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Report: Just 23% of Earth's wilderness remains

A new paper in Nature adds urgency to the fight against climate change.

Photo: Pixabay
  • "Seventy-seven percent of land (excluding Antarctica) and 87 percent of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities," states a new paper in Nature.
  • Just 5 countries — Russia, Canada, Australia, the U.S., and Brazil — contain 70 percent of the world's wilderness (excluding Antarctica).
  • The paper emphasizes the urgent need to protect large-scale ecosystems, calling them a buffer against the Anthropocene.

Image: Springer Nature, Vol. 563, Nov 2018.

Human exploration and activity has transformed the natural world, and a paper recently published in Nature gives us some numbers to accompany our sense of that ever-snowballing change. The Wildlife Conservation Society summarizes it in a news release: "23 percent of the world's landmass can now be considered wilderness, with the rest—excluding Antarctica—lost to the direct effects of human activities."

The criteria by which the Nature paper examined Earth included a focus on built environments, crop and pasture lands, population density, night-time lights, roadways, railways, and navigable waterways, and the scale of the details found using that criteria are shocking, as the authors, James E. M. Watson, James R. Allan and colleagues, write:

"Between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India — a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres — was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures. In the ocean, areas that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions."

Such a large impact seems to be relegated to comparably few actors as well. Twenty nations hold control over 94 percent of the marine and terrestrial earth. Five nations — Russia, Canada, Australia, the U.S., and Brazil — control 70 percent.

If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt ... we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning. — Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States

What action can be taken to protect global wilderness?

Image source: Springer Nature, Vol. 563, Nov 2018

"We believe that Earth's remaining wilderness can be protected only if its importance is recognized within international policy frameworks," the paper states. The authors continue:

"How can changes in policy at the global level translate into effective national action? By our measure, 20 countries contain 94 percent of the world's remaining wilderness (excluding the high seas and Antarctica). More than 70 percent is in just five countries — Russia, Canada, Australia, the United States and Brazil (see 'What's left?'). Thus, the steps these nations take (or fail to take) to limit the expansion of roads and shipping lanes, and to rein in large-scale developments in mining, forestry, agriculture, aquaculture and industrial fishing, will be critical."

The paper recommends a move for large-scale ecosystems to be explicitly protected by an international framework similar to The Paris Climate Agreement.

Pressure could well be put on the five largest meat and dairy companies, who emit a startling amount of C02 and don't receive nearly as much political attention as oil companies.

Global policy should also encourage rewilding. Build more carbon capture sites. Plant more trees. Donate to organizations that plant more trees. Reach out directly to Chinese provinces to assist in their energy production so that the relatively new spike in C02 emissions drops.

Quite relevant in this moment in America, just before the midterms: Vote for politicians and environmental issues that will make the world a better place.

The authors finish on an emotionally poignant note:

"As U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson observed when he signed the US Wilderness Act in 1964, "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt. . . we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning."

Already we have lost so much. We must grasp this opportunity to secure the wilderness before it disappears forever.

"Earth's remaining wilderness areas are becoming increasingly important buffers against changing conditions in the Anthropocene. Yet they aren't an explicit target in international policy frameworks," write James E. M. Watson, James R. Allan and colleagues.

Photo by Tony Reid on Unsplash

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

White dwarfs.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Juan Carlos Correa (L) , a prospective home buyer is shown a short sale home by Denise Madan, a Real Estate agent with Re/Max, as he shops for a house on April 22, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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