Title

The Nature of Disconnect: Wilderness in the Face of Climate Change

Presentation Type

Presentation

Abstract

In the midst of a congressional address on the topic of conservation and restoration, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated, “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through . . . a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” It was 1965. One year prior, Congress had passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, defining wilderness 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.” When the founders of the Wilderness Act wrote these words, they likely had no idea of the repercussions global climate change would bring to these designated areas, even with the issue’s tentative beginnings at the time. They did not understand how an altered atmosphere would threaten the core value of wilderness as untrammeled. Today, half a century later, both these definitions, of climate change and of wilderness, have hardly changed, but the debates surrounding them are vast and heated. Through analysis using existing literature in the fields, I examine the confluence of these two issues, focusing on the history and management of wilderness in the context of anthropogenic climate change. I use this scientific literature along with environmental and philosophical writings and personal experience to help understand the separation society places between wilderness and civilization, reflected in the Wilderness Act, and how that disconnect affects how we approach the issue of climate change.

Category

Physical Sciences

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The Nature of Disconnect: Wilderness in the Face of Climate Change

UC 330

In the midst of a congressional address on the topic of conservation and restoration, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated, “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through . . . a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” It was 1965. One year prior, Congress had passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, defining wilderness 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.” When the founders of the Wilderness Act wrote these words, they likely had no idea of the repercussions global climate change would bring to these designated areas, even with the issue’s tentative beginnings at the time. They did not understand how an altered atmosphere would threaten the core value of wilderness as untrammeled. Today, half a century later, both these definitions, of climate change and of wilderness, have hardly changed, but the debates surrounding them are vast and heated. Through analysis using existing literature in the fields, I examine the confluence of these two issues, focusing on the history and management of wilderness in the context of anthropogenic climate change. I use this scientific literature along with environmental and philosophical writings and personal experience to help understand the separation society places between wilderness and civilization, reflected in the Wilderness Act, and how that disconnect affects how we approach the issue of climate change.