Science

Saving a pristine backyard wilderness: Wade Davis at TED2012

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Wade Davis is a familiar figure on the TED stage, but he’s probably best known for sharing his incredible pictures of Tibet or the Amazon or the various farflung places to which he’s traveled. This time, he tells the “story of my own backyard,” the sacred headwaters in British Columbia. “It’s the most stunningly wild place I’ve ever been,” says Davis, whose own first job was in the region, as a park ranger in 1970.

Now, says Davis, the area is under threat. “Isolation has been the great saving grace of this beautiful place,” he says, “but now, it could be its doom.” He reminds us of the development of tar sands, the Anchorage pipeline, the “tsunami of industrial development that is sweeping across the wild country of northern Canada.” Now, Imperial Metals and Shell are proposing to mine the headlands, “fracking coal with hundreds of millions of tons of toxic chemicals,” and creating “a network of roads and pipelines and flaring wellheads to generate methane gas that will most likely go east to fuel the expansion of tar sands.”

This, Davis reckons, is a pretty bad idea. So too do the native residents, the Tahltan people. “For them the headwaters are a kitchen, sanctuary, the burial ground of their ancestors,” says Davis. “Those who own it are as yet unborn.” And yet, decisions this year will determine the area’s fate. Davis concludes his short talk by asking for support from all to help the Tahltan protect the sacred headwaters of the Stikine. He calls on Shell not only to withdraw from the area, but to set it aside as a protected area for all time. “The Tahltan need your help; we need your help.”

See also Wade’s 2003 TED Talk, Dreams From Endangered Cultures and his 2008 TED Talk on the web of belief and ritual that makes us human. For even more Wade, see his TEDxWhistler presentation proposing the idea that race is fiction, or his photographs of The Sacred Headwaters in British Columbia, shown in 2011 at TEDxUWO.