I go to school in a quaint region of New England. On Saturday mornings, I go on walks into the nature encircling the campus, particularly to a nearby river, where I observe so many sensations that one might miss in the rush of school life: the rustle of leaves, the quiet, omnipresent babble of water, a glaze of dormant ice on top of a particular channel, and the paw-print of a squirrel in the snow. I sit on the rough bark of a fallen log, looking out onto the river, and I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the forest. In my solitude, I feel connected to Mother Nature.
But even these walks are not truly in the wilderness. In the distance, I can hear the faint rumblings of car engines on the nearby freeway. Sometimes, I discover the footprints of other people covered with a thin layer of snow. Other times, I find candy wrappers and water bottles littered on the ground.
These signs of human tampering even in the most isolated parts of nature marks a global crisis that threatens to throttle the life out of our Earth. Researchers report that we have lost 10% of the wilderness since the 1990s: that is, land untouched by significant human influence. This territory equates to 1.3 million square miles, or a landmass approximately two times as large as Alaska.
What strikes me as surprising is the unawareness, or perhaps apathy, of most people towards this crisis. How many people who donate to the United Nations have actually experienced raw, untouched nature? How many children who buy stuffed animals from the WWF know that forest destruction endanger gorillas and a plethora of other species? Once forests disappear, they are gone forever: the wilderness can’t procreate the same way humans can, and we can’t breed ecosystems in private enclaves like we do with endangered species.
So many people are oblivious to the wilderness because it plays such a small part in our lives nowadays. Most of us live in a world of “pseudo-nature,” so to speak: ecosystems that are carefully created and regulated by humans in place of Mother Nature. We grow up in cities surrounded by neatly trimmed shrubs, tulips in city-managed parks, and man-made community trails with steel signs every half-kilometer notifying you how far you have walked. The bright city lights obscure the stars in the night sky. Even in the countryside, cedars lined in straight roads delineate the fields of crop. High-rising advertisement billboards for injury law firms and fast-food chains stand beside the asphalt roads. Wind turbines and silos tower in the distance.
Whenever I drive by forests lining highway roads, I feel calm as I pass by acres of nature. But haven’t humans cut down hundreds of thousands of trees to create these highways? Even in the most beautiful parts of the natural world, we forget about the tarnishing effect of industrialization, in this case the harmful presence of these highways and vehicles that disrupt the complex ecosystems around them.
On May 28, 2016, a gorilla named “Harambe” was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo, which turned into an Internet phenomenon overnight with millions of people posting on about the incident social media. Meanwhile, I imagine that the vast majority of those people were unaware about the cruel slaughter of gorillas for consumption or Ebola epidemic, which some say has killed one-third of their population. This is the uniqueness of our era: more than ever, our societies are removed from the natural reality of the Earth and instead immersed in a carefully crafted, artificial “nature”: one which is full of well-groomed gardens, community trails, and billboard advertisements.
With this increasing pervasiveness of “pseudo-nature,” and an increasing sentiment of apathy in regards to the environment, the prospects of wilderness preservation are bleak. By the next century, unindustrialized land may be an extinct species.