The value of wilderness is a topic of intense discussion and debate about its use and its future. Never has there been a concrete answer to either of these questions, let alone a concrete definition of wilderness itself. At the rate humanity is expanding and growing intellectually, I believe the future for our environment is bleak. Our modern world revolves around being self-centered and while I agree that striving for prosperity for ourselves is essential, the thirst for new inventions and medicines is driving wilderness to its obliteration. Although it is beneficial to make advancements in these areas of science, we should not continue to expand onto undeveloped land at the rate we are now. The opportunities that our environment, nature, and especially wilderness hold are unimaginable; humanity must recognize wilderness’s value if we want to continue to make advancements in all areas of science. The key point is to sustain the biodiversity, variety and diversity of life, we have. We should only use nature at a rate that can foster its longevity for future use. Expansion would essentially kill the biodiversity that we are trying to preserve in order to promote scientific advancements. The goal must be to sustain wilderness’s biodiversity in order to promote human health and continue to make advancements in medicine, agriculture, and other technology.
Biodiversity benefits humans locally and globally. The future of these species is significant to everyone. The average American does not even comprehend the basic impact that biodiversity on his or her life. Without it, simply going to the grocery store would be a different experience because agriculture would entail a completely different realm. Scientists have yet to even come close to documenting every species out in the wild, meaning the possibilities these species could have are endless as of right now. Documentation of all the species in the world will most likely never come due to the sheer number of organisms estimated, but more so because of how fast we are losing them from human impact: “biodiversity is Earth’s greatest library…once it’s gone, it’s gone. Earths greatest library is burning” and we are just watching it happen (Pyle, 2012). Therefore, we must sustain what we have right now. A protected area of land that cannot be destructed through commercial or private contracting is one of the first steps we must take. With two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity found in tropical rainforests, these are the areas that need to be protected at any extent. Unfortunately only 9.8% of the whole tropical biome lies within protected areas, leaving the other 90.2% up for grabs to anyone (Gardener et al., 2013). This is unacceptable if we want biodiversity to be sustained, leaving us with the only option of not only protecting more of the tropical biome, but also other wilderness regions in order to simply sustain what we have now.
Our country, or rather most of the entire world, is constantly in pursuit of the next best thing that will hit the market. Not only is this pursuit typically overly competitive economically, but it is also dangerous to our environment. It seems based of how far we have gotten in the past fifty years that it is safe to say there is no end to this path of destruction simply to have a new product come out on the market. Biomedical research and the development of medicine drives a huge sector of our economic market. Billions and billions of dollars are spent every year to try to create a new drug that will cure some ailment affecting Americans. Many of these drugs are not just lab created, but are searched for in deep tropical rainforests, deserts, and hot springs of the world, called “bioprospecting” (Mackey et al., 2013). Although these areas of the world are excellent resources, too often companies tear them to shreds in order to make the next big buck through the use of “biopiracy”. When companies are not concerned for the area or the longevity of the wilderness it entails while appropriating knowledge and samples, biopiracy is being committed and this is a serious problem with the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization (Mackey et al., 2013). In response, the World Health and Trade Organizations recognized those who commit biopiracy do so for the economic benefit, but also and more importantly to improve global health. Therefore, the Nagoya Protocol establishes the requirements for preserving the biodiversity in these regions and methods for sharing the information gained in different areas globally (Mackey et al., 2013). Without new medical research, we cannot even begin to combat the diseases we have in our country. We have to balance the thirst for medical research with the delicacy needed to sustain our biodiversity.
Humans assert their dominance over everything and because of that, we feel it’s “our right” to do what we want with nature creating an imbalance. This imbalance can be rightfully demonstrated in the example of the Madagascar periwinkle flower. This simple flower is only found on the island of Madagascar, yet its ability to help Leukemia is anything but ordinary. Vinblastine and Vincristine are anti-cancer agents that have the ability to increase childhood leukemia survival rates from 10% to 95% (Madagascar Periwinkle, 2010). Throughout Madagascar however, humans decided to cut and burn large forest regions to benefit themselves as much as they could, while they caused demise of this magic flower treatment (Harris, 2013). The biodiversity in the regions of wilderness that contain examples such as the Madagascar periwinkle flower has incredible medical prospects that are just waiting to be explored. However, if man continues his conquest to assert his dominance, then there will be nothing left but concrete and roads. All this unseen beauty and life in our wilderness can be gone in seconds because “man’s invention of tools has enabled him to make changes of unprecedented violence, rapidity, and scope” (Leopold, 1948). How many other cancer treatments just went up in flames because man decided to build a shopping center or a new apartment complex? We just cannot know if we are destroying everything before we have even had a chance to explore the options in wilderness.
Not only can the biodiversity of an area be exploited for medicine, but agriculture can be just as destructive in its respective regions. Agriculture is not a simple backyard farming project. Most often big companies have large farmland and crop areas in order to create an adequate volume of products to be able to sell to consumers in mass amounts. The pressure to create more and more is constant with the global population continually on the rise and yet, we are in an economic depression here in America. It is not easy to make more, but spend less. The world does not work that way and farmers have to cut corners to make ends meet for their companies. In order to keep farmlands running the agricultural system has to maintain its crops, livestock, fertile soil, natural insects, bacteria, and fungi, and most importantly the holistic aspect of the “agroecosystem” (Thrupp, 2013). With all of that to be concerned about, it is understandable that agriculture has to take a few hits to sustain its business. I would not even look poorly upon such a farmer who is struggling for money and is overplanting his fields in the years after a strong drought hit to compensate for the crops lost. As a result, he is losing the soil fertility by overplanting and has to clear-cut part of his land to find nutrient rich soil. The nutrient poor land is losing its natural organisms without having food from the crops there to consume and the farmer is still trying to produce more to keep up with demand; only to receive less in return. He is in debt trying to climb his way out of the dark circle he found himself in from the strong drought and the poor economic situation. Too often the pressure to produce better and higher quantities of crops forces farmers into corners where they must make decisions they normally would decide against. Agriculture is an important aspect in everyone’s world, so I feel offering a stipend to those who choose not use poor farming techniques would benefit both the companies’ and local farmers’ checkbooks, but also sustain the biodiversity they have on their land.
There are definite options for those farmers who want to help sustain the biodiversity on their land. Large scale companies have the most trouble with this because they are the ones that produce high quantities of one or two staple crops. The world produces about seven thousand species of plants, but only a hundred-and-fifty are commercially significant (Thrupp, 2013). If this progresses too far, homogenization of plant species is a real consequence and could eventually lead to total wipeout of certain crops caused by disease and pests (Thrupp, 2013). Aldo Leopold discusses in his own ethic that “the result today is a progressive and mutual deterioration, not only of plants and soils, but of the animal community subsisting thereon” attesting to the fact that agriculture has taken a toll on the land (1948). Local farmers and smaller scale companies have a much better chance of sustaining their biodiversity simply because they produce a wider range of crops. Each crop offers something to the soil and the organisms living within it. Everything is interconnected and that idea is fundamental to agricultural biodiversity. Introducing species into cropland to control pests, to bring in nutrients to the soil, and shifting crops in different areas on the grounds to preserve soil fertility are positive effects for agriculture. Bringing in certain birds and other animals can support growth of the area as well (Thrupp, 2013). The point is that little bits of effort that companies and farmers overlook to focus on tomorrow instead of a year from now, could save their agricultural diversity and their farm. It may not always be economically prudent to save space for crops that are not going to make money, but soil infertility in the long run is much worse. Therefore, anyone willing to promote biodiversity on their land should be offered a stipend to help offset some of the financial hardships that may accompany these alternative farming techniques.
Medicine and agriculture are obviously important to everyone in more ways than one. We will continually be threatened with new ailments that need a vaccine and agriculture is at the base of many things economically for us. Wilderness provides us with the resources to drive these sectors of our market, but the evidence shown describes the ways we are harming the world’s biodiversity. There are more examples than those discussed here, but the point to be made is not to describe every attack on biodiversity. It is rather to provide evidence that humanity is headed in the wrong direction and we have been headed that way for quite some time now. With that being said, wilderness are areas that human impact has not tarnished as William Cronon says in his Trouble with Wilderness, “For many Americans wilderness stands as the last remaining place where civilization…has not fully infected the earth” (Cronon, 1995). Humans expand for countless reasons but, “destruction of the natural environment is usually accompanied by short-term profits and then rapid local economic decline” (Wilson, 1988). This usually results in moving to the next location to use up those resources to continue the path of elimination. These resources of biodiversity are a “largely untapped reservoir of new foods, pharmaceuticals, fibers, petroleum substitutes, and other products” (Wilson, 1988). It can be hard to see that the value in biodiversity needs to be sustained for its longevity, rather than the total amount it is worth in dollars. However, in a hundred or a hundred and fifty years after no change is made, the value biodiversity has won’t just be apparent to anyone, it will be obvious.
The depth that biodiversity has cannot be overstated in addition to its value. Everything in wilderness is interconnected. The way the entire ecosystem thrives is based off of all the interactions of all the species. Eliminating one means cutting one connection in the food web and that hurts the next and the next. The fault is when human activity causes a species to die out or become diminished, but often that species is not seen day to day. Humans do not try to save the insect that might help pollinate a plant, but only when the plant starts wavering and the animal dependent upon the plant starts to decrease in population, do we step in. Bigger animals are easier to see and easier to notice when their population size is decreasing. Our intervention does not solve anything because not only can we not save the insects that started the downfall, but trying to save the larger animal probably hurts other connections in the ecosystem as well. Everything is a domino effect and we have to start now if we want to make any sort of impact on the way we have been acting for the past century. Wilson states, “Many of the diverse wildernesses that we hammered out America are already gone; hence in any practical program the unit areas to be preserved must vary greatly in size and in degree of wilderness” attesting to the fact that humans have caused this great problem in America and the change needs to be great (Wilson, 1949). The plan implemented needs to sustain our biodiversity for the future, while allowing humans to still focus on making scientific advancements in areas of importance.
Wilderness yields a wealth of knowledge and value. We deserve to be as much a part of the wilderness as any other organism. We evolved right alongside it. However, we have done a lot of activities and constructed too many things that have removed us from it. Although, the argument that we do not deserve to put ourselves in any part of it is wrong. The best way this can be put is by Kari Mosden in her Wilderness Debate when she stated, “one of the fallacies of ‘being human’ and being able to think everything to death, is that we have come to think of ourselves as outside of, or perhaps the end link of, the evolutionary loop or cycle” (Mosden, 2013). Even though we have this deep ability to analyze and think, we are not any less a part of the evolutionary tree than all of the other organisms. Our ability to think allows us to harness the value wilderness holds and use it to benefit humanity. The giant barrier we need to put between us and that wealth of knowledge out there, is sustaining the biodiversity to maintain it for the future. The difficulty we have is “learning to honor the wild—learning to remember and acknowledge the autonomy of the other” (Cronon, 1995). Everything about honoring the wildness and sustaining its beauty, but immersing ourselves in the wealth of its knowledge is the basis for anthropocentric-biodiversity-sustainability ethic.
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