Environmental Change and Wilderness

The past couple of weeks have been spent preparing for our second journey of Chesapeake Semester. In Journey Two we will further explore the Chesapeake watershed, looking at the geology and ecology of the region. Our main concentration in lectures has been on climate change, learning about the science background, as well as the environmental and political issues surrounding it. With climate change and other environmental problems, a key word seems to be “change”.

Climate change is a current and critical global environmental issue. It can be defined as “any systemic change in long term climate elements (temperature, pressure, or winds) sustained over several decades or longer” (Hardesty). Changes in climate have been natural over time, but the recent changes are what is really alarming. The recent rapid rates of increased temperatures are what is concerning The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes assessment reports on the issue to inform people like scientists, the public, and the government on current standings and observations surrounding climate change. Their 2007 report stated, “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gases” (Hardesty). This affirms that the recent increased changes in temperatures are the cause of human emission of harmful greenhouse gases.

What implications does this shift in climate have for the environment and for the human population? Impacts of climate change include sea level rise, ocean acidification, and changes in habitat and species distribution. Changes in habitat and species distribution affect our ecosystem function and services (Hardesty). Climate change has been caused by how we have affected the environment, and the repercussions will force us to adapt and change to a habitat. We may have to come up with new ways for resource extractions and food systems.

All of these new changes are caused by the changes we have made over time, altering the land and it’s resources for our own benefit using new technologies. This was great for us, but what about the environment and it’s inhabitants? And what will we do now that our doings may affect us negatively? Aldo Leopold wrote, “A measure of success is this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run”. He quotes Thoreau, “In wildness is the salvation of the world” (Leopold). But in a world of ever-updating technology, is wilderness truly our salvation? I agree more with William Cronon, and environmental historian and writer, who stated that there needs to be a balanced and sustainably dualistic relationship between us and the wilderness (Cronon). He writes, “My own belief is that only by exploring this middle ground will we learn ways of imagining a better world for all of us: humans and nonhumans…a world better for humanity in all of its diversity and for all the rest of nature too. The middle ground is where we actually live. It is where we make our homes” (Cronon). I think that finding this “middle ground” will be important in navigating and adapting to a world affected by climate change.


Cronon, William. The Trouble with Wilderness.

Hardesty. Lectures, Fall 2015.

Leopold, Aldo. Thinking Like a Mountain.


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