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Please refer to essay part I as an introduction to this essay. Due to the incredibly low mark I received in part I ,as well as the selection of the Land Ethic as my primary theory of adjudication, certain revisions have been made to part II. I will shift focus from the specific organisms that subsist in the soil environment to the actual soil ecosystem itself. Please note: due to the failing mark referred to above, this essay is longer than the prescribed 15 pages in the interests of reclamation of said marks. Throughout the last 1000 years or so western culture can be said to have been in a continuous struggle between the individual and the society as a whole. Initially our society was a sort of primitive communal system, slowly it changed and evolved into more diverse and complex structures. The individual very slowly began to become a prominent aspect of society, with fluctuations between a more communal and a more atomistic basis. It is in part to Karl Marx that we owe the exposition of this sort of process: from 'primitive' communal, to feudal, to capitalist, and finally to the ultimate communal Utopian finale. This process we call a dialectic: where a thesis and its antithesis combine and evolve into a synthesis. The process is never ending, the synthesis from the last cycle becomes the new
thesis and its opposite arises to become the antithesis and a new synthesis occurs. In this essay I give a name to these elements of the dialectic and explore how they can shape our ethical world. The thesis is communalism, societal integrity and stability (holism). The antithesis is individualism, atomistic tendencies. Together these two concepts have combined and
interacted with each other resulting in an increasingly complex societal structure with a correspondingly complex ethic. Occasionally society settles into a momentary equilibrium with either the whole or the individual as dominant, but the process continues. Societal structure tends toward complexity, as the process continues the give and take of individual versus the whole becomes more intricate. The land ethic represents the communal aspect of this struggle, while rights theorists like Regan represent the atomistic tendencies. Neither aspect of this struggle is the ultimate answer to our ethical needs and goals. Agriculture in Southwestern Ontario has become increasingly mechanized, specialized and capitalized (Smithers p5). This increase of technology is often referred to in Western culture as 'progress' due to the perceived increase of productivity resulting from the technology. Unfortunately what this thing we call progress appears to mean to the environment is degradation. Increasingly we are discovering that what is progress today is really non-sustainable development in terms of tomorrow. ..., it is now generally accepted that such productivity gains in the agricultural sector of Canada and other developed countries have occurred at the expense of environmental quality and soil fertility (Smithers p5). Much of increased production according to Smithers has resulted from use of
"marginal areas" of land. In terms of this study marginal land use means land which is not capable of supporting even modest agricultural husbandry, without extensive use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and/or extensive irrigation. Other farming trends that cause increased production at the price mentioned above include: 1. Abandonment of forage-based crop rotations for monoculture row crop agriculture. 2. Increasing regional specialization of agriculture with the emergence of large areas devoted to cash crop agriculture and an accompanying reduction in dairying and livestock production. Accordingly, the diminished demand for hay crops has further reduced the use of forage in rotation. 3. Enlargement of farms and farm fields and subsequent reliance on capitalintensive technologies and purchased inputs. 4. Growing reliance on debt financing which has left many farmers vulnerable to the potentially crippling effects of high interest rates. In the interest of remaining solvent many responsible farmers have been forced to emphasize short-term cash flow (Smithers p5).
Following the above list of trends in Smither's work is a list of practices that are prevalent in Southwestern Ontario that lead to environmental damage. The most
important include tilling methods and cropping systems (Smithers p7). Farmers use tilling of the soil primarily to control weeds and for incorporation of pesticides and fertilizers into the soil. The impact that this sort of tillage has on the soil is to loosen the soil and remove organic matter (ground cover) from its surface, thereby increasing the wind and water erosion that occurs. Conservationary methods that are recommended include 'no-tillage'(as in 'no tolerance') through modified versions of the traditional "moldboard plow" (Smithers p8). The cropping systems that farmers use are characterized by "continuous corn" which involve no or almost no return of organic matter to the soil. The impact of continuous cropping on the soil is reduced ground cover and as a result increased soil erosion (Smithers p8-9). A further impact of the above farming methods is the pollution of bodies of water. Or more specific to Southwestern Ontario the pollution of the great lakes by both greater sedimentation and poisoning due to high phosphorous concentrations (among other effluents). Further investigation of the pollution of the great lakes would broaden the scope of this paper beyond the levels assigned. Although it is beyond the scope of this assignment it is still important to make note that the adverse effect of the above farming methods are not limited strictly to the
ecosystem of the soil. The result of soil erosion has been reduced viability of the soil to support its normal contingent of the food web in two major capacities. First, loss of the soils sheer volumetric ability to accommodate various organisms dependent on its part in the ecological cycle, and second the soils loss of important nutrients such as phosphorous. Soil erosion results in the damage or destruction of the soil ecosystem. The soil ecosystem is a very important part of the global ecosystem in fact the global ecosystem is a conglomerate of all of the various soil ecosystems and something Alan Wild in, Soils and the Environment: An Introduction, calls life zones: Soils, plants, animals and microorganisms form an ecosystem such as a tropical forest: all the world's tropical forests constitute a life zone and all the life zones (grasslands, other forests, tundra, oceans etc.) form the global ecosystem (Wild p5).
Wild further continues to describe how soil is the basis of each life zone, providing a medium for nutrients and water in one way or another for all plants, animals, and insects that exist in this ecosystem. The plants eject oxygen as a waste component, while using up carbon dioxide as a primary element of their metabolism.
The animals and insects eject carbon dioxide as a waste, while consuming oxygen and nutrients provided by the plants. If a number or even a few of these "life zones" are destroyed or even weakened the overall global ecosystem also will be weakened, its diversity and integrity lessened. An objection to the above might be: the loss of soil to erosion is not a major problem to the ecosystem as of yet and will not be a problem for a long time if ever, after all, it is a natural process. In answer to this objection: marginal lands (as defined above) are severely damaged in respect of loss of ability to maintain the ecosystem which is dependent on it right now. And it is clear that even in nonmarginal lands soil erosion will eventually deplete the land completely of soil. The land will be incapable of sustaining as diverse an ecosystem, as it would if healthy, long before complete depletion of soil occurs. In regard to the natural replenishment of the soil through decomposition of surrounding rock and additional organic matter, the answer is that the soil can not replenish itself. Organic matter is not being returned to the soil in most lands due to current cropping and tilling methods as outlined above. Also it is quite generally accepted within the agricultural and scientific community that soil erosion is occurring at a much faster rate than it can be replenished by nature. A certain amount of erosion is natural, but human induced erosion takes place at a much greater rate than natural
processes can replenish. Aldo Leopold's, "Land Ethic", has a great wealth of ideas to provide in response to the aforementioned objection: The process of altering the pyramid for human occupation releases stored energy and this often gives rise, during the pioneering period, to a deceptive exuberance of plant and animal life, both wild and tame. These releases of biotic capital tend to becloud or postpone the penalties of violence (Leopold p79).
The fact that we are currently not experiencing anything we could call a major catastrophe from erosion of soil does not suggest that there is no problem. In the above quotation Leopold implies that the abundance we often associate with opening new frontiers or breaking 'virginal' land is really energy released from the shortening of the natural cycle of that ecosystem. This energy release thereby dampens the ecosystems vitality and longevity. Although Leopold limits his observation of energy release to "the pioneering period", it is also an excellent explanation of why we have not yet observed any major repercussions from our abuse of the ecosystem even this far removed from the pioneering period. This "stored energy", as Leopold calls it, is still being exploited by humans it is
extracted like an increasingly powerful pump by present technologies like fertilizers and pesticides. This improvement of the pump would not be so bad if it were not for the complete neglect of the well. Since this stored energy humans are pumping from the land is not being replaced, eventually the well will run dry. According to Leopold's analogy and also according to the information provided above that well is currently running dry and we need a way to address this problem (Leopold p81). Leopold provides even more convincing information to the debate with his reference to evidence that the well is running dry: Perhaps the most important of these is the new evidence that poundage or tonnage is no measure of the food-value of farm crops; the products of fertile soil may be qualitatively as well as quantitatively superior. We can bolster poundage from depleted soils by pouring on imported fertility, but we are not necessarily bolstering food-value (Leopold p81).
The ethical theory I have chosen to apply to the above situation is Aldo Leopold's "the Land Ethic" in People, Penguins, and Plastic Trees, edited by Donald VanDeveer and Christine Pierce. Leopold's non-extensionist theory provides an ethical framework based on the interconnectedness of everything. The reasons I have for choosing a holistic theory over an atomistic theory are
simple. The particular situation which I am investigating in this essay requires a moral theory of a holistic nature to determine the answer to the two main questions: who has moral standing, and how does one adjudicate amongst those with moral standing. By its very nature an atomistic ethical theory can only reasonably explain moral standing in relation to the individual. Entities that are not considered individuals: are not considered alive, or conscious, or capable of being, or doing anything (doing that which we normally consider an individual to be or capable of doing). Entities which are not individuals (as 'individual' is currently defined) can not therefore be considered to have rights in any way. Some atomistic theories could be readily modified to establish moral duties towards non-living entities, but none are available that demonstrate inherent value of non-living entities. It is true that with some time and great effort entities which are not currently considered to be individuals could eventually be redefined as individuals. However, for the present entities like rivers, mountains, and soil are not individuals and very few people if anybody have tried to define them as such. Furthermore, none of the atomistic theories on the reading list of this course attempt to redefine nonliving entities as individuals and therefore these theories are useless to my particular case study.
The only theories dealt with in this course that establish an ethical system comprehensive enough to give real value to non-living entities are the holistic theories, and because they are ideally suited to this purpose they are also ideal for this particular case study. Another important aspect of holistic theories as characterized by the land ethic is the absence of a hierarchal ordering of the entities with moral standing. Any ethical theory that has a moral hierarchy suffers by definition from a certain lack of relevance in its criterion for moral standing. I challenge anyone to derive a criterion for moral standing which establishes a hierarchy that is not in some form discriminatory or morally irrelevant on some basis. I interpret Leopold's land ethic as placing all members of the biotic community on an equal moral standing. This leads to a discussion of a hierarchy of a different kind allow me to list them. Firstly, the hierarchy that atomistic theories establish of individual over communal interests. Secondly, the hierarchy that holistic theories establish of the interests of the whole over the interests of the individual. Both hierarchies are equally morally irrelevant and this is perhaps the source of the unending struggle between the two disciplines. Neither school of thought has an adequate foot hold over the other, they both have fundamental assumptions which are unfounded, and yet they both continue as if each was the one real truth.
The reason I choose Leopold's land ethic over other holistic theories, dealt with in this course, had mainly to do with the relative complexity of his theory. Another major factor in my selection of an appropriate theory had to do with the length and complexity of the various source materials. Arne Neass' Deep Ecology was presented in this course through the format of an interview, perhaps this is a reflection of the relative newness of his theory but this format was not very informative or instructive. If Deep Ecology was presented in an essay or article and tied together with a thesis then it would be much better communicated and understood. Without a single directing thesis statement Deep ecology does not appear in a holistic format, only its various parts can be understood without knowledge of its totality. It is quite ironic that the theory which is most reputed to deal ethically with the ecosystem as a totality is not itself presented as a whole but as a grouping of parts. Eco-feminism as an ethical theory appears to be even more new than Deep Ecology, and the length of the article on the course reading list reflects this. The article written by Judith Plant has little or no reference to either moral standing or adjudication amongst those with moral standing. The above is also reflected in the article on Social ecology.
Although this lack of a definitive answer to the two central questions of this course does not in itself make these theories less valuable, it does make this essay assignment more difficult to deal with. Since the central theme of this assignment appears to be to determine moral standing and thereafter to determine a method of adjudication, it seems inappropriate to select a theory which does not deal with these questions. Not only do these theories not directly deal with the above two questions but they may purposefully avoid or side-step them in the interests of furthering the field of ethics. Unfortunately I can not fathom any good reason for ignoring moral standing and the adjudication process within an ethical theory. The above omissive aspect of Social ecology and Eco-feminism is negative in that application of such an ethic will likely be impossible until adequate definitions are derived. According to Leopold's theory the world is an interconnected totality, something done to one part of it affects all parts. In this theory Leopold establishes that ,"the soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land." should be included in our moral circle not just individuals with certain characteristics (Leopold p74). Leopold continues with his elaboration of his theory by concluding that humans are not superior and that we should not dominate nature. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the
land-community to plain member and citizen of it (Leopold p74)
According to Leopold the Land ethic is necessary if we are to succeed in preserving the environment. Conservation based on "economics motives" is worthless since "most members of the land community have no economic value" (Leopold p76). What happens with an economic based conservation system is that aspects of the ecosystem that are considered valuable are preserved and protected, while other members of the ecosystem which are not considered valuable are destroyed out of hand. There is no consideration that those aspects of the environment which are valued are dependent on those which are considered valueless. In short without ethical theories like the land ethic, concepts like the interconnectedness of all beings are overlooked for more convenient views or in this case atomistic views. Leopold's land ethic requires that we expand our moral community to the land. Land in this case is not merely ground or soil but includes all beings and aspects of the land as a collective whole: including soil, bodies of water, plants, and animals. Furthermore Leopold states that the land ethic places humans beside the other parts of the moral community not above. The traditional hierarchy that our society has so long taken as a given is no longer an option. The traditional role of humans as conquerors of nature in Leopold's conceptualization is a self-defeating
role: In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves (Leopold p74).
Leopold continues by describing the existence of humankind as only a member of the biotic community. The description of which establishes that historical events in which humans have been considered the only important actors are really only one of the many important actors. Perhaps humans could even be considered the least important actors when compared as a single group to the entire biotic community. His examples include the settlement of the Mississippi Valley and the Kentucky blue-grass drama. In both of these cases Leopold establishes that humans have been among the least important actors in determining the outcome (Leopold p75). Moral standing according to the land ethic then is based solely on membership within the global ecosystem. Rivers, soil, plants, and animals as members of this community have moral standing along with humans in a non-hierarchical ethical
grouping. Interpretation of Leopold's method of adjudication amongst those with moral standing is a somewhat more tricky feat however: 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 (Leopold p82).
One "certain" aspect of the "stability" of the biotic system that we know of, Leopold asserts, is the evolution of the system from lesser to greater complexity (Leopold p78). Therefore diversity is an important aspect of the biotic community also. Although Leopold chose not to include it in his definitive statement quoted above, it is nonetheless a very important aspect of both the integrity and stability of a biotic community. In fact considering that Leopold was not a philosopher it might be appropriate to amend his above formula to exclude beauty and replace it with diversity for the purposes of clarity and validity. I am not saying that beauty is unimportant, but any good philosopher knows that beauty is impossible to define and such ill-defined terms add nothing but complications to what could otherwise be an ironclad theory. To apply Leopold's theory to the specific situation investigated here: first I must decide who has moral standing, and second how to adjudicate amongst those with moral standing. Moral standing under the land ethic is attributed to the land and
all features of it. Therefore the farmers, the soil, any nearby bodies of water, and all of the organisms which live in or on the soil (plants, animals, and microorganisms) have moral standing in relation to the farmers. Therefore the farmers as moral agents must consider all of the above as moral patients. The formula for adjudication is in the paragraph quoted above. The tillage and cropping practices perpetrated by the farmers clearly fall in the "tends otherwise" category. Both of the above practices contribute to soil erosion and pollution of the surrounding bodies of water as described in the preceding paragraphs and clearly detract from the diversity, stability, integrity and beauty of the land. Clearly Leopold's ethic shows that these farmers are not only contravening his ethic by both their tilling and cropping methods, but that they should also practice more traditional farming in other areas: The discontent that labels itself 'organic farming,'..., is [nevertheless] biotic in its direction, particularly in its insistence on the importance of soil flora and fauna (Leopold p81).
In this case to recognize the importance of soil flora and fauna means to use natural fertilization and pest control. Artificial fertilizer and pesticides (and herbicides) both undermine or ignore the importance of natural processes, and
both utterly destroy the natural processes carried out by soil flora and fauna (for more details on flora and fauna of the soil see Alan Wild ch 1-4). In this study I have made little mention of the organism which subsist on the soil, this is due partly to the lack of information provided in source materials but also because of the lack of necessity, given my chosen theory the land ethic. Given the fact that the soil is the base of most terrestrial food chains it is not necessary to itemize the various organisms which are dependent on it either directly or indirectly (by being higher on the food chain). If the health of the soil itself is deteriorating it is a simple matter of inference to establish that all that are dependent on the soil (higher in the food chain) will suffer in health also. All of the individual organisms within each group will not necessarily suffer, but the diversity and stability of each group will surely suffer as a result of a less diverse and stable base (i.e. the soil). On the other hand if my chosen theory was Singer's rights based ethic it would be necessary to determine which beings, who are subjects of a life, are damaged by these farming practices. With Leopold's land ethic I need not consider the individual, in fact I am compelled to consider only the community. With Leopold's ethic the individual is morally neutral, only the species or the community are considered to have moral standing. The individuals are only important in that they
collectively represent the community/species. J.Baird Callicott's article, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair" in People, Penguins, and Plastic Trees, edited by Donald VanDeveer and Christine Pierce, draws his readers into discussion of the community versus the individual, as mentioned above, with reference to Leopold's definition of moral value: What is especially noteworthy, and that to which attention should be directed in this proposition, is the idea that the good of the biotic community is the ultimate measure of the moral value,..., of actions (Callicott p188 his italics).
Callicott's interpretation is much like my own, in fact to Callicott the above "moral imperative" implies the necessity to kill certain individuals in some circumstances where the good of the biotic community is at stake (Callicott p188). This interpretation of Leopold's moral imperative, to kill individuals in some circumstances, is the object of attack for Tom Regan in his article, "The Rights View", contained within the same source book as Callicott's article. In his article Regan describes an example of how this moral imperative can lead to a moral quandary: If,..., the situation we faced was either to kill a rare wildflower or a (plentiful) human being, and if the wildflower, as a "team member," would contribute more to
"the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community" than the human, then presumably we would not be doing wrong if we killed the human and saved the wildflower (Regan p 205).
Regan has a good point here, nothing in Leopold theory establishes killing individuals as immoral in reference to this type of situation. Perhaps Regan is being a little unfair here, only Callicott mentions killing specifically as a mode of preserving the biotic community. What exactly Leopold had in mind is of course debateable. Although Regan can be said to be criticizing Callicott more than Leopold he does get at the heart of the issue in displaying how the land ethic is contrary to individualistic rights. The primary flaw of the land ethic is its utter disregard for the individual. In a culture and society where atomistic based rights are fundamental, the land ethic must fight an uphill battle to gain acceptance. This battle between communal and individual interests could hardly be said to be new. Much of the conflicts of our society are steeped in the age-old historical and ongoing battle between the rights of the individual and the rights or integrity of society as a whole. Freedom of speech, the right to self-determination, and freedom of movement: these individual rights have been impinged on, restricted, and completely revoked by the governing bodies of western societies over and over
again in the interests of society as a whole. The individuals of a society can not all be free to have all of their liberties fulfilled. Conflicts do occur between individuals, and between the society and the individual, in the interests of society certain liberties must be denied. Is it possible that the value of the whole is more than the some of its parts (Callicott p190)? Alternatively, is it possible that the value of all of the parts equal the sum of the whole? Consider how throughout the last 800 years of western societal evolution, we have synthesized a legal and moral system which satisfies both individual and communal needs. The dialectic between the thesis (community integrity & stability) and the antithesis (individual self-determination) have interacted in such a way as to yield the synthesis our present societal structure. If we can have a stable society with the dualist ethical dialectic between the individual and the community in the human realm,
perhaps the next dialectical interaction will be the interaction between a single species on the globe (Homo Sapiens) and all parts of the global ecosystem and the synthesis might look very much like todays western society. The individuals in this far-off synthesis would be species like humans, maple trees and zebra-mussels and the community of this synthesis would be the world and all that it contains. The dialectical process has already begun atomistic theorists like Regan and Singer are debating environmental ethics with holistic theorists like Callicott (Leopold's bulldog) and Arne Naess. Perhaps theorists like Taylor will become more common, theories which combine the individuals interests with the interests of beings who are not considered individuals into one ethical theory. Eventually Regan's predictions about atomistic theories may well come true: The implications of the successful development of a rights-based environmental ethic, one that made the case that individual inanimate natural objects (e.g., this redwood) have inherent value and a basic moral right to treatment respectful of that value, should be welcomed by [holistic] environmentalist (Regan p205).
Regan makes a good case in his article for rights based environmental theories, they are serious contenders with holistic theories for adequate ethical value of the global ecosystem.
How can rights theorists deal with the value of inanimate objects such as rivers and soils though? Some rights theorist might try to transform our view of inanimate objects like rivers and soil by concentrating on the organic component of these features of nature. For example a river and indeed any body of water is never found in nature as simply a group of molecules consisting of two hydrogen atoms for every one oxygen, there always exists a living element. The oceans could be said to be a symbiosis of inanimate water and animate plankton, each dependent upon one another. The water is dependent on the plankton to perpetrate itself as plankton emits oxygen as a waste product, while the plankton are dependent on the water for a hospitable environment in which to subsist. There are fundamental problems with this sort of analysis, how can something which is not considered alive be involved in a process which requires two or more living entities (i.e. symbiosis)? Despite these fundamental problems some rights theorists might be able to eventually develop a relatively good argument, but it would not likely be as good as an ethical theory based on holism would be, nor would it be especially efficient. To much detail, to much searching and reaching can really stretch a theory to its limits. If it is true that our goal is to contain all that we believe to be valuable in the world within an ethical theory that establishes a relevant and justifiable ethic that we can live with, we must do all we can to attain
this goal and to attain it as soon as possible (given current ecological crises). To reach this goal we should be efficient and reasonable. To be both efficient and reasonable we must use tools which can plausibly achieve these goals in an efficient and reasonable way. It does not make sense to use atomistic theories, like rights based theories, to establish moral value for entities that can not be considered individuals in any reasonable way (eg. rivers, mountains, soil). It makes even less sense to use a holistic theory to establish the moral standing of individuals (this goal might actually be impossible to attain). In a perfect society the solution could be for both groups of theorists to work in their respective realms with frequent interaction, eventually coming up with ethics that are clear and understandable and applicable in a symbiotic format. Once this is accomplished the most difficult task would be to combine the theories so that there is a balance between the individual and communal realm. In the real world however atomistic and holistic theorists will battle ad nauseam for supremacy over the ethical realm. Things will become accomplished, a synthesis will eventually emerge. Perhaps the dialectic will live up to its name and the synthesis will be extremely complex and intricate, almost alive with the interaction of ideas. Perhaps the dialectic of individual and community will bring us a synthesis on scale with natural evolution, starting out "low and squat" and link
after link synthesis after synthesis the "height and complexity" will increase (Leopold p78). Our society would become broader and more diverse eventually including the entire earth under its moral umbrella, finally attaining justice and liberty for all. As I have shown in this essay neither the atomistic not the holistic ethical theories can answer all of our questions and fulfill all our needs. Perhaps with time the dialectical process will approach both qualitatively and quantitatively the diversity of the natural evolutionary process. As humanity approaches in complexity of thought that which nature has attained in sheer complexity of form, we will feel more a part of, and at once become more accepting of nature. In this we will truly and finally break free from our conqueror role with nature that Leopold described in such an insightful way. WORKS CITED Smithers, J. and B. Smit. Conservation Practices In Southwestern Ontario Agriculture: Barriers To Adoption. Guelph: University School of Rural Planning and Development, Universty of Guelph, 1989.
Wild, Alan. Soils And The Environment: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1993. VanDeveer, D. and Pierce, C. People, Penguins, and Plastic Trees. Oxford: Oxford Press, 1989.
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