Protection of cold environments as wilderness areas
What is a wilderness area?
Wilderness areas are remote, unspoilt parts of the world including deserts, mountains and cold environments. Wilderness areas are typically unspoilt by human development and remain natural.
Many of the world’s cold environments are considered as wilderness areas. This is due to their remoteness and hostile physical conditions. Cold environments considered cold environments include Antarctica as well as areas of Greenland, Alaska, Svalbard, Iceland and Siberia.
Why should wilderness areas be protected?
Cold environments need to be protected for a range of reasons, including:
- Tundra and polar environments are fragile environments. Cold environments take a long time to develop and when damaged by humans, can take a significant amount of time to recover. A footprint on the tundra can last for several years. Therefore pollution, mining, energy exploitation and transportation can have a significant impact on cold environments.
- Some cold environments are inhabited by indigenous people. Often, their culture depends on the preservation of the natural environment.
- Cold environments are home to a range of species, many of which are unique to the environment.
- There is a global moral responsibility to protect wilderness areas.
- Scientists need to access unspoilt environments to conduct research into global processes. Valuable research into climate change has been conducted in Antarctica
What strategies can be used to maintain cold environments?
Technology can provide environmentally friendly solutions to some of the challenges faced by developing cold environments. An example of this is the use of stilts to raise the Trans-Alaskan pipeline above the ground and insulation of the pipe, to reduce the risk of thawing permafrost. Pumping stations enable the oil to flow over mountainous areas in the region.
Antarctica is often described as ‘the last wilderness on Earth’. It has remained undeveloped since the signing of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. The treaty:
- only allows the use of Antarctica for peaceful purposes, military activities are forbidden.
- promotes co-operation among international scientists.
- bans the disposal of nuclear waste.
- has enforced strict controls on tourism and landing sites to reduce the impact of tourists.
Action by governments
Since oil was found in Alaska in the 1960s the US government has been involved in protecting the environment. Marine habitats and fishing have been monitored by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Also, the Western Arctic Reserve has been set up in the north of Alaska protecting the area from oil and gas extraction.
A number of conservation groups including the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) work with governments, organisation, businesses and communities to protect biodiversity across the Arctic. The WWF Arctic Programme was launched in 1992 to work with governments on issues such as climate change, polar bears, shipping and oil and gas.