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Preventing our own Destruction

Niccole Anderson
Biology 1120-400

“An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence. An
ethic, philosophically, is a differentiation of social from anti-social conduct”. Leopold’s “The Land Ethic”
is full of his ideas about “the Land” and why we as a society need to develop an Ethic toward it. He talks
about the evolution of Ethics in society and several arguments about how the land is a living part of our
community rather than just a thing that we live on. Near the end of Leopold’s essay he states that there
were three main ideas that he wanted to be known: first that the land is not merely soil. Second, that the
land kept the energy circuit open. Third, that man-made changes are of a different order than evolutionary
changes and have effects more comprehensive than is intended or foreseen
First, that the land is not merely soil. Leopold uses Odysseus and 10 of his slave girls as an
example of how he believes society is evolving from thinking of everything but ourselves as property to
how we will eventually see everything as a member of a community, including the land and every
organism that is a part of it. People were considered property and their masters could dispose of them at
will. Leopold compares people to the land; people being the masters and the land being the property that
is simply there to be used and then thrown away. In comparing people to the land Leopold makes the
reader feel like the land is a victim of human tyranny and deserves a say in what happens to it rather than
simply being used. Leopold states that the “Golden Rule” (do unto others as you would have them do
unto you) was one of the first steps towards connecting people to society and society to the people and the
first step in our evolution to connect ourselves to the Land.
There is not yet an ethic for connecting people to the land or the land to the people. Leopold
argues that a land ethic is not only possible but necessary ecologically; that it is our duty to protect the
land that has been given to us. Leopold states that the continuation of the evolution of Ethics would
depend on the members of a community that had interdependent parts. He also makes it clear that Instinct
leads to competition whereas Ethics would lead to co-operation. A Land Ethic would change humans
from being conquerors of the land to mere citizens of it. He elaborates on how the land has been
destroyed by humans in the past through agriculture and industry and the land has changed drastically
because of it.
Third, that man-made changes are of a different order than evolutionary changes and have effects
more comprehensive than is intended or foreseen. Leopold warns of the dangers of unhindered
Agricultural development and how it could destroy the delicate balance of our ecosystem. Leopold states
that conservation is a state of harmony between men and the land and that we would benefit from a Land
ethic. Society today only practices land conservation when it is of some benefit to themselves. Many who
see the inherent value of the land have to justify saving it to others by showing them that it has some kind
of economic value. For example, biologists and scientists have had to show the economic value of some
bird species to society in order to help save them from extinction; they argued that the birds have
economic value because they keep the insect populations down.
The three ideas that Leopold covers raise two basic issues: can the land adjust quickly enough to
recover from these violent changes? Can people obtain what they need with less violence? In some cases
the land rebounds and stabilizes itself after such instances of “violence”, but in other instances the land
erodes rapidly and struggles to rebound. The less “violent” or drastic the change to the environment the
more capable it is to rebound and adjust to the changes. In order for human behavior to change in
Leopold’s opinion, education of such subjects as conservation need to be rethought and include an ethic
for the land. Curriculum needs to be reimagined to include that we are morally obligated to preserve and
use sparingly the land that we live in because it is a member of the community. The land is a source of
life and beauty and needs to be seen as such. Until people can see the land for its real value rather than
simply economic, it will continually be abused until it is no longer able to readjust its life pyramids. The
key to making a land ethic more widely known and practiced is obviously the education of it.

When I first heard “conservation” I would initially think that there was nothing I was capable of
doing to change the natural situations that are at hand. I probably got this “I can’t do anything about it”
kind of thinking partially from family opinions, my timid nature, and mostly from political debates that I
have heard or read about. Many of the discussions are about resources, where they are located, and
whether or not those resources are worth the price of land destruction to extract them. I’m not a bold
person and I’m not good at debate, so my timid nature has kept me away from conflict. Conservation is
something that I care about and I would love to see deforestation and mass extinction end so that
generations to come can see how the world how it is and not just how it was. Conservation is something
that I would love to see more widely practiced and recognized by companies and individuals alike but our
current way of life as a community is used to having everything be disposable and replaceable. The best
way for me to express my conservation ideals is by practicing it as an individual; this would be the first
step in seeing it become a common practice among others.
I think conservation efforts have moved further into the spotlight and are more widely taught in
schools today. Like Leopold said in “The Land Ethic” what is being taught is “conservation for economic
gain” rather than conservation for Ethical reasons, but it is a step in the right direction. Preservation in the
name of economics is still preservation, if not for the right reason.
The land is not simply a thing, but a member of the society as a whole. People are not the owners of
the land but simply an occupant that has an obligation to protect the community, including the land, as a
whole. We can protect the land by using strictly what we need and wasting very little if nothing at all. The
cotton plant for example is a crop that has thousands of uses today and nothing is wasted; oils, husks, and
cotton bolls are all used in one way or another. We could follow some of the Native Americans examples
of how they would use only what they needed. They would hunt a buffalo or other game when it was
necessary and use everything; anything edible was eaten while everything else was used for jewelry,
clothing, utensils, and other things.
We as a society still have a long way to go before we have a true sense of a “Land Ethic” but I think
people are beginning to see that the land is an exhaustible resource and continued rapid consumption of
those resources will eventually destroy it. People today are still very economically minded and very
reluctant to give up the luxuries that we have today in favor of land conservation. Many go throughout
their lives saying to themselves that there is nothing they can do to change it. Consumerism is still
growing at a fairly alarming rate and it will be a very difficult thing to slow. Our fast-paced way of life
demands that we leave little time for thinking about ways we can reduce the amount of things we are
throwing away and/or destroying in the name of getting things done faster, but there are things that we
can do today to minimize our consumption and waste on a daily basis. We can make our own lunches and
take them with us wherever we need to go in containers that we can reuse instead of disposable plastic
bags; purifying our own water and drinking from a reusable bottle instead of buying hundreds of bottles
of purified water can also help reduce waste; passing up the paper plates and plastic utensils and using
washable ones instead can minimize waste as well. Reusing things might not be as convenient as
throwing something away but reusable items can help reduce the amount of things we are wasting.
Like Leopold, I believe the best way to help spread the idea of conservation is first and foremost
education. People are becoming more aware of the problem of mass consumption today because of the
recent increased advertisement of it. Commercials like Utah’s “Slow the Flow”, movies like Pixar’s
“Wall-E”, and television shows like PBS’s “Nature” that have messages in favor of conservation have
increased in number and have helped spread the word about conservation and have even included some of
the possible outcomes of ignoring the fact that the world we live in is not a limitless. If the community
was more conscious of all of its members, including the nonhuman ones, there would be less waste.
If everyone was included in our thinking processes we would realize that we should be using only
what we need and leaving the rest untouched. Having areas that are untouched would leave plenty for
those nonhuman members of the society to thrive and in turn keep the community at large provided for. In
modern terms this idea would mean sharing with everyone and using only what is needed. Sharing is a
very difficult concept for many to embrace today because we have been taught to “climb to the top”.
Everyone wants to be the boss, to have the fastest car, or to have the biggest house in the neighborhood
and thinking of the community as a whole would be difficult for them indeed. The “Land Ethic” states
that “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.”
If the decisions that were made on behalf of the community for the benefit of the whole community,
wouldn’t those decisions be benefiting the individuals in turn? Not necessarily, if we are a part of the
community, the decisions that were made for the good of the community would supposedly be for
everyone’s good; but if an individual disagreed with that decision, then it would be in the community’s
best interest to remove said individual, which in my opinion is unacceptable. I don’t know if I would be
able to live in such a community if individual worries were disregarded. A community that thought only
of the community as a whole would not be a very effective one, simply because it would not be
addressing individual problems or concerns, thus rendering the community benefit irrelevant because an
individual might not be provided for in some way or another. A land ethic would at least help us to make
steps towards thinking about the good of the community as a whole rather than just our own problems.
The reason for me to develop a land ethic would be to preserve the integrity of the land and its beauty.
The land is a beautiful thing and it needs to be used in moderation. Consuming everything in sight simply
to show our dominance over it is ridiculous. The sheer beauty and organization of nature is not something
that should be ignored in the name of progress, rather it should be recognized and protected in order to
ensure our own survival. My sense of land ethic is primarily for my own interest, the interest of
generations to come, and for the survival of our home. Plants and animals are a part of the community at
large and they have a right to exist just as much as we do. Plants and animals all have a part in keeping us
and each other alive and thriving within their environments and it is in our best interest to keep the land
and its inhabitants healthy. Leaving as much as we can untouched and wasting as little as possible of what
we use will help to keep the land healthy. I want to see the community as a whole, including the “Land”,
continue to progress and sustain itself.
Reading the land ethic has been interesting. I thought Leopold’s arguments were strong and full
of sincerity. He was truly trying to help society realize the dangers of treating the land as merely property.
This essay has helped me to assess what my opinions of conservation might be and what I might like to
do with those opinions. I had no sense of the land being an organism or a member of the community as a
whole and probably never would have without reading this piece. I now feel like the Land is indeed a part
of the community and that it needs to be treated as such. The land doesn’t have a verbal opinion but we
need to include it in our decision making as if it does have a voice. An Ethic for the land would be
beneficial to everyone because it would instill in us a respect for the land that preserves us and why we
need to preserve it. Leopold’s “The Land Ethic” made me feel a bit ashamed of how humanity uses the
earth’s resources without a thought about what the consequences for those actions might be.
I have a hard time relating to some conservationists because many of them portray the human
species as an invasive one. Many of the articles or videos that I’ve seen about conservation accuse
humanity of being the reason that the environment is in such dire straits today. I like the fact that Leopold
sees humanity as a member of the community that can help the Land make a comeback, but he walks a
very fine line between accusing people of being the destroyers and being the rebuilders. We as a society
today need to be aware of the mistakes of the past and the present and be careful to learn from them and
not repeat them. Conservation is an important idea that cannot be ignored, an ethic for the land would
keep our future and the future of generations to come secure.