I looked at the stats of how much of the world was protected in my 2010 book, The Secret Peace, and that trend has continued. Today, almost 13% of all the world's land is officially protected, according to the World Bank.
That may not sound like a lot, but it's 25 million square miles, and more importantly, it's up from only 6% in 1990.
What's interesting too is to see the breakdown by country. Some have made incredible strides, and nearly EVERY ONE has made gains since 1990. Below is a sample of several countries I found exceptional, with some of the most impressive gains.
These trends are likely to continue, slow but steady. However, I think we're on the cusp of several technological breakthroughs that could accelerate them even more. Consider the following clues:
- Online shopping is replacing a lot of retail stores, especially big malls. This requires warehouses, but those take up less room than retail.
- 3D printing may lead to more goods being produced on demand as they're ordered, eliminating the need for storing excess goods. This is already true of print-on-demand books.
- When self-driving cars take off, they will eventually start replacing car ownership. People will be able to call a car, just like Lyft or Uber, at a lower cost since there are no drivers. These cars will not need to rest and can function 24 hours a day (perhaps shipping goods when passenger demand is low). We start to need fewer and fewer parking spaces. New shopping centers and offices will be built with numbered drop-off points, rather than huge parking lots.
- In addition, if Amazon succeeds at using delivery drones at scale, that's even fewer trucks on the road.
- Thanks to Tesla, energy-efficient electric cars will soon expand to a massive scale. Since these cars will also have the ability to be self-driving, even if that's not "turned on" yet, it will accelerate the switch to self-driving cars.
- As they have for 200 years, crops will continue to get more efficient and produce higher yields, accelerated by more acceptance of GMOs, finally.
- Vegetarianism has been another slow-burning trend in the developed world, and as the world eats less meat, less land is needed for livestock, which is much less efficient than crops.
- And even though the developing world is eating more meat, lab-grown meat is on the cusp of being released commercially. If it takes a while to catch on with consumers used to "real" meat, that might not be the case with other, newly meat-eating consumers. Lab-grown meat is real meat, indistinguishable from other meat, but using a lot fewer resources to produce and not harming any animals, to boot.
Those are all trends leading to less and less land needed by humans and their voracious needs. This frees up more land that, even if not officially preserved yet, may start to revert to a natural state. It'll be interesting to continue to track these trends in the years to come.