We’ve Destroyed One-Tenth of the World’s Wilderness Since 1990

And we’re not getting it back.


The world’s wilderness areas are declining at “catastrophic” rates, according to a new study published today in Current Biology. Since 1990, we’ve lost about one-tenth of these large, mostly unpopulated landscapes—amounting to 3.3 million square kilometers, or twice the size of Alaska.

Current Biology

The lost wilderness areas, highlighted in red in the map above, were crucial for protecting endangered plants and animals, regulating local climates, and storing carbon, while some were home to indigenous communities, according to the researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia.

Since the wilderness is, by definition, relatively free from human disturbances, it’s often ignored by conservation efforts, but things like road expansion, industrial mining, forestry and large-scale agricultural operations have threatened it, the researchers note. South America and Africa have been the most affected, losing 30 percent and 14 percent of their wilderness areas, respectively, since 1990. 

“The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening,” James Watson, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “You cannot restore wilderness. Once it is gone, the ecological process that underpin these ecosystems are gone, and it never comes back to the state it was.”

Watson says we likely have one to two decades to turn things around: “If we don’t act soon, it will be all gone, and this is a disaster for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet.”

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate