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Primary Forest and Roadless Areas: Why We Need Wild Places in the Anthropocene

By: , Posted on: November 16, 2017

In this fascinating talk, Dominick DellaSala discusses why scientists are now talking about a new geological age, the Anthropocene, and the importance of wild places on a planet where humanity has become the dominant agent of change for every type of natural environment on Earth. The dramatic planetary shifts taking place since the mid-20th century – population growth, rapid climate change, plastics in the environment, ocean acidification – have led scientists to consider for the very first time the re-naming and re-characterization of the geological era in which we are currently living.

Whenever the Anthropocene began – whether at the dawn of the agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, or after WWII – the ideas within this concept have huge significance. Now more than ever, scientists across a wide spectrum of disciplines are thinking about human interactions with the natural environment, and their complex implications for biodiversity, natural processes, and for humans themselves, now and in the future.

Ecosystems are all influenced by humanity – there is nowhere left which is pristine, not even ‘protected’ or conservation areas. But hasn’t this always been the case? Climate change is a natural process over time, species extinctions likewise.  Natural systems and resources should be managed to benefit humanity, so overpopulation isn’t a problem, and nature will adapt. Polar bears can swim, right? There are serious arguments for how human activity could actually raise biodiversity – and although some scientists and other thinkers have been raising concerns for decades, the expected sinking of low-lying land masses and apocalyptic mass extinctions haven’t yet happened. Are we alarmists?

It is complex –the fact is that every biome on the planet in decline, and not within normal bounds. For example, species are becoming extinct at a rate far above the historically average background extinction rates. With 7.5billion humans on the planet, we are fast approaching the planetary threshold of how many people Earth can sustain. The evidence is there to prove that we are terraforming the planet on a massive scale, at an unprecedented speed. It is fast becoming apparent that the costs of this are not limited to non-humans – they also extend to promoting inequalities and suffering for people too, especially in parts of the world with developing or emerging economies.

But, is it all doom and gloom? What if we were able to use the ‘wild’ places (on land and sea) to bolster the resistance of ecosystems and the natural environment more generally – to mitigate floods, to provide refuge for vulnerable flora and fauna, to protect diversity which in turn protects resilience to these rapid environmental changes?

The Road Free project ( has been mapping roadless areas across all biomes, particularly primary forests, and their levels of intactness. We are learning the importance of keeping some areas totally roadless, because from the first clearing or cut, what comes next are more roads, more cars, and an increased risk of fires, landslides, pollution, and wildlife mortality. It is increasingly key that scientists can communicate with each other and non-scientists about not just their research findings but also the possible solutions to the challenges that we collectively face.

Read more about the Anthropocene and the most important debates of our time with this free article, The Anthropocene: How the Great Acceleration Is Transforming the Planet at Unprecedented Levels.

Dominick DellaSala is President and Chief Scientist of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, and co-Editor-in-Chief with (Michael Goldstein) of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene.

Video presentation recording courtesy of the University of Northern British Columbia, Canada

About the book

Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene
Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene
presents a currency-based, global synthesis cataloguing the impact of humanity’s global ecological footprint.
Questions widely debated among scientists, humanists, conservationists, politicians and others are included, providing discussion on when the Anthropocene began, what to call it, whether it should be considered an official geological epoch, whether it can be contained in time, and how it will affect future generations.

Key Features

  • Offers comprehensive and systematic coverage of topics related to the Anthropocene, with a focus on the Geosciences and Environmental science
  • Includes point-counterpoint articles debating key aspects of the Anthropocene, giving users an even-handed navigation of this complex area
  • Provides historic, seminal papers and essays from leading scientists and philosophers who demonstrate changes in the Anthropocene concept over time

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