Wilderness is an area of land or region, which is in a natural state with minimal human impacts. Severe conditions affect how easily it is to develop the area: this is what makes the area a wilderness. Examples of wildernesses are: Amazon Rainforest, Utah Desert, and Aral Sea. Often wildernesses have resources that humans can take advantage of; however, due to the challenges that the wilderness creates this is difficult. This essay will be looking at the view that the challenges of development outweigh the opportunities that the areas bring, by using the examples of wildernesses above.
The tropical rainforest of the Amazon Basin is the largest area of tropical rainforest in the world. The Amazon Forest is being deforested at an ever increasing rate; estimates of the rate of this deforestation vary, but generally it looks like between May 2000 and August 2006, nearly 150,000 square kilometers of forest was destroyed (an area larger than Greece); and since 1970, over 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed. The destruction of the Amazon can be heavily linked to various natural resources residing within the forest. Extensive areas of the tropical rainforest have been cleared to grow pasture for cattle rearing and to cultivate crops for subsistence and commercial agriculture. The export of beef to developed countries such as USA, Canada and Japan is extremely profitable and brings in valuable revenue to poor South American countries.
As a result, the Amazonian governments encourage cattle ranching by offering financial aid and tax rebates to cattle ranchers. This has resulted in extensive areas of the tropical rainforest being burnt and cut down so that grass and pasture can be grown for cattle. In Brazil, peasants are given plots of land to clear for subsistence farming. The government hopes that they will grow food and become self-sufficient. The building of roads and the 3300 km east – west Transamazonia Highway have resulted in the extensive deforestation of the Brazilian part of the Amazon rainforest. The building of the highway has also made much of the interior of the tropical rainforest of the Amazon Basin more accessible to people. As a result, more areas of the rainforest have been cleared and developed for other land uses.
The tropical rainforest of the Amazon Rainforest offers many valuable natural resources such as timber, mineral ores and oil. The use of modern, efficient equipment such as chain-saws, bulldozers, trucks and tractors means that large areas of rainforest can be cleared rapidly in a fairly short time. There are large deposits of gold, bauxite, iron ore, tin ore and diamonds in the Amazon Basin. In order to extract these minerals, large areas of the forest have been cleared. Around one-sixth of Brazil’s tropical rainforest (900,000 km) has been cleared to mine the high quality iron ore found there. With oil being extracted from the Ecuador’s tropical rainforest, with more than 10,000 km of the tropical rainforest have been cleared for this purpose as well as to build roads and refineries for processing the crude oil. In the Amazon there are vast amounts of resources; with developing technology it is becoming easier and easier to gain these resources by clearing the rain forest faster than ever. The challenge is not how to get the resources; it is how to stop the climate change brought on by the vast deforestation. If deforestation continues at its current rate the Amazon will have been completely deforested in 50 years time; and will no longer be wilderness but a completely different environment.
Las Vegas is situated in a semi-desert environment, and is the fastest growing settlement in the USA. Its population has doubled since 1990, to 570,000; and 90 percent of its water comes from the Colorado River. To combat this water crisis the City along with the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), proposes to build a 285-mile pipeline to pump groundwater from six valleys in eastern Nevada. When pumping outpaces an area’s ability to replenish its water reserves, entire ecological systems slowly wither. Starting in 1913, Los Angeles siphoned water away from Owens Valley, eventually turning a 100-square-mile lake into a dust bowl, and kicking up clouds of cadmium and iron. And in 1998 the United States Geological Survey found that groundwater pumping had lowered the water table in parts of Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas by more than 100 ft. Las Vegas is site that shows that settlements can develop in harsh, dry conditions; however, this does come at a cost. Pumping water to keep this development thriving is extremely damaging to the environment and will only increase the problems in the future.
Aral Sea is one of the greatest environmental catastrophes ever recorded. Humans have made use of the waters of the Aral basin for thousands of years, borrowing from its two major rivers: the Amu Darya, which flows into the Aral Sea from the south; and the Syr Darya, which reaches the sea at its northern end. As the 20th century began, irrigated agriculture in the basin was still being conducted at a sustainable level. After the Russian Empire was replaced by the Soviet Union, this began to change. Traditional agricultural practices were destroyed by communism, and Soviet planners sought products that could be exported for hard currency. They placed cotton high on their list, calling it `white gold,’ and the Soviet Union became a net exporter of cotton in 1937. Change accelerated in the 1950s, as Central Asian irrigated agriculture was expanded and mechanised.
The Kara Kum Canal opened in 1956, diverting large amounts of water from the Amu Darya into the desert of Turkmenistan, and millions of hectares of land came under irrigation after 1960. A crucial juncture had been reached, and after 1960 the level of the Aral Sea began to drop, while diversion of water continued to increase. While the sea had been receiving about fifty cubic kilometers of water per year in 1965, by the early 1980s this had fallen to zero. As the Aral shrank, its salinity increased, and by 1977 the formerly large fish catch had declined by over seventy-five percent. By the early 1980s, commercially useful fish had been eliminated, shutting down an industry that had employed 60,000. The declining sea level lowered the water table in the region, destroying many oases near its shores.
By the beginning of the 1990s, the surface area of the Aral had shrunk by nearly half, and the volume was down by seventy-five percent. A host of secondary effects began to appear. Regional climate became more continental, shortening the growing season and causing some farmers to switch from cotton to rice, which demanded even more diverted water. The exposed area of former seabed was now over 28,000 square kilometers, from which winds picked up an estimated 43 million tons of sediments laced with salts and pesticides, with devastating health consequences for surrounding regions. These contaminated Aral dust storms have been reported as far away as the Arctic and Pakistan. Respiratory illnesses were particularly common, and throat cancers burgeoned. Regional vegetation loss may have increased albedo, possibly reducing precipitation. The Aral Sea is still continuing to shrink and is perhaps irreversible this example shows how human-kind can use technology and change a way nature functions and in this case has destroyed the region.
It is self-evident that wildernesses offer more challenges than opportunities. If that were not the case they would no longer be wildernesses. A transformation through technology has been witnessed in the southwest of the USA where cities such as Las Vegas and Phoenix have grown rapidly in areas that were very lightly inhabited before the 20th century. Air-conditioning and the technology of importing water from other regions have allowed this growth. Whether or not developments such as this are sustainable is another difficult question.
These challenges through up difficult situations to try and over come, to develop in places where it shouldn’t be possible. The Aral Sea is an example of this were technology allowed humans to change the natural preceding, but affected it so badly that it is even harder to gain benefits and become even more challenging. With wildernesses shrinking as the technology increases and exploits the regions further. BP has made the decision not too drill oil in Alaska due to its stakeholders; ethics have more of a pull on big companies. In the future human kind will invent new technologies and advances in ways of trying to gain the benefits out of the wildernesses; but as this occurs the wildernesses will shrink as human impact increases and developments grow in the untouched locations. However, as government has become more aware of climate change and mankind’s affect on the planet this impact may be reduced as they look to preserve the natural environment; or maybe more sinisterly the natural resources contained within.