The Lost World Project

 

Background

In recent years there has been much discussion about the effects of globalization on the economy, environment and geo-politics. But few have noted the impact, no less deep and in some ways much more powerful, on a specific category of the human spirit: the beauty of the world, and the sense of wonder connected to it. The wonder comes from what is alien, in the sense of “other than oneself”, therefore different and unexpected. It will not be out of place to note that the sense of adventure that inspires from time immemorial human curiosity and motivates us to travel the world is inextricably linked to the sentiment of amazement and wonder facing the Unknown.

In the last century the impact of human activities on the planet Earth has undergone a spectacular acceleration, assuming truly “global” dimensions. Just consider the demographic explosion that brought the world population from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to over 7 billion today. For comparison, it is estimated that the world population was only 500 million in 1500, and probably around 10 million people at the beginning of the “Neolithic Revolution” that led to the birth of agriculture. In parallel with population growth, the evolution of technology has multiplied our ability to change the environment.

This exponential growth is fueled by huge amounts of energy and resources extracted from the planet Earth. Consider that mankind currently consumes energy at a rate of about 16 terawatts, an amount comparable with the main natural forces acting on the planet, such as winds, tides and the river system. As you can imagine, this huge appropriation of resources has had a devastating impact on the planetary ecosystem. Vaclav Smil calculates that at the beginning of the 20th century the total mass of wild terrestrial mammals (elephants, zebras, antelopes, monkeys, wolves, deer, lions, etc..) was comparable to the mass of human beings and their domestic animals. Today, humans and domestic animals are over 98% by weight of terrestrial mammals. No wonder then that it is currently under way the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth. An extinction caused by mankind.

In addition to the well-known problems related to resource depletion, climate change, and sustainability in general (whatever this overused term may mean), the impact on the landscape is no less devastating. Uncontaminated lands are dwindling, while increasing areas of the planet are urbanized, or requisitioned for human use in the form of transport infrastructures, energy distribution networks, agricultural areas, pastures, etc. All this has led to a dramatic “standardization” of landscape, flora, fauna and human artifacts in large areas of the planet that have now the same, predictable appearance wherever you go. In other words, the pristine beauty of the Earth has been largely destroyed.

No less profound was the impact of the increasing speed and pervasiveness of communications. At the time of Herodotus, one of our most curious and fascinating travelers of all time, it took several months of traveling to visit Egypt from Greece. Today, in less than a day you can get to Australia, book directly your hotel on the internet and make up a very accurate idea of ​​what to expect at your destination before you even leave. In other words, the sense of wonder and the experience of adventure have been swept away, and by now these are probably categories of the human spirit no longer to be experienced by mankind, certainly not in their original and full sense. The modern “expeditions” are but a pale pantomime of the explorations of the past, sometimes pathetic in their frantic search for novelties: the mount Everest has been climbed thousands of times? It doesn’t matter, no one has ever done it wearing a diving suit. These little tricks allow us to perpetuate our delusion that it is still possible to experience something called “adventure”. Solitude (I mean physical, objective, utter solitude, for example the one experienced by early humans who crossed over from Siberia to America: a few tens of hunter-gatherers lost in a huge, uninhabited continent) is another sentiment that has a good chance of not being directly accessible any more to humans.

The Lost World Project

The above considerations led to the idea of ​​the Lost World project, which aims to collect all the written records of the past in order to make up at least a faint idea of ​​the wonderful diversity of the Earth before 1900. Why 1900? The date is arbitrary, but it makes sense if we consider the dramatic acceleration of globalization in the 20th century. This choice also help avoid problems of copyright in the publication of excerpts from works of the past, since these rights expire 70 years after the death of the author.

There are two ways to participate in the project: as spectators and occasional commentators, or as publishers. The first one is simple. You can freely browse the posts, filter them according to various criteria (geography, historical period, author, etc.) and explore the global map for an overview. The posts are published in English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. To get an even more immersive experience, consider using Google Earth. Finally, if you wish to become publishers, read these guidelines.