology.

Davis once told The Globe & Mail: “I want students to know why anthropology matters, why culture matters.”

Curiosity drives him. As a storyteller, Davis enjoys the possibility that “just maybe a story can contribute something to a future understanding amongst people.”

“The central revelation of anthropology is the idea that other peoples of the world aren’t failed attempts at being you. Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question: what does it mean to be human and alive? And when the people of the world answer that question, they do so in 7000 languages.”

Conservationist David Suzuki has described Davis as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all life’s diversity.”

Born in Vancouver, he holds Harvard University degrees in anthropology, biology and ethnobotany. He is Professor, Department of Anthropology, UBC, and has a curatorial position at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. Based at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, his mandate is to advance global awareness of cultures and ecosystems at risk in a changing world– issues such as overpopulation, eco-degradation and loss of the world’s languages.

He is an outspoken advocate for environmental protection and intercultural respect. A prime example is The Sacred Waters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena and the Ness (2011), a book that helped to convince Shell to give up its oil rights in the area.

In 2009, Davis delivered the CBC Massey Lectures, later published as international bestseller The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. He curated a photography exhibit, The Lost Amazon, at the Smithsonian Institute.

As a plant explorer, he collected over 6000 botanical specimens in the Amazon and Andes, living among 15 native groups in 8 Latin American countries. In Haiti, he investigated folk preparations that create zombies. Based on this experience, he wrote the international bestseller The Serpent and the Rainbow.

“Anyone who thinks they can change the world is both wrong and dangerous, but we do have an obligation to bear witness to the world,” he says. “My conviction is that every culture has something to say and each deserves to be heard.”

Davis has written 17 memorable books and 230 articles for the New York Times, Washington Post, Scientific American and other publications about Earth’s unique cultures and pristine lands – all in jeopardy of loss due to resource development. His books have sold over 900,000 copies in 18 languages. Into the Silence received the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, one of the world’s most prestigious English-language book awards.

He has won The Explorers Medal (2011), the highest award of the Explorer’s Club, and Gold Medal of the Canadian Geographic Society (2009), and David Fairchild Medal for botanical exploration (2012).

On television, he created, hosted and co-wrote Light at the Edge of the World, a four-hour documentary series. The National Geographic (NG) Channel has aired it in 165 countries. He followed its success with another NG series on Ancient Voices/Modern World. He rafted the Colorado River with Robert Kennedy, Jr, in a 3-D IMAX film, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk (2008) to attract international attention to water conservation efforts.

Davis lives on Bowen Island, BC, with wife Gail Percy. His two daughters, Tara and Raina, are both in their 20s.

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