Myth 10: Wilderness is the enemy of the poor

Myth: Wilderness is the enemy of the poor, as it prevents the use of land for productive agriculture (Cronon 1996)

Truth: Wilderness management does maintain that not all natural areas are going to be a resource for humans. Poverty has to do with the equity of sharing what we have already developed for human use, not clearing our last remaining wilderness areas. Exploiting the last wild areas in Australia (or anywhere else) will do nothing to impact on poverty. It will just mean that future Australians will not be able to experience large natural areas. On the world level, destroying the remaining large natural areas will mean the ecosystem services on which humans depend (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1981) such as regulating water flow to rivers, protecting biodiversity, cleaning air, etc. Realistically, any areas suitable for sustainable agriculture have already been developed by now. Clearing the last remaining wilderness would not be sustainable nor produce much food, rather it would cause massive environmental impacts and send native species extinct that we may seek in future to breed into the food crops of the future. This myth seeks to use people’s concern about poverty against wilderness, when it is doubtful if its proponents care about either.


It's a sad presumption on the part of Cronon and like minded types that this entire planet is nothing more than a "resource" for humans and nothing is of value without reference to humans.

Indeed, it is an assumption that underlies the anthropocentric and utilitarian view that nature is just for human use. Yet this view is pretty rife, even in 'The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity' by UNEP. I believe that the intrinsic value of nature is THE crucial ethical question that society needs to discuss - but mostly we dont. When teaching the unit 'Green Politics' at UWS I asked my students if nature had a value for itself or was it just something for human use. The class looked pretty confounded. One came up to me later and said 'why is it that I have never been asked that before, why have I never thought about it?'. Indeed! This is why we need to accept that part of solving the environmental crisis is changing our worldview. We need to commit to what Thomas Berry called 'The Great Work', which is the work of Earth repair. That involves protecting and respecting the last large natural areas that are left. Wilderness.

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