Op-Ed: How the U.S. came to protect the natural world — and exploit it at the same time
The United States was once a land of wilderness in which humans had as much right as any species on Earth to live in the wild. As we continue to expand the human footprint into the natural world, we have to ask: How did we get here?
We like to think we are all in control of our land, natural resources, and oceans. But a new study questions that perception of control.
“This is a huge wake-up call, in terms of where we need to go,” says author of the study, William E. Clegg of the University of North Dakota. “This is a way for people to think in a new way and to understand some new concepts, and it’s going to take a lot more thinking.”
The study was published in the June 23 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Bioscience.
The human footprint is projected to increase by roughly 80 percent in the next 50 years, and in the United States, the increase in population and consumption will outpace the available capacity of the land. And this will be at a time when we’re facing increased pressures from climate change and population growth. We have to wonder if we do have a choice about future land use.
We’ve known that human beings are hardwired to destroy habitat, and that’s exactly as it should be. But the problem has recently become more apparent with reports of massive deforestation and habitat destruction in places like the Amazon and in Africa. The question is whether the rate of destruction is accelerating and whether humans are becoming more capable of self-destruction.
Clegg and his co-authors used the United States as a case study for the effect of land use on the natural world. To get at the problem, they divided up the United States into five regions, each with a particular land use pattern. Each of the five regions is a different type of territory for humans to exploit.
In the northern Great Plains, for instance, they found that humans are already stripping down