Reflection on Wilderness

Reflection on Wilderness

The following question, which I will respond to in this blog, was taken from the discussion questions at the end of chapter 2 of the Cox reading:

Is wilderness merely a symbolic construction? Does this matter to whether or not you want to protect it?

The most immediate task in addressing this prompt is how to define wilderness. I choose to use what was discussed in class, that wilderness is a place untouched by humankind. Cox provides a supporting definition, when he quotes the 1964 Wilderness Act which proposed that “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man [sic] and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (Cox).

When asked in class whether wilderness still exists, I agreed, naively imagining natural parks and failing to define wilderness, or distinguish it from nature or places of natural beauty that are relatively well maintained despite the threats of climate change. Equipped with this definition, I would contest that no wilderness remains, for at the very least the air and oceans have been altered globally by humanity. At least for me, wilderness thus represents a nature that is thriving and surviving under the environmental duress imposed by humankind.

Depending on how success is measured, there may be no places left that we can consider ‘successful’ or thriving. But I believe that the symbolic importance of wilderness is immense, and disagree with the implication of the question, that wilderness’ symbolic role is mere, because in the battle to protect the planet and alter how humankind affects the earth, wilderness as a successful nature is the ultimate goal. As such, wilderness must be defended and protected precisely because it is symbolic of what humanity should be fighting for. Operating with this mindset, protecting wilderness goes hand-in-hand with not succumbing to the challenges of climate change.

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