Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The World's Disappearing Wilderness - The Importance Of Long Term Thinking

A news item about the disappearance of wilderness in the world caught my attention the other day.  Since I live in state that still has some wilderness left, I thought it worthy of discussion.

From PRI:
"The result showed that about 20 percent of the world's land area is currently wilderness or about 11.6 million square miles.
Most of that wilderness is in Australia, North America, North Asia and North Africa.
Comparing the old map to the new one showed that an estimated 1.3 million square miles — almost 10 percent of the wilderness area — have been lost in the past two decades.
The amount lost is equal to twice the land mass of Alaska, or about half the entire Amazon.
The study did not delve into reasons why, but Watson said it comes down to increased development by the planet's growing human population."
Given that airplanes fly over just about every part of the world and that pollution travels by air and sea to every part of the world, I'd guess there isn't really any wilderness left, but here's the study's definition:
"For the study, researchers defined 'wilderness' as 'biologically and ecologically intact landscapes free of any significant human disturbance.'"

Let's put this in context.

 in the world  11.6 million sq mi / 7.4 billion acres20%
 in the USA 170.5K sq mi / 109,129,657 acres 5%
 in Lower 48 82.1 K sq mi / 52,553,809 acres 2.7%
 in Alaska 88.4K sq mi/ 56,575,848 acres13.3%
Alaska total size 663,268 sq mi / 424,491,520 acres 100%
 Wilderness size from NWPS ;   Alaska total size from Wikipedia

Wilderness disappears as people make short term decisions; about survival for some, about profit for many.  Long term collective decisions, like the creation of the National Park Service by Teddy Roosevelt and the idea of setting aside natural areas for conservation, are what keep the small amount of wilderness we have left in the world.

As Alaskans debate where they can drill for oil,  log for timber, mine for coal and gold and other minerals, I'd suggest some longer term thinking.  Thinking that recognizes that what is rare is valuable.  Wilderness is becoming rarer and rarer.  Alaska's wilderness will become more and more valuable in the future.  Rather than destroy it for meager short term profit, let's save it for longer term, more valuable benefit.

I haven't addressed why we need wilderness.   I've written about before is described by Edward O. Wilson who talks about how the trillions of dollars worth of ecosystem services provided by nature -  recycling and purifying water, cleaning the air, enriching the soil, etc.

For those who doubt the need, here are a few more resources.

National Geographic: What is Wilderness, Why Preserve It?

Nash Roderick:  The Value of Wilderness (1978)

Why did US citizens feel the need to legally protect wilderness?

List of largest wilderness areas in the US

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.