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Living World - Wilderness

Wilderness areas and cold environments.

Key word
Wilderness area - A natural environment that has not been significantly modified by human activity. Wilderness areas are the most intact, undisturbed areas left on Earth – places that humans do not control and have not developed.


A wilderness area is a natural environment that has not been significantly modified by human activity. Wilderness areas are the most intact, undisturbed areas left on Earth – places that humans do not control and have not developed. Wilderness areas are generally very sparsely populated and are isolated.  They are visited only irregularly because of their harsh climates and environments. However, increasing population, a trend for people to seek extreme environments to visit as extreme tourists and mankind’s hunger for natural resources all pose a threat to wilderness. 
Map of Wilderness

Global Wilderness areas (in green)  - SOURCE


The Value of Wilderness

"In wildness is the preservation of the world,"
Henry David Thoreau


Wilderness is valuable for many reasons, some of these are physical and practical, whilst others are less tangible and link to spirituality and culture.
In practical terms.
1. Wilderness is valuable for its ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value. 
2. Many wildernesses ecosystem services or ecological functions.  The tropical rainforest serves as a Carbon sink but also has a major impact on both the global water cycles and wind cycles.  Ice environments in the extreme high latitudes act as giant “mirrors” that reflect sunlight back to space and help to cool temperatures on Earth. The permafrost also contains lots of methane, which is currently locked up in the frozen ground.  If Global Warming were to accelerate this methane would be released accelerating global warming, a positive feedback loop. 
3. Wilderness also contains lots of genetic material, even wildernesses like the Arctic Tundra and Antarctica which have low biodiversity.  As a species we do not know how we might come to need those genetic resources in the future for medicines for example.
4. Wilderness also represents a "baseline": landscapes with ecosystems that function with as little influence from human beings as any on Earth, this allows us to compare those with ecosystems we have damaged, and allows scientists to study this.
5. Wilderness also offers people tremendous opportunities for tourism and recreation, and for education.
In less concrete terms
• Wilderness offers people "outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation"  (Wilderness Act of the USA).  This shouldn’t be underestimated in an increasingly populated, globalised and connected world.
• Wilderness also serves to remind people that humanity has its limits, that there are places on our planet that are very difficult to live in. Many cultures attach a huge spiritual value to wilderness.
Wilderness is under threat.
The Alaskan tundra and Antarctica are examples of cold wildernesses but they are increasingly under threat.  This has already been seen in the opportunities and challenges posed in the Alaskan tundra. Drilling for oil, commercial fishing, increasing tourism and mineral exploitation all disturb what was once a pristine wilderness. This is a great shame, as cold environments such as the Alaskan Tundra are incredibly valuable and fragile.  A balance needs to be found between economic development (the ability for people to make money from a place) and conservation (protecting the natural environment).

 

 

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