The first two days of the first International Wilderness Week brought together Wilderness advocates from around the world. Wilderness is just as diverse as our beautiful planet. From the undiscovered Wilderness of the deep seas to the eternal ice of the mountain tops of the world. From the biggest Wilderness worldwide on the only uninhabited continent, Antarctica, across the deserts and rainforests to the never-ending forests of the Artic. And from the unique wildlife of Oceania across the unrivaled diversity of Asia and the vastness of Africa to the ‘Green lung of the planet’, the Amazon. We heard how people from around the world experience Wilderness, what it means to them and how they fight for its future.
History of Wilderness
The history of Wilderness has many sides. Wilderness is often defined as “land uninhabited by humans”. From this point of view, the Earth has been 100% Wilderness for most of its existence. On the other hand, our human Wilderness idea is not even 200 years old. The Wilderness movement only emerged when Wilderness became rarer and humans started protecting what is left of this primeval state of nature. Many of the defining concepts and milestones of Wilderness like the US Wilderness Act or the establishment of the Wilderness Foundation are only a few decades old. Nevertheless, ideas and connections to wild, untouched nature have existed in civilizations around the world for thousand of years. In many places like deserts, Wilderness was always associated with the dangers that uncivilized land without water and food supply holds. In other places, pristine nature has been viewed as a place of beauty and peace from human trouble for a long time. This block presented the history, definition, and approaches of Wilderness and how they have changed over time.
Wilderness and Humanity
The simplest definition of Wilderness is the absence of humans. So, are humans and Wilderness opposites? Not quite so. Without humans, there is no Wilderness. Ideas can only exist in distinction to something. Hence, no ideas of Wilderness exist without land cultivated by humans. This also explains our fascination for Wilderness. It provides a window to an adventurous and colorful world different from our everyday life, which is shaped by us and other humans. We experience Wilderness as visitors to a world shaped by natural dynamics, we have no control over. This leads to an endless magnitude of experiences, ideas, and opinions about Wilderness. Many of them were expressed in stories, writing and art that have found their way into religion and culture. This block shows how diverse the connections of humans to Wilderness are, which place they have in culture and how this influences the relationship with Wilderness.
After collecting stories, concepts, experiences, and attitudes of Wilderness on our first day, we take the next step. The history, definition and role of Wilderness varies around the world. But one thing is common: Wilderness is under threat. From Europe, which has been altered extensively by humans centuries ago, to the Amazon, which is being burnt down at a record rate right now. No matter if it is searching for the small patches of land unaltered by humans in a densely populated area or fighting for the last big stretches of Wilderness in the world – we must protect Wilderness! But how? How can we identify Wilderness, promote appropriate policies and steward it? And all within an economic system that gives zero value to wild nature? This block collects notions and best-practice examples for Wilderness identification, stewardship, policy, and financing.
The future of Wilderness
The last destination of our journey through Wilderness is the future. Wilderness has constantly decreased over time. Just within the last century, humans have cultivated half of the planet. Only 13% of the oceans are still pristine. We have to stop this development now or our children will have no chance to ever experience what nature without human impact would look like. And the future will bring even bigger challenges. The climate crisis is accelerating. Within decades, ecosystems might not be able to adapt to rapid changes. And both human population and land use are still increasing. While these issues threaten Wilderness, it might also be part of the answer to them. Wild, intact ecosystems are much more resilient than the ones stressed by human pressure. And they provide existential services like clean water and oxygen. Wilderness even benefits mental health in a world of stress. This block gave an outlook on the future of Wilderness including threats and challenges, but also opportunities, chances and benefits.