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Aldo Leopold

Page history last edited by Don Pogreba 12 years ago


  • Leopold was an American ecologist, forester, professor, and environmentalist.
  • His two most important works are A Sand County Almanac (1949) and Round River.
  • Leopold died fighting a wildfire on a neighbor’s property shortly before the publication of A Sand County Almanac.


Major Ideas

  • Acts of Creation:Compares the act of planting a tree with the creation of a poet or a God -- "Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they knew how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree-- and there will be one."
  • The Land Ethic: We need to expand the boundaries of our ideas of community to include soils, water, plants, animals. Collectively, we need to include "the land" in what community means -- "If the biota, in in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a food would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering."
  • Conservation: The state of harmony between humans and the land. It is the height of ignorance to ask "what good is a plant of animal?" because all things in nature have value
  • Danger of the Profit Motive: We cannot allow monetary concerns to supersede the value of the natural world -- "I believe that many of the economic forces inside the modern body-politic are pathogenic in respect to harmony with land" -- "Our children are our signature to the roster of history; our land is merely the place our money was made. There is as yet no social stigma in the possession of the gullied farm, a wrecked forest, or a polluted stream, provided the dividends suffice to send the youngsters to college. Whatever ails the land, the government will fix it." 
  •  Ecological Education: It is difficult to make people see the impact of environmental damage precisely because nature is so resilient. They must understand the connections in nature -- and people must work hard to educate each other.
  •  Stewardship: The ultimate goal -- humans need to see themselves as stewards (caretakers) of the land rather than as owners. 
  •  Evolutionary Time Versus Human Time: Leopold stressed the damage humans could do to the environment in a short period time, relative to the length of time the nature existed.


Important & Interesting Quotations

  • "We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive."
  • "Do we realize that industry, which has been our good servant, might make a poor master?"
  •  “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
  •  “We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations, the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”
  • “All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.”
  •  "This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."





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