True wilderness no longer exists

When I was a 16-year-old on my high school debate team, one of our prompts was about how privacy — as we knew it back then — would no longer exist in the future.

I had just barely graduated from a pager to a flip phone. There was no texting. There was no camera on the phone. There was no GPS. It was a simple black and white device that could make calls and that was about it.

Even though I was living under the auspices of my parents and didn’t have much privacy to begin with, I still couldn’t fathom what it would mean to lose it. I was fairly unplugged from the world. My only digital footprint consisted of an AOL email address.

But there I was debating about how the government, businesses, and new technologies would slowly seep into our day-to-day lives to monitor and tabulate our existence. And for some reason I didn’t fully understand that the loss of privacy would be bad.

Nearly 15 years later, with the burst of new surveillance and mapping technologies, we’ve lost loads of privacy that we used to have. And one often-overlooked space that this digital mark has affected and altered is the natural world — especially our relationship to it.

In an interview with Mother Jones, Jason Mark, an environmental journalist, urban farmer, and editor of Earth Island Journal, ponders whether there are truly any natural places left on Earth that are private, untouched, and totally wild.

“For a long time, people understood wilderness to mean pristine. It was this place where there weren’t any marks of human civilisation,” Mark told Mother Jones. “I and lot of people are beginning to have a new understanding of wilderness, which is that we live on a post-pristine planet; there is no place that has not been touched to some degree by civilisation.

Even just 10 years ago, you could take a trip to the country surrounding Yosemite National Park in California and find mountaintops and meadows that had never been explored by humans. You could be truly
alone. Now, with the explosion of Google Maps and satellite surveillance, there are few, if any, places we can go to explore for the first time and escape.

“There are Google drones and GPS, everything is mapped,” Mark told Mother Jones. “There are no more white spaces on the map.”

And this is a problem, Mark argues, because “the wilderness is one of the last places where a citizen can walk unwatched.”

If we’ve lost the existence of and our connection to the wilderness, Mark argues, then we’ll have lost our connection to this space that is currently under duress. Climate change is real. Severe drought, wildfires, flooding, and erratic weather patterns are threatening the integrity of these once-wild spaces.

And if we’ve stopped connecting to these places in person, Mark says, then we won’t feel a personal responsibility to save them.

As a teenager, I never could have imagined how the loss of privacy would affect me personally, let alone the natural world. But as we slowly lose this space to explore and be alone with our thoughts and feelings, we may one day lose our connection to the very place we need to survive, the place most in need of our care: the planet.

Read the rest Mark’s thoughts on the loss of the wilderness in his Mother Jones interview here.

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