In 2016, an international team of scientists set out to determine how much of the earth’s land is still wild. They were alarmed at what they found: Deserts, grasslands, tropical and boreal forests are all rapidly disappearing. In the last two decades, 10 percent of terrestrial wilderness has been replaced by buildings, farmland, and other development. Only 23 percent of all land on the planet remains relatively untouched.
The ocean is in an even more dire state. In a study published this summer, a research team made up of some of the same scientists found that only 13 percent of the ocean can be classified as marine wilderness. The rest has been altered by anthropogenic stressors, such as industrial fishing, pollution, and shipping.
The ocean research was limited by a lack of historical data, so it’s unknown how quickly marine wilderness has declined in the last 20 years. But the two papers make one thing clear: Humans are threatening a complete takeover of both the land and the sea. After climate change, it’s the most urgent environmental crisis of our time.
On Wednesday, the scientists led by Australia’s University of Queensland attempted to explain why the impending disappearance of wild places is so