A disappearing wilderness is actually a major problem, as many forests have a significant impact in limiting climate change and providing biodiversity. For one example, there’s been a lot of medical advances that are attributable to the animals and plants of the amazon rain forest.
The world’s last great wildernesses are shrinking at an alarming rate. In the past two decades, 10% of the earth’s wilderness has been lost due to human pressure, a mapping study by the University of Queensland has found.
Over the course of human history, there has been a major degradation of 52% of the earth’s ecosystems, while the remaining 48% is being increasingly eroded. Since 1992, when the United Nations signed up to the Rio convention on biological diversity, three million square kilometres of wilderness have been lost.
According to the UQ professor and director of science at the Wildlife Conservation Society James Watson, senior author on the study, “If this rate continues, we will have lost all wilderness within the next 50 years.”
This wilderness degradation is endangering biodiversity, as well as the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle and pollination. And, says Watson, once they have been damaged or cleared, the wildernesses are gone for good; there is no scientific evidence that degraded eco-systems could ever return to their original condition.
These pristine wild places exist in inhospitable locations: the deserts of Central Australia; the Amazon rainforest in South America; Africa; the Tibetan plateau in central Asia; and the boreal forests of Canada and Russia.
They are being encroached on by logging, oil and gas exploration, mining, roads and agriculture. “It is death by a thousand cuts” says PhD student James Allan, who also worked on the study. “The moment you put a road in, you get people moving in to farm, hunt, and [that] undermines the wilderness. The risk is that a lot of these systems could collapse. The Amazon is the best example of where you need the whole forest, or a huge portion of the forest, protected for the hydrological cycle to function.” One third of the Amazon wilderness region has been lost since 1992.