A National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Wade Davis has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.”

Why you should listen

Wade Davis is perhaps the most articulate and influential western advocate for the world's indigenous cultures. A National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” Trained in anthropology and botany at Harvard, he travels the globe to live alongside indigenous people, and document their cultural practices in books, photographs, and film. His stunning photographs and evocative stories capture the viewer's imagination. As a speaker, he parlays that sense of wonder into passionate concern over the rate at which cultures and languages are disappearing -- 50 percent of the world's 7,000 languages, he says, are no longer taught to children. He argues, in the most beautiful terms, that language is much more than vocabulary and grammatical rules. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind.  

Indigenous cultures are not failed attempts at modernity, let alone failed attempts to be us. They are unique expressions of the human imagination and heart, unique answers to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive? When asked this question, the peoples of the world respond in 7,000 different voices, and these collectively comprise our human repertoire for dealing with all the challenges that will confront us as a species over the coming centuries.

Davis is the author of 15 books including The Serpent and the Rainbow, One River, and The Wayfinders. His many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series produced for the National Geographic. In 2009 he received the Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for his contributions to anthropology and conservation, and he is the 2011 recipient of the Explorers Medal, the highest award of the Explorers’ Club, and the 2012 recipient of the Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration. His latest books are Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest and The Sacred Headwaters: the Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena and the Nass.

What others say

“His work with indigenous cultures has given him a truly unique view of the world. He is able to slip off the map for awhile, to live with the voodoo priests in Haiti, the Penan in Borneo, or the Quechuen of Chinchero.” — CBC-TV

Wade Davis on the TED Blog
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Live from TED2014

Progress for “the blue heart of the planet” and a plan to de-extinct a kayak: A recap of “Planet Dearth,” All-Stars Session 1 at TED2014

March 18, 2014

By Liz Jacobs and Kate Torgovnick Are we on the brink of a resource crisis? All signs point to yes. As the human population grows, the planet is buckling under the pressure of our needs. In this inaugural All-Stars session, 11 classic TED speakers return to the stage to share their deep concern for preserving […]

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Science

Saving a pristine backyard wilderness: Wade Davis at TED2012

February 29, 2012

Photo: James Duncan Davidson Wade Davis is a familiar figure on the TED stage, but he’s probably best known for sharing his incredible pictures of Tibet or the Amazon or the various farflung places to which he’s traveled. This time, he tells the “story of my own backyard,” the sacred headwaters in British Columbia. “It’s the […]

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Quotes from Wade Davis

All cultures through all time have constantly been engaged in a dance with new possibilities of life.
Wade Davis
TED2003 • 1.4M views Jan 2007
Inspiring, Fascinating
A language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules. … Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind.
Wade Davis
TED2003 • 1.4M views Jan 2007
Inspiring, Fascinating
Genocide, the physical extinction of a people, is universally condemned, but ethnocide, the destruction of people’s way of life, is not only not condemned, it’s universally celebrated as part of a development strategy.
Wade Davis
TED2003 • 1.4M views Jan 2007
Inspiring, Fascinating