How Much Wilderness Is Left On Earth, & Are We Running Out?

In this guide, we discuss the Earth’s wilderness.

We outline how much wilderness might be left on Earth, how much has been lost over time, whether we might run out, and other relevant information.

 

Summary – Earth’s Wilderness

What Is Wilderness?

A general description for what ‘wilderness’ is can be found in the guide below

 

Why Is Wilderness Important?

We outline the important of wilderness in the guide below, and list what functions wilderness might provide to wild life and society

 

Why Different Wilderness Studies Can Provide Different Data

Different studies and research may use different guidelines for what constitutes wilderness land, and also use different research methods and assumptions

 

Two Main Types Of Wilderness

There’s wilderness on land, and also wilderness in the ocean

 

How Much Wilderness Is Left On Earth?

There might be roughly 23% of land remaining that is classified as wilderness, and 13% of the ocean

 

Majority Of The Remaining Wilderness Might Be Found In A Small Number Of Countries

One report indicates that Australia, Russia, Canada, the US (Alaska) and Brazil contain 70% of the remaining wilderness

Some of the reports mentioned in the guide below have both maps showing the where the remaining wilderness is, and one report has a table showing the country with the most wilderness

 

How Much Wilderness Has Been Lost Over Time?

We provide estimates in the guide below over both the last few decades, and also over a century or more

 

Why Are We Losing Wilderness?

In the guide below, we provide a list of potential reasons as to why wilderness has been converted to other land uses 

 

Will We Run Out Of Wilderness In The Future?

We have some wilderness left, but whether we lose more in the future depends on a range of factors which we outline in the guide below

 

How Wilderness Might Be Conserved In The Future

We list some of the potential ways wilderness might be conserved into the future in the guide below

 

Why Some Wilderness May Never Be Lost

We list some of the reasons some wilderness may never be modified by humans directly in the guide below

 

What Is Wilderness?

Wilderness might be described as ‘wild land’ or ‘wild sea’ that is untouched, unmodified or uninhabited by humans, or, free from the impact of human activities

 

Why Is The Wilderness Important, & What Functions Does It Provide?

The wilderness can be important for humans, Earth’s ecosystems and biosphere, and the life forms that live in and around it.

It serves a number of functions including but not limited to:

– Being a habitat to different animals, organisms and life forms

– Being one of the last environments on Earth where endangered or threatened species can live

– wilderness-society.org mentions how the wilderness is important for biodiversity and genetic diversity

– Forest wilderness and other wilderness with carbon storing matter like soil stores a lot of carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere

inverse.com mentions how ‘Boreal forests in Canada and Russia, for example, hold almost one-third of the Earth’s carbon’

– Mitigating some of the effects of a changing climate

– Some local communities and indigenous people may depend on wilderness for their livelihood, and it may be an important part of their culture

 

wilderness-society.org lists a range of other functions and benefits that are specific to wild areas

 

Why Different Wilderness Studies Can Provide Different Data

When it comes to different wilderness research and studies, there can be:

– Different definitions of what constitutes ‘wilderness’ (e.g. the types of wilderness, differing definitions on where it starts and ends, and so on) used 

– Different research methods and assumptions used

This may result in different different data being presented, and a difference in the reliability and detail of data 

 

As one example, theconversation.com notes how different studies stipulate differently how far away land has to be from a road to be classified as wilderness.

theconversation.com goes into more detail about differences between studies and data

 

inverse.com also references one study that describes wilderness as regions “free of human pressures, with a contiguous area of more than 10,000 [square kilometers] on land.”

 

Two Main Types Of Wilderness – Land & Marine Wilderness

Terrestrial/land, and marine/ocean wilderness might be the two main categories or types of wilderness

 

How Much Wilderness Is Left On Earth?

Wilderness might only make up 23% of land surface, and 13% of the ocean on Earth

 

Wilderness Left On Land, & In The Ocean

… recent research has highlighted that just 23% of the planet’s land surface (excluding Antarctica) and 13% of the ocean can now be classified as wilderness … (theconversation.com)

 

Wilderness Left In The Ocean Specifically

In the ocean, the only regions free of industrial fishing, pollution, and shipping are confined to the poles or remote Pacific island nations (theconversation.com)

 

How Much Wilderness Is Left In Different Countries?

Beyond the global estimate of how much wilderness is left, different countries might have a different amount of wilderness left too

Most of the remaining wilderness can be found in a small number of countries – about 5 countries in total

 

Countries With The Remaining Wilderness

… more than 70% of what wilderness remains is contained within just five countries: Australia, Russia, Canada, the United States (Alaska) and Brazil (theconversation.com)

 

Just 20 countries are home to 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding the high seas and Antarctica … (theconversation.com)

 

Maps Of Wilderness Left In Different Regions & Countries

theconversation.com also has maps showing how much wilderness is left, and where that wilderness is located in individual countries 

 

inverse.com has a global map showing the last remaining terrestrial and marine wilderness areas on Earth

 

How Much Wilderness Have We Lost Over Time?

How much wilderness has been lost depends on the time scale used

Over the short term, there’s various estimates including both % of wilderness lost, and kilometres of wilderness lost

Over the long term of a century or more, much more wilderness has been lost

 

Loss In The Short Term

… [there’s been] nearly a 10% decline [in wilderness] over the last 20 years … (theconversation.com)

 

… between 1993 and 2009 … 3.3 million square kilometres of terrestrial wilderness … was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures … (theconversation.com)

 

Loss In The Longer Term

A century ago, wilderness extended over most of the planet [but that is not the case anymore] (theconversation.com) 

 

For most of the Earth’s 4.5-billion-year existence, the vast majority of the land has been considered “wild” [but there is much less wilderness left now]

 

rathergreen.ca mentions how agriculture has gone from 15% to 77% of terrestrial land use in the last century

They also provide a table that shows how the different types of land uses (forest, cropland, etc) have changed over time

 

Why Are We Losing Wilderness, & Why Isn’t It Being Conserved?

There might be a few reasons, including but not limited to:

– The industrial revolution and what that meant for change in land use

– Population growth

– Urban sprawl and urban expansion

– Infrastructure expansion (roads and highways for example)

– Demand for resources and goods like food, fuel, water, timber, minerals, and so on. The value of these resources might be greater than the existing wilderness, and therefore the land is converted to another land use, like agriculture, mining, and so on

– A lack of protection of wilderness in government policy

– Some regions and parts of Earth cross international borders, and are hard to regulate

– A changing climate

– Pollution 

– Invasive species

 

theconversation.com mentions:

… wilderness areas and their values are completely overlooked in international environmental policy [and in] most countries, wilderness is not formally defined, mapped or protected

[Nations, industry, society and community are therefore not held accountable if wilderness isn’t conserved]

[This may lead to wilderness areas being threatened and not conserved]

 

theconversation.com also mentions:

Almost two-thirds of marine wilderness is in the high seas, beyond nations’ immediate control

There are some laws to manage high seas fishing, but there is no legally binding agrement government high seas conservation

 

In their report, theconversation.com also mentions other reasons why wilderness areas may be under threat and not be conserved

 

Are We Running Out Of Wilderness, & Will We Run Out In The Future?

At this point in time, some wilderness left on land and in the ocean.

Whether we lose more wilderness in the future might be impacted by several factors, including but not limited to:

– Whether or not the reasons listed in the section above continue to be reasons for future wilderness loss or not, and to what extent

 

– The land and infrastructure needs of society in the future

Population growth and urban development in developing countries worldwide could have an impact

Additionally, whether urban areas continue to build up, or whether urban sprawl continues might have an impact too

These are only a few of many potential examples though

 

– How strongly current wilderness areas are protected and conserved

Legal protection of wilderness – both internationally and domestically – might have a strong influence on how much wilderness is conserved in the future

 

– How important and valuable wilderness is considered to be in the future

The value of wilderness to society and to the regulation of the environment ultimately plays a big part in whether it’s conserved, or whether it’s used/converted for other uses

We list some of the other current land uses in society in this guide

 

How Wilderness May Be Conserved Into The Future

Some of the things that may help wilderness into the future may include, but aren’t limited to:

– Countries that contain most of the remaining wilderness being active in their conservation/preservation

– Clearly outlining the value of wilderness areas, and setting up projects, businesses, incentives, or legislation/regulations that protect these wilderness areas based on this value

– Wilderness mapping and registers (helps identify and track/monitor wilderness areas over time)

 

theconversation.com mentions that agreements and treaties between nations, and stopping of ‘… industrial activities like mining, logging and fishing from expanding to new places’ may help.

 

Some Wilderness May Never Be Lost

There are some areas of wilderness across the world that may never be lost, due to reasons such as:

– Being too cold or dry for agriculture or forestry

– Being at too high of an altitude

– The land being unsuitable or too rugged to work

– The land being too hard to access or too isolated for certain land uses, or too unfeasible to use economically (or for another reason). Antarctica might be one example of this

 

However, even wilderness that meets some or all of the above criteria may be affected by issues like a changing climate, or pollution.

 

 

Sources

1. https://theconversation.com/five-maps-that-reveal-the-worlds-remaining-wilderness-110061

2. https://theconversation.com/earths-wilderness-is-vanishing-and-just-a-handful-of-nations-can-save-it-106072

3. https://rathergreen.ca/blogs/aticles/how-wild-is-earth

4. https://wilderness-society.org/dark-future-for-remaining-wilderness/

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilderness

6. https://www.inverse.com/article/50378-there-is-almost-no-wilderness-left-on-earth

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