Leave No Trace: Scaled to Planetary Human Civilization

The seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) have guided visitors of wilderness areas in responsible ways to practice recreation, permitting the enjoyment of wild lands while preserving the wildness that makes them so unique to us. LNT provides a simple framework to minimize the impacts of recreation on non-human environments.


Below is a list of the seven principles, and an exploration into how these guidelines can be applied to large scale activities of human planetary civilization. Alternate titles are given to some of the principles to shed light on how they could encompass more human activities than they were originally intended to.

Educate Yourself and Others (Plan Ahead and Prepare)

Effective decisions about human civilization’s interactions with the variety of ecosystems on the planet can only be made by first studying and evaluating the activities of humans in conjunction with natural ecosystem processes. Education also encompasses developing and teaching guidelines that may serve as a metric to compare human civilization’s actions against, such as these modified LNT principles.

Manage Land Use (Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces)

The blight of urban sprawl across Earth’s habitable surfaces is the result of fast, easy acquisition of new lands into the territory of human civilization. Promoting more effective use of land currently within the human domain would quell the need to accumulate more. Limiting land use would prevent the unnecessary sequestering of land from neighboring ecosystems.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Because of dense human populations on Earth, our civilization shares large scale metropolitan systems of waste management and disposal. These systems should first be designed to minimize the generation of waste, limiting the rates of consuming and discarding goods while also encouraging recycling and reuse of some materials. Proper waste disposal should only then follow, minimizing impacts to ecological systems.

Use Only What Is Needed (Leave What You Find)

The LNT adage of “take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints” can be practiced easily if you’ve trekked into the wilderness carrying with you all the food and supplies you need for a trip, and carrying out your trash when you leave. But in a closed system such as the Earth’s biosphere, the transfer and utilization of matter from one place to another is needed to sustain any population of organisms. This, however, can be constrained to only what is needed and not allowed to reach or surpass a level that characterizes over-consumption.

Minimize Energy Impacts (Minimize Campfire Impacts)

Human civilization is dependent on the conversion of various energy sources into other, more easily managed, forms of energy. This process can have a heavy impact on the ecosystem and must be practiced responsibly, keeping the impacts to a minimum.

Respect Wildlife

This guideline needs no alteration to apply to large scale human activities on Earth. Respect of wildlife should need no elaboration given that the previous guidelines provide means to allotting non-human life its fair share of the ecosystem.

Respect Others (Be Considerate of Other Visitors)

We must share our ecosystem with other humans just as we share it with the rest of Earth’s living organisms.

While the principles of Leave No Trace do not in fact provide us with a way to leave absolutely NO trace of our presence, no organism exists without leaving behind evidence of it’s existence for at least some time. The phrase is not to be taken literally but to emphasize the idea of striving to leave behind a minimal amount of detrimental traces on the world around us, so that our existence provides at least no change, or at best a positive change, to the quality of ecological systems for future inhabitants of the planet.

Check out the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethic’s website here and read about how the seven principles apply to enjoying the wild areas that are still interspersed between the tendrils of human civilization.

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