Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

…a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.

Aldo Leopold’s essay on “The Land Ethic” comes at the end of his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, offering a new approach to ecological ethics and behavior.  Leopold understood that our ethics shape not only our relations with other humans in society, but with other beings on this earth–with animals, plants, watersheds and mountains.

Moreover, our ethics shape who we are.

For too long, environmental regulations have been shaped by economic policy, by cost/benefit analysis, and by instrumental (use) value to human communities.

One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value.

In place of economic measures of value, Leopold proposes a land ethic strong enough yet flexible enough to guide decisions in agriculture, industry, foresty, wildlife management, waste management, transportation, housing, energy production and more.

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

How does Leopold’s land ethic compare with the environmental perspectives of other writers we have read, say, Thoreau, Muir, Silko, or Standing Bear?

Are there environmental writers whose work stands in contrast to Leopold?

Can you think of situations that would fall outside the land ethic , yet be part of another kind of ethical system?


About envirolit

Professor of Environmental Literature
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