leopold’s land ethic

leopold’s land ethic (A Sand County Almanac, 237-264) is ecological as well as philosophical. (thomas berry recognized that such ethics are natural, not human, for not following them contravenes nature.) in its development, it follows a sequence:

  1. between individuals; eg., the 10 commandments
  2. between an individual and society; eg., the golden rule, democracy
  3. between an individual and the land; not yet formulated–a land ethic

for him, ‘land’ is simply an individual’s community enlarged; it is interdependent; the human is no longer conqueror but equal member

and for him, an ‘ecological conscience’ is broader than economics. many things we humans do not have monetary value but are vital all the same.

he arranges those things in food chains, and arranges those chains in a ‘land pyramid’ with large carnivores at the peak and plants and soil at the base converting solar energy to terrestrial food.

actually, we now think of ‘webs’ rather than ‘chains’, for those near the peak and other predators become food for those near the base. leopold himself recognized that a living ethic evolves, as does the rest of life.

in an example of this bio-feedback, the giant whale dies and sinks to the bottom to feed micro-organisms. ‘it grew so old, it decomposed,’ sang harry nilsson.  round and round and on and on. circle and line. life and entropy dance a pas de deux til the end of time, til reunification.

in so doing it transfers its energy. ‘a thing is right if it tends to preserve the stability, integrity, and beauty of the biotic community. it is wrong if it tends otherwise,’ leopold is often quoted, for here is the pith of his land ethic.

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