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Humans Use 83 Percent of Earth's Surface

michael posted more than 11 years ago | from the area-51-still-pretty-vacant dept.

Science 719

belloc writes "CNN is reporting on a Wildlife Conservation Society report that states that humans take up 83 percent of the Earth's land surface to live on, farm, mine or fish. The article rerers to a WCS human footprint map, but the WCS site seems to have been CNN'd. Funny: I just got back from a little road trip across the southwest, and from all the nothing you see out there, you would think that 83% is a bit high. I guess Arizona farmlands must look a lot like wild, untouched desert."

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Arizona (-1, Offtopic)

astrotek (132325) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514723)

It's a dry heat.

In other news (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514726)

Americans use 83% of world's oil.

Re:In other news (2)

Anonvmous Coward (589068) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514871)

"Humans are number 1! Humans are number 1"

Feels kinda like a game of Age of Empires, duddn't it?

Humans bad. Animals good. (1)

DRue (152413) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514877)

I find it hard to digest that humans are supposed to take a back seat to animals.

No, animals are not people too. Get a grip

first binary post (-1)

microsoft.CLIT (589336) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514731)

01101000011101010110110101100001011011100111001100 10000001110101011100110110010100100000011001010110 00010111001001110100011010000010111000000000

Hmmm (5, Funny)

gowen (141411) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514732)

They use the Earth's surface to fish? Now that is a technological breakthrough worth discussing...

Re:Hmmm (2)

Damek (515688) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514791)

They use the Earth's surface to fish? Now that is a technological breakthrough worth discussing...

If you aren't aware of boats and related marine technology...

Seriously, I don't think fishing occurs under the surface of the earth (ie, beneath the crust).

Re:Hmmm (5, Funny)

unicron (20286) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514817)

Yeah, but the article says "land area". Whenever I attempt to fish on land I don't get shit. Except land sharks, but that's a whole other story.

Re:Hmmm (4, Informative)

Damek (515688) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514907)

Well, first, the CNN article directly refers to fishing as part of the footprint, but not the article at the WCS ( - it refers to fishing as one of the things humans do, but doesn't say people fish on land.

Second, people do fish on land. Fish farms come to my mind...

But none of this has anything to do with developing nations meeting in New Delhi about the Kyoto protocol

Re:Hmmm (1)

brian1078 (230523) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514794)

yes, of course we do. water is on the surface of the earth. how else would you describe where the water is??

Re:Hmmm -- READ THE ARTICLE (5, Informative)

gowen (141411) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514844)

ater is on the surface of the earth. how else would you describe where the water is?
But if you look at their map [] , its pretty clear they're not counting the oceans. And if they were, the figure would be nowhere near 83%, as a moment's thought would have made clear.

I appreciate that this is slashdot and the idea of a moment's thought before a smartass comment is utterly alien.

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514798)

FishFarms are all over the place. Most of the catfish that you eat in america is from fish farms. Much of the alligator that you eat or buy for leather is "farmed". Besides, ever see that itt commercial about ex-fish farmer is now a highly paid software engineer :)

Re:Hmmm (2)

bnavarro (172692) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514808)

They are probably referring to fish farms & hatcheries.

Re:Hmmm (2, Funny)

Frothy Walrus (534163) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514824)

yeah man, didn't you hear about that invasive species of Japanese that can flop on land for fifteen miles and fashion crude tools out of stones, twigs, and beer empties? they practically own the eastern seaboard at this point. i hear the govmint is giving subsidies to fishermen and poachers too...

Re:Hmmm (1)

Frothy Walrus (534163) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514912)

insert the word 'fish' above, wherever you like.

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514857)

Well, you don't see too many fishing submarines, so yes. Fishing boats tend to travel on the world's surface; jsut the wet part.

here's hoping for 100% (-1)

neal n bob (531011) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514734)

after all, that's why animals have zoos.

Land Fish? (1)

forand (530402) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514737)

What fish are they refering to that we use land to catch? Surely they didn't go out and count all the guys on the coast with a single pole and too much time.

first mom post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514740)

I'm using 83% of your mom

i am first (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514741)

i am first

Statistics (2, Funny)

Doomrat (615771) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514746)

95% of statistics are wildly inaccurate or out of context.

Re:Statistics (3, Funny)

CaffeineAddict2001 (518485) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514802)

No, no your data is all wrong.

Recent scientific studies conclude that only 99.723% Of statistics are made up.

Eh? (0, Redundant)

joebp (528430) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514748)

humans take up 83 percent of the Earth's land surface to live on, farm, mine or fish
Who goes fishing on land?

Fishing on Land? (2, Funny)

aikido_kit (546590) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514769)

Fishing for LANDSHARK!!!

only 83%? (5, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514749)

We've only got 83% of the globe? God must be disappointed. []

83%!? (1, Funny)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514750)

Sally Struthers is responsible just for that!

Re:83%!? (1)

whovian (107062) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514845)

Now THAT is the post for a "think of the children".

83% (1, Interesting)

avandesande (143899) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514752)

Anything with a number like that makes me laugh. You sure it's not 82%?

Re:83% (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514878)

Yeah, accuracy within one in a hundred is beyond all current human knowledge and ingenuity. Do you laugh before or after you decide to ignore the actual statistics presented in the paper? Ignorance of statistical methods may explain your actions, but surely you're aware that your own ignorance has no bearing on reality.

Re:83% (2)

Viking Coder (102287) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514889)

76.2% of all statistics are made up on the spot by an idiot.

fishing is land use? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514753)

funny, I've never considered fishing on land to be a worthwile thing to do

The truman show (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514754)

That reminds me of the movie, "The Truman Show" where Truman wants to be an explorer and his teacher pulls down a map and says, "Awww, you're too late, everything's been explored already."

-- - your technology resource.

That was hilarious! (1)

SniffleBear (604984) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514859)

HAHAHA I remember that scene!

Re:The truman show (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514887)

Awww.. you're too late, someone already said that. Made you look.

The article (sans pictures) (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514755)

In case of further CNN'ing (a new version of slashdotting?)

The Human Footprint

Human influence is driving conservation crises on a global scale. There is little debate in scientific circles about the importance of human influence on ecosystems. Scientists have shown that we appropriate over 40% of the net primary productivity (the green stuff) produced on Earth each year either taking it directly or keeping other organisms from using it through our agriculture and land use practices (Vitousek et al. 1986, Rojstaczer et al. 2001). We consume 35% of the productivity of the oceanic shelf, are fishing down food webs, and taking 60% of the available freshwater run-off. Although just estimates, these few statistics are testament to the unprecedented escalations in both human population and consumption during the twentieth century, resulting in entirely new environmental crises in the history of humankind and the world. E.O Wilson, the famous naturalist, claims it would now take four Earths to meet the consumption demands of the current human population, if all humans consumed at the rate of the average North American. The influence of human beings on the planet has become so pervasive that it is hard to find an adult person in any country who has not seen the environment around her reduced in natural values during her life time - woodlots converted to agriculture, agricultural lands converted to suburban development, suburban development converted to urban areas. Think of your life, of your neighborhood, of the neighborhood you grew up in -- what it was and what it is now.

The cumulative effect of these many local changes is the global phenomenon of human influence on nature, poorly understood and needlessly destructive. Human influence is arguably the most important factor affecting life of all kinds in today's world. Yet despite the broad consensus among biologists about the importance of human influence on nature, this phenomenon and its implications are less appreciated by the broader human community, which does not recognize them in its economic systems or most of its political decisions.

Formerly it was difficult to visualize this influence across the entire planet, but recent advances in the quality of geographic data now allow us to systematically measure human influence on the land's surface. We used a series of map overlays representing human land uses, power infrastructure (based on lights visible at night to a satellite), settlements, roads and other access points, and human population density to map the "human footprint" on the land's surface.

Click here for a larger version in PDF format
The Last of the Wild

Analysis of the Human Footprint indicates that 83% of the land's surface is directly influenced by human agency. 98% of the areas where it's possible to grow rice or wheat or corn (maize) are similarly influenced. It is within the remaining 17% of the land's surface that some of the best remaining opportunities for conservation lie. We located 568 "last of the wild" places as targets for conservation action. Although these wild places vary enormously in their biological productivity and diversity, they represent the least influenced or "wildest" areas in each of their respective biomes on each continent. As such they provide a promising opportunity to conserve wildlife and wild places while minimizing conflicts with existing human structures and demands.

Meanwhile individuals, institutions and governments must find solutions across the gradient of human influence in order for conservation to succeed. Human influence presents a problem to the co-existence of people and wildlife, and human ingenuity is the key to transform the human footprint and save the last of the wild.


Rojstaczer S, Sterling SM, Moore, NJ. 2001. Human appropriation of photosynthesis products.

Vitousek PM, Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH, Matson PA. 1986. Human appropriation of the products of photosynthesis. BioScience 36: 368-373.

Wilson EO. 2002. The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

What else is new? (1)

McFly69 (603543) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514757)

Humans breath air.
Water is wet.
Deserts are dry.

So why is this news? Ovously people going to use every resource they can; land, air and water. A few locations, upon the surface, are too difficult to use; high altitudes and deserts. Hence why it is not 100% Is it me.. or is this just common sense?

Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514758)

This is just so cool!

What does it all mean? (2, Interesting)

certron (57841) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514761)

I had heard somewhere that humans only use 5% of the actual surface to live on. Now I have to ask myself what that means, if they counted the number of 1-meter squares it would take for each person... So much for my murky memory and weird statistics.

Re:What does it all mean? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514905)

Now I have to ask myself what that means, if they counted the number of 1-meter squares it would take for each person...

Yes, welcome to fractal geometry. What is the actual surface area covered by a pattern of dots? It's somewhere between 1 and 2 dimensions (fractional dimension [] ). This isn't so much measured as it is calculated, and of course the result would be far less than 83%. Clearly the CNN analysis wasn't this rigorous.

maybe.. (0, Redundant)

paradoxmember (609285) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514762)

That sounds like it could be valid... even land that is not visibly being used for somthing often still has a use...

Water and Coca Cola (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514768)

1.75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.
2.In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger.
3.Even MILD dehydration will slow down one's metabolism as much as 3%.
4.One glass of water will shut down midnight hunger pangs for almost 100% of the dieters studied in a University of Washington study.
5.Lack of water, the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue.
6.Preliminary research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers.
7.A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or printed page.
8.Drinking 5 glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%,and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer.

And now for the properties of COCA COLA
1.In many states (in the USA) the highway patrol carries two gallons of Coke in the truck to remove blood from the highway after a car accident.
2.You can put a T-bone steak in a bowl of coke and it will be gone in two days.
3.To clean a toilet: Pour a can of Coca-Cola into the toilet bowl and let the "real thing" sit for one hour, then flush clean. The citric acid in Coke removes stains from vitreous China.
4.To remove rust spots from chrome car bumpers: Rub the bumper with a rumpled-up piece of aluminium foil dipped in Coca-Cola.
5.To clean corrosion from car battery terminals: Pour a can of Coca- Cola over the terminals to bubble away the corrosion. (***Note from Mike Dunlop... boiling water works better and doesn't leave a sticky mess!)
6.To loosen a rusted bolt: Applying a cloth soaked in Coca-Cola to the rusted bolt for several minutes.
7.To bake a moist ham: Empty a can of Coca-Cola into the baking pan, wrap the ham in aluminium foil, and bake. Thirty minutes before the ham is finished, remove the foil, allowing the drippings to mix with the Coke for sumptuous brown gravy.
8.To remove grease from clothes: Empty a can of coke into a load of greasy clothes, add detergent, and run through a regular cycle. The Coca-Cola will help loosen grease stains. It will also clean road haze from your windshield.

For Your Info
1.The active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid. Its pH is 2.8. It will dissolve a nail in about 4 days. Phosphoric acid also leaches calcium from bones and is a major contributor to the rising increase in osteoporosis.
2.To carry Coca-Cola syrup (the concentrate) the commercial truck must use the Hazardous material place cards reserved for Highly corrosive materials.
3.The distributors of coke have been using it to clean the engines of their trucks for about 20 years!

I'm sure we do. (-1, Troll)

Rantastic (583764) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514771)

My fat ass ex takes up a shitload of space.

Re:I'm sure we do. (1)

Rantastic (583764) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514816)

Son of a bitch! Now my ex is a moderator...

Homerism (2, Funny)

quitcherbitchen (587409) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514774)

Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14 percent of all people know that.

ranching counts as farming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514775)

>I guess Arizona farmlands must look a lot like wild, untouched desert.

Think ranching, dude. Where the buffalo don't roam no mo'.

huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514776)

"but the WCS site seems to have been CNN'd. "

Excuse me bub, but the term is Slashdotted, no matter where the people come from. That's patent infringement!

What I'm looking for is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514778)

Huuuge tracts of land!

Do the math (1)

SniffleBear (604984) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514780)

A few years ago, I read an article that you can fit every person/family in the world with their own house, and the area it would take would be able the size of Texas.

Overpopulation? Never! Unless you define overpopulation as 1%-Greedy Land Owners, 20%-Damn GOlfers, 79%-Everyone stuffed in a trailer park.

Fore! (0, Offtopic)

Fastball (91927) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514892)

This is offtopic, but I'm going to launch is a great game. It is an outdoor activity (something most folks in here need), it sharpens your focus and patience, and it is by-and-large environmentally friendly. Like few other activities, golf reveals the true character of a person.

Population = Resources (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514781)

Is it just me, or does this map just look like a population density map with a bit of varying coloration? Isn't this to be expected?

The other 17% (1)

eclectus (209883) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514782)

The other 17% is Antarctica and Canada.

Re:The other 17% (2, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514830)

1. Find the other 17%
2. Exploit it

what a skewed article (5, Insightful)

512k (125874) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514785)

"Antarctica and a few Arctic land patches were not included in the study because of the lack of data and near absence of human influences"

isn't that the point..there's a whole continent that's basically uninhabited..but since that would lower their numbers, they threw it out.

Re:what a skewed article (1)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514855)

Now if they included those areas they would not be able to generate so much press about their work.

the rest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514786)

i got dibs on the other 17%

Desert (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514789)

I just got back from a little road trip across the southwest, and from all the nothing you see out there, you would think that 83% is a bit high. I guess Arizona farmlands must look a lot like wild, untouched desert."

Where do you think they burry all the garbage and spent nuke rods?

of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514790)

I just got back from a little road trip across the southwest, and from all the nothing you see out there, you would think that 83% is a bit high.

Of course it's high. This is typical junk science [] from the special interests.

How about a diet. (-1)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514792)

We can cut that amount down to 80% if we all lose a few pounds.

83% seems high (1)

fataugie (89032) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514793)

I used to drive between NY and AZ and can tell you there ain't shit between them until about MO. And what about the vast northern reaches of Canada....ain't nobody up there except elk and moose. Hell, look at big as the US in land mass, and there are huge areas that are empty except for snakes, alligators, Dingos and Steve Erwin chasing them around.

Re:83% seems high (1)

fataugie (89032) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514839)

there ain't shit between them until about MO

OOPs....heading from AZ to NY (Sorry OH,PA,IN)

Bogus (3, Insightful)

Fastball (91927) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514800)

I do not have square mileage of certain terrains, but this is poppycock when you consider several areas of land including deserts, mountain ranges, and even Antarctica, a sizeable land mass under ice. No this report is incorrect.

Re:Bogus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514880)

and even Antarctica

We use Linux, Penguins grow on Antarctica, therefore we humans use Antarctica (and yes, one of the Penguins knows Kevin Bacon, the circle of life is complete...)

Hmmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514804)

WCS? Biased? Pfffffft. Blasphemy!

mirror (1)

jamirocake (456380) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514805)

This seems high... (2)

billmaly (212308) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514809)

Considering the deserts of the Sahara, Mongolia, SW US, and Australia. Combine that with rainforest (shrinking) in South America, and the vast forests of Siberia. I have not yet read the article, but does it also include Antarctica, and the frozen wastes of Greenland? There's alot of land that just isn't useable out there.

Re:This seems high... (2)

billmaly (212308) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514854)

OK, Antarctica not included. My bad. Still, seems high.

No data for Antarctica? (1)

velcrokitty (555902) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514811)

Come on, what about an educated guess?

Consider Your Source (3, Insightful)

VirtualDestructor (573772) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514813)

It very well may be true, but what point would there be for the Wildlife Conservation Society if wildlife was not in need of conservation? I couldn't get to the site, but it would be interesting to see their definition of land being in use. Aren't huge portions of the 2 biggest countries on earth, Canada and Russia, barren?

Incorrect summary (5, Insightful)

theRhinoceros (201323) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514819)

CNN is reporting on a Wildlife Conservation Society report that states that humans take up 83 percent of the Earth's land surface

This is not a good summary of what the rWCN report states. 83% of the earth's surface is "directly influenced by human agency" (their words). This does not mean humans occupy or farm in 83%; this measure could be anything as simple as "takes water from an aquifer that flows though land x".

To me, the more shocking claim is that humans appropriate directly or indirectly 40% of the NPP of world as a whole. That's a hell of a lot of caloric consumption by any standard.

Interesting (3, Interesting)

nege (263655) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514820)

Well - farmland and all that count too - rice fields, etc. So it does seem like a lot of space. Plus I dont think they count antartica since it is pretty much uninhabitable. I think this just further makes us realize how important it is for humans to start expanding into the universe in order to maintain the specis. A somewhat related article here []

Re:Interesting (3, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514884)

It doesn't matter that antarctica is 'uninhabitable', the argument is that it is still 'influenced' by 'human activity'. Ie; if you take the global warming (caused by humans) theory to be true, then antarctica is affected, therefore falls into the 83%.

Its another environmento-political scare tactic. There are a lot of examples of lands directly used by humans, yet provide a truly excellent habitat for wildlife at the same time.

The thousands of acres of lands used by a military airfield, for one example - wildlife thrives there, and the planes flying around overhead don't seem to bother them. But if you ask these guys, humans are 'affecting' it, therefore it must be completely barren and dead.

Really? (1)

cachorro (576097) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514825)

Humans Use 83 Percent of Earth's Surface

Neat trick since 2/3 of earth's surface is water.

Crap (4, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514828)

And people wonder why environmentalists come under attack. It's bullshit reports like this that make absolutely no sense and assume a static technology level.

First of all, drive through Nevada some time. Mile after mile of empty space, but according to this report, humans have "appropriated" it. Technically, I'm sure they're right in the sense that someone owns it, but it's not as if the land is being used for anything.

Another thing that's stupid is that they claim that 98% of the land that can grow crops have been farmed. That is just ludicrous, and reminds me of the other wackos that claim that it would take 8 Earths or whatever to support everyone at the level of the US. There are numerous technological solutions to creating more farmland. Sheesh, how about irrigating the desert? How about huge multi-level greenhouses built in the middle of nowhere?

Sure, that would be more expensive than what we're doing now, but so what? The point is that very few resources are actually limited. Technology almost always fills whatever needs arise.

We'll stabilize population way before then, but this planet could support hundreds of billions of people.

In other news ... (5, Funny)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514829)

... bacteria use 99% of the Earth's surface for, er, bacterial purposes ...

I Wonder About The Source... (2, Insightful)

JudasBlue (409332) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514831)

I have some pretty serious environmentalist leanings, and I wonder about the sanity of those who don't. But at the same time, I wonder a little about this when it comes from these sources. They have a vested interest in seeing this report show very high numbers.

I mean, MS-backed studies show all kinds of strange crap. Studies that come out of pro-gun groups show that we should all have guns and crime would go away, and from anti-gun groups we get that we all have to be totally disarmed in order for crime to go down.

I always am pretty skeptical about reports from highly polarized sources.

Arizona and the west... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514836)

actually has very little "naturally wild" or virgin land. There is a lot of land that was used for something and then later reclaimed back to natural, but it still is not virgin.

sightseeing (1)

rohar (253766) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514840)

humans take up 83 percent of the Earth's land surface to live on, farm, mine or fish

If they added sightseeing they could push the number to 99% (there are some things I refuse to even look at)

Out West (1)

MadHungarian (166146) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514841)

Much of the southwest land is under the control of the "Bureau of Logging and Mining" (BLM) and used for cattle/sheep grazing. Maybe they are counting all that BLM land.

Re:Out West (1)

fataugie (89032) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514886)

"Bureau of Logging and Mining" (BLM)

Are you joking or do you not know that stands for Bureau of Land Management.

Shouldn't we have a new category? (1, Flamebait)

Croatian Sensation (27341) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514842)

I think the editors should set up a new category for this type of post. We could put posts like this into a "Pseudo-Science" or "Environmentalist Shakedown", or maybe a "Put More Control of Your Land into the Hands of Government Bureaucrats" topic category.

Don't believe a word of what these people say. Their goal is to make sure that land is never used by humans. If they want that, they should buy it and put fences around their land, not have the government spend my money and your money to tell me what I can and cannot do on my own property.

While flying it seems this is pretty true.. (5, Interesting)

cybrthng (22291) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514847)

Being a private pilot i get to see lots of ground from high above.

To tell you the truth, i don't see *ANY* land that ISN'T marked by humans.

Even the most dense forrests and pristine areas are loaded with new houses, barns, trucks, trailers, roads, pipes, power lines or something that we have planted there.

In a way, i'm jealous of the people who got to see the wild west and walk across america and stake out a piece of the world. Now i can't even go to a public park after dark! Sure wish there was some "free" land somewhere!!

Well, I guess you have to define "untouched" (1)

fatalist23 (534463) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514860)

Considering how roads web nearly all the terrain here in the US and in other countries, even if a place looks fairly pristine it's pretty easy to find evidence of human life. Maybe they considered roads as having a fairly wide "footprint"? After all, we all know that the effect of placing a road down somewhere is more than the asphalt itself; cigarette butts anyone?

This is why environmentalists get up in arms about places like the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. There truly is NO human impact there, and it's difficult to say how any development might affect the area.

83% inhabited... (0, Redundant)

phreaknb (611492) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514864)

If it does not inclue Antartica or some artic regions, it should be changed to 83% of the inhabited earth.

What a load of Crap (1)

Anonym1ty (534715) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514874)

I see there map doesnt show anything about antarctica.

Antarctica plus the Sahara, Gobi, Mojave Deserts and the Out Back, Canadian Shield, Siberia, the Congo and the Amazon Rain Forest. Makes 83% completely wrong.

Initially, I was surprised, but... (1)

gmajor (514414) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514875)

Initially, I was surprised and shcoked at the numbers. But on the whole, this seems to be a somewhat shoddy piece of journalism by CNN.

CNN only reported one side of the story. The members of the Wildlife Conservation Society who conducted the study were probably biased in their study. I wish CNN would have sought out the opinion of any detractors, instead of giving one opinion and implying it as fact.

Hmmm Midwest US (2)

Havokmon (89874) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514876)

See all that RED in the upper MidWest US?
That's not necessarily human influence, I think it's really body heat from all the DEER.

Go out and kill some this season before they invade the city and give you CWD. Give a hoot! Eat a deer!

(Note: The odds of any organism other than Deer actually getting Chronic Wasting Disease is slim and none. I'm merely using scare tactics that are opposite of the tree-huggers' so we aren't using taxpayers money to pay Snipers to shoot deer..)

One word (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514881)


I smell bullshit (0)

kberg108 (175765) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514891)

This just proves that environmentalists are just as good at propaganda as thier big company counter parts. My hat's off to you.

Antarctica? (2)

_ph1ux_ (216706) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514895)

is the ICE on Antarctica [] [ CIA World Fact Book] considered surface or is it only the actual land part thats considered surface.

If it is considered surface with regards to this 83% number - what percentage of earth's surface does it make up?

I know that its a rather large mass, and I think it might reflect on the acuracy of this number. I would think that if it is part of the 17% percent of the surface that we do not occupy - it would make a large percentage of that 17%.

Acording to the CIA World Facts USA is 9 million square Km - Antarctica is 14 million square Km.

Awww Crap! (2)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514897)

Just look at a map folks. Does 83 percent make any sense? Northern Canada? Antarctica? Siberia? Arabia and Africa? They must have used a very loose criteria for defining land in use. I'd guess somthing more on the order of 20 or 30 percent. Now, if we narrow it down to arable land, sure I'd probably agree. Arable regions tend to also be most suitable to habitation of any sort.

About the data (Their words) (3, Insightful)

stefanlasiewski (63134) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514898)

(Some interesting tidbits about the data, in their words the maps "should not be read too literally". Sounds like someone at CNN decided to take it too literally, which is not suprising considering the quality of their other news coverage)


About the Data

Last updated 6 September 2002

General issues:

The maps of the human footprint and of the last of the wild should not be read too literally. Although there is no doubt that the human footprint and last of the wild express an important perspective on the world, it is also true that, in its details, these maps contain inaccuracies (acknowledged below) and are mapped at a scale coarser than most conservation efforts

These maps are based on geographic proxies for drivers of human impact: human population density, land cover and land use mapping, lights regularly visible from a satellite at night, locations of roads, rivers and coasts, settlement patterns, etc. However drivers are not inevitably impacts. One of the roles of conservation is to find ways for human beings to lessen their impacts while still making their living.

The input datasets used to map the human footprint are enormously expensive to maintain and update, as a result they tend to lag behind the patterns they depict. All the datasets used here were released in the 1990s, however some are based on much older datasets or datasets which are incomplete. In all cases they do not depict the current 2002 extent of roads, settlement or population density. This problem leads to underestimates of the amount of human influence.

The methods used to produce the input datasets themselves have problems. For example, there are known problems mapping grazing lands, particularly in arid regions. Settlements data and roads are not identified by the type of settlement or road. The lights data sometimes over-estimates the "lit" area for over-bright pixels. The population dataset relies on population estimates made in different countries using different census techniques, which sometimes results in marked changes across national boundaries. These problems probably lead in most instances to underestimates of human influence, but may result in overestimates in some cases.

Our interpretations of the amount of human influence based on the input factors relies on simplified scales from 0 to 10 which do not vary by region, biological or cultural context. The understanding of the human influence on nature is in its infancy, and despite 100 years of ecological science, not known very well; however we do know enough to be concerned. We tried to be conservative and common sensical in our determinations of human influence from the various input factors, using advice from the scientific literature and our colleagues.

We probably overestimate the direct effect of roads in some cases. Direct influence from roads in terms of pollution, soil compaction, modification of stream courses and waterways, introduction of new species, and road kill is known to vary from a few meters to up to several hundred meters from roads. The roads dataset we used maps roads only to an accuracy of 2 km, so we treated all of this 2 km region as influenced by roads. We also treat human access from roads as up to 15 km from roads of all types, though this may be less in some countries and more in others.

The level of access from rivers is probably also incorrectly estimated in some instances. We defined access along all major rivers, where a major river was defined as one depicted as one or more polygons in the input database and connected continuously to the sea. However access along all rivers is probably more likely, since any river large enough to be mapped is probably large enough to support a canoe or other boat. But our rivers dataset does not include the effects of waterfalls or dams, which can impede access up rivers.

The human footprint and the last of the wild do not directly take into account war and conflict between groups of human beings, though these effects may dramatically influence the outcomes of human influence on wildlife and wild places. In some cases, for example, conflicts lead to increases in the levels of hunting because of increased access to weapons, even long after the war has ended (for example, in Cambodia.) In other cases, conflicts result in lower human population densities and less investment in infrastructure (for example, in Angola) with the result that areas become wilder.

The human footprint and the last of the wild are not the complete story of conservation. In fact they do not directly consider conservation targets (animals, plants, air, soil or water processes) at all. Conservation planning requires understanding what is important to conserve in a given area (the conservation targets), how those conservation targets respond to human influence, and the type and degree of that human influence. The last of the wild is not a complete prescription for nature conservation. Even if we saved all of the last-of-the-wild areas, our task would be incomplete.

Specific points:

Brazil - a tile of the roads dataset is missing in central Brazil along the eastern edge of the Amazon rainforest in the region of the Chapadas das Mangabieras.

Democratic Republic of Congo - another tile of roads is missing in the central part of the country.

New Guinea - in Irian Jaya human influence from the Taritatu River is over estimated, because although it is a large river connected to the sea, there is little human movement up the river into the Foja Mountains Reserve, a relatively pristine area that appears heavily influenced on the human footprint map. In general the human footprint map seems to over-estimate influence in many parts of New Guinea and should be used with caution.

Tundra and boreal forest biomes - Access during winter months is not restricted to roads or rivers, but can occur wherever the snow is packed enough to support a motor vehicle.

Note: We welcome specific comments about the human footprint and the last of the wild, especially notations of specific areas where the level of human influence seems to be over- or under-estimated. Send your comments to

In a related note... (1, Offtopic)

orthogonal (588627) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514901)

The Intergalatic Council of Abducting Aliens has proposed an increase 'humane human harvesting'.

A spokesalien commented, "Unless we allow our sportsaliens and our humaning industries to take more humans in the wild, population pressure will lead to increased famine, disease, and strife among the humans. Really, we're doing the humans a favor by thinning their herds, as well as continuing a long tradition of abducting passed down from tentacled father to tentacled son. And who wouldn't want to adorn his or her personal pod with the fine lines and heroic expression of a stuffed buck human?"

In a separate announcement, the planets Japania and Norwegia have insisted they will continue to harpoon and abduct humans for "research purposes." In line with these planets' existing policy, any by-products of their humaning "research", such as human-oil and Borg-able brains, will continue to be made available to industry, despite claims by certain "Save the Humans" organizations that the so-called "research" is simply a front for the continuing commercial explotation of humans.

People are animals too! (1)

DRue (152413) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514902)

I find it hard to digest that humans are supposed to take a back seat to animals.

No, animals are not people too. Get a grip

Slightly biased perhaps? (4, Insightful)

Kphrak (230261) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514903)

I think this would fall under the "statistics" portion of "lies, damned lies, and statistics". I'd feel a lot less skeptical if:

A. The report was put out by a more impartial group than the Wildlife Conservation Society (that's like an endangerment study put out by a big-game hunting club),

B. they included their method and analysis, and

C. they did not preface their findings by "Scientists say..." which usually is shorthand for, "You're stupid, they're smart, we're quoting them, so believe whatever we tell you."

Is there any further information? How did they arrive at a figure of 83% and four Earths?

Humans really need (1, Troll)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514909)

a predator. Sure there is war and famine, but nothing would thin the herd like a Aliens type predator. Just think! No more lazy good-for-nothings! No more excess! The gene pool would be strong again, and the weak would be killed and used against us.

Just like nature intended.

Surface of Earth (3, Funny)

weird mehgny (549321) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514910)

It's actually infinite (coastline paradox).

83% doesn't compute.

and how did they count this? (3, Insightful)

asv108 (141455) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514911)

How can you make the assessment that 83% of the earth is used by humans? If Billy bob manages to go to a remote Montana location to hunt, what kind of radius is used to determine the amount of area that was now used for hunting? More importantly, how would they ever know that Billy bob hunted in that particular area? I don't know how they could develop a sample size to accurately reflect global land usage for hunting and fishing without a ridiculously large amount of resources and budget. This study looks like BS to me, in fact most of these "wacky studies" featured in the mass media look like bs. I especially love "cigarette smoking increases SAT scores" and "coffee drinkers have better sex."

only one question... (1)

Giant Killer (33130) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514913)

...humans take up 83 percent of the Earth's land surface to live on, farm, mine or fish.

just how do you fish on the land surface?

Wow, impressive critical thinking skills (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4514915)

"Funny: I just got back from a little road trip across the southwest, and from all the nothing you see out there, you would think that 83% is a bit high. I guess Arizona farmlands must look a lot like wild, untouched desert."

You think maybe Arizona is less than 16% of the world's land surface?

In other news, scientists determine that the plural of "anecdote" is not, in fact, "data".

Sasquatch discovered? (1)

Sagarian (519668) | more than 11 years ago | (#4514917)

a human footprint that takes up 83% of the earth's surface? Call the National Enquirer!
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