Study's Authors 'Surprised' to Find Nearly Half of Earth's Wilderness Intact

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - The findings of a new study showing that nearly half of the Earth's surface remains an untouched wilderness came as a surprise to the authors of the report.

In fact, a critic of the Green movement says environmentalists "will be furious" with the report because they raise money based on the "idea that man is killing the planet and the earth is running out of everything."

The Conservation International report, Wilderness: Earth's Last Wild Places, was the result of two years of research and the work of hundreds of international scientists. The study revealed that the Earth's untouched wilderness areas are 46 percent intact.

"A lot of people will be surprised by the percent of the land surface that is in very good shape. We were surprised," said Russ Mittermeier, the president of Conservation International, in an interview with .

Human activity has reduced the Earth's wilderness areas from just over 54 percent of the Earth's surface since the dawn of man to the present day coverage of 46 percent, according to the authors.

The intact wilderness sites on the planet occupy a land area equivalent to the six largest countries on Earth combined; or more than seven times the size of the United States, according to Mittermeier. These wilderness areas are critical to the survival of the planet, according to the study.

Other positive notes from the study are that the tropical rainforests of the Amazon and the Congo have not been decimated by development and logging. "For the most part, these forests are really intact," said Mittermeier.

Another unexpected finding was how sparsely populated the wilderness area are in terms of human habitation.

"Seven-tenths of the world's population was in 38 percent of the [Earth's] land area. That surprised us," Mittermeier said.

The absence of human populations in wilderness areas is considered positive for the environment because man and nature do not have to compete for resources, according to the study. Nine of the wilderness areas were in the United States.

"We are painting a picture of guarded optimism...Yes, there is some good news, but let's not sit on it and say we don't have to do anything," Mittermeier cautioned.

'Wilderness good, man bad'

Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the free-market environmental think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, thinks the study's findings will be "met with extreme hostility" by a lot of environmental groups.

"They will be furious, their entire fund-raising and therefore existence is based upon the idea that man is killing the planet and the earth is running out of everything," Horner told .

Horner said most Green groups believe "as a matter of faith" that man has destroyed the natural world and development must be restricted.

"They cannot allow people to believe anything but catastrophe is possible if you don't do what they want," he said.

Horner was also critical of the Conservation International study for its implied message that human development is not desirable.

According to the study, Horner said, "Half the world is in pretty decent shape, [and] that is the half of the world that has no man. So decent shape means no people.

"Wilderness good - man bad," he added.

19th century colonial activity'

Conservation International bills itself as a non-profit, non-political group, according to its spokesman Brad Phillips.

"Because we are a scientific organization, we feel that if we have an ideological bent, it calls into question our science," said Phillips.

The organization, however, has some very definite positions on what mankind needs to do to preserve the remaining wilderness areas. It advocates many Green causes regarding forestry and population control.

"To me, logging of primary forests is a 19th century colonial activity that has no place in the modern world... and it needs to be phased out as quickly as possible," Mittermeier explained.

Even the concept of "sustainable" forestry, endorsed by environmental groups, does not meet with Mittermeier's approval.

"They do it under the banner of sustainability, but there is nothing sustainable about it... it is not sustainable - it is the mining of trees, it's a disaster," he said.

Mittermeier would like to see all timber harvested from controlled farm-like plantation forests instead.

Phillips believes that the world must act to control population growth to ensure the continued existence of wilderness areas.

"Most scientists believe that by 2050, we are going to have somewhere between 9 or 10 billion people. We know now that there are water shortages in parts of the world, food shortages, material shortages," Phillips said.

But Horner rejects the notion that man has over-industrialized the planet or that a population crisis is looming and blames the Green movements' frightening scenarios on faulty projections.

"[Environmentalists] would probably like to scare you to death about a future race of giant men coming to kill us all by showing you the growth chart of a baby from six weeks to six months. At that rate, he will be 300 feet tall and kill us all," Horner said.

"[The baby analogy] is not an accurate assessment, but they do the same thing with population curves," he said. "If you live in New Jersey, you can be forgiven for thinking the world is a crowded place, but it isn't," he added.

No famine in democracies

Horner believes the solution to population and food- distribution issues will emerge from the political process.

"You don't find food or water shortages in a democracy; you have never seen a famine in a democracy," he said.

"Most shortages occur in those areas that most closely border wilderness. You alleviate them through instituting democracy and development," he added.

E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.