Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, forester philosopher, educator, writer and outdoor enthusiast and was among the founding fathers of the North American conservation movement during the first half of twentieth century (Leopold, 1981). He argues that humans are part of a community that includes the land, from the soil to the rivers and seas (Leopold, 1981). According to Leopold (1981), until humans recognize that they are part of the land and act accordingly, they will continue to negatively impact the environment and their own health by extension (Leopold, 1981)
Leopold (1981), believed ethics in general rest upon the sole value that an individual is part of a community and while there may be a driving need to compete within that community for resources, ethics encourage cohabitation and collaboration within the community. Leopold (1981) describes the idea of land ethics as taking this sense of community and extending it to include land, water and animals and not just humans.
By embracing land ethics, Leopold (1981) maintains that humans will no longer perceive their role as that of a conqueror of land and, instead acknowledge that the land is important to them, and that they are important to the land in this extended community view. To contrast Leopold’s (1981) idea of being human beings as citizens of the land and not conquerors, consider Francis Bacon and his followers. They believed that the role of mankind was that of the conqueror, and nature, with all of her secrets, was the conquest. The Baconian attitudes encourage the exploitation of the environment for the personal gain of mankind.
These ideals permeate the ideals of Western society today, and while in the short term may seem beneficial, the long term outlook has turned grim for the preservation of our natural world and the health and stability of mankind (Merchant, 1980). Conqueror mindsets, like that of Francis Bacon, may think they have their roles in the community figured out, but in reality the mentality of viewing the land as an obstacle will continue to fuel the need to exploit it for a short term gain, but a long term loss when resources become scare and the land is unable to provide for itself or for it’s inhabitants any longer. Leopold, 1981).
Leopold (1981) reflects on how Darwin’s ideas of the origin of the species should have given us insight into our kinship with other creatures and the environment. Leopold (1981) states,” a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tend otherwise (Foltz, 2003, pg. 433). ” Darwin coined the term, “survival of the fittest,” and this idea could be argued by the fact that by exerting their dominance over nature, human beings are simply upholding their rightful place as the most adaptable and capable species.
Yet Leopold (1981) would argue that the fact that we are the evolving as the dominant species has caused humans to lose sight of the “mortal fear” which keeps our balance with nature in check. Because humans can control the environment and have bested threats to their mortality, humans become disconnected from the balance of nature. Leopold (1981) discusses how the mountain may fear the pack of deer that is uncontrolled by wolves and in this analogy correlates this example to that of human beings, no longer fearful of natural threats, over grazes the land until there is nothing left.
Like humans, in our quest for safety and security, mankind has avoided the wolf and are now the deer, unabashedly scouring the land of grass and trees, unable to see that the mountain and forests may not be able to keep up with the loss (Leopold, 1981). Mankind, according to Leopold (1981) has become further disconnected from nature as he has become more modernized. Leopold (1981) uses the example of the true modern describing him as “separated from the land by many middlemen and innumerable gadgets.
He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops grow (Foltz, 2003, pg. 433). Because man has “outgrown” the land and is more comfortable with the artificial materials and goods of the modern age, land has become expendable and has lost value. A thing that holds not value is easier to take advantage of its resources without remorse.
Leopold (1981) contends that there can be no relationship with the land without first love and respect for the land, giving it value, not just in that one can obtain value from it, but that it is inherently valuable to us in that it is a integral part of our existance. Leopold (1981) argues that in order to better understand our relationship to the land, one must have a better understanding of ecology and states “Conservation is paved with good intention which prove to be futile, or even dangerous, because they are devoid of critical understanding either of land, or of economic land-use (Foltz, 2003, pg. 33. ) Leopold (1981) believes in our efforts to obtain safety, wealth and comfort, we have been deprived of the pigeon, “The gadgets of industry bring us more comforts than the pigeons did, but do they add as much to the glory of spring (Foltz, 2003, pg. 432)? ” Leopold (1981) uses this as a literal example, but also a metaphor for our sacrifice of nature for personal gains. Through development in the name of progress the pigeon’s has become extinct, yet has out development helped as better appreciate the world around us?
Leopold (1981) would argue that it has not. Leopold (1981) maintains that mankind must change its’ attitudes and tactics in order to tackle this problem of our disassociation from nature. In order to do this, mankind must consider their actions in the ethical context of what is right, which Leopold (1981) believes to be a “gentler and more objective criteria for it’s (nature’s) successful use (pg. 34)”, and what is wrong, by which he means maintaining our current obsession gadgets of industry and our drive for control over our natural environment.
By celebrating what is right and discouraging what is wrong, the mechanism of change can be implemented (Leopold, 1981). By adopting a land ethic, human beings become citizens of a community that includes the land, casting aside the role of conqueror and gaining a better understanding and respect for the landcommunity and their role as a part of it and not as someone set apart from the community.