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November 11, 2011 / bsekaran

Is the Land Ethic an Unrealistic Goal?

Leopold argues that humanity should treat the land on an equal playing field and not act as a master or controller of the land. He argues that humans depend on the soil, thus they should respect and preserve it. He further contends that there exists no hierarchy of life and all living things should be placed on an even playing field.

Although Leopold’s ideas are admirable in theory, are they really possible in a post industrial economy, which strives to achieve growth at almost any cost. Development often requires humans to control and manipulate the land around them. For example, logging revolves around cutting down trees for use in paper, wood, and other products. Although people can plant new trees or work to limit forest clearing, ultimately, humans will likely manipulate the environment to meet their own needs.

Theorists like Locke argue that land belongs to people who use their labor to work the land. This creates a hierarchy in which humans are masters of the land which inevitably leads to human abuse of the land. Locke is not alone in this viewpoint as a vast majority of the global population probably believes that humans have ownership of the land and have the right to work the land towards productive ends. If this is the philosophy that we currently subscribe to, it will be incredibly difficult to reorient ourselves to a new ethic of the land.

Overall, the land ethic is an admirable goal and people should work towards treating the land as an equal. However, in this era it will be incredibly difficult for humanity to transform their orientation towards the land in order to achieve this new ethic.



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  1. garrettjohnson / Nov 11 2011 9:06 pm

    I believe that the realization of the land ethic in the purest sense of the term will never come to fruition. The idea of man as a conquerer is far too ingrained in civilization to be easily challenged. When our ancestors became sedentary, they initiated the conquest of nature, which has pervaded human history. By planting the seeds of crops with the highest yields and clearing land for cultivation, man has manipulated the environment for centuries. The candid truth is that war and exploitation of the planet’s resources have largely defined our existence as a species. We have reached a time in our history in which our continual mastery of nature is exactly what allows us to survive. Humans have relied on technology to support growth, and will continue to do so in the future.
    In this day and age, we have come to acknowledge that our unchecked development can and will harm the environment in the years to come. The notion of the land ethic, however, will not likely convince the world’s population to adopt the biotic community as an equal. If we are to survive as a species on this planet, people need to remain mindful of their actions and the ensuing consequences. Societies need to agree that we cannot continue this futile experiment in economic competition and territorial conflict. Sustainability and global ethics need to weigh heavily on every political decision we make. In what seems like a satire, the institutions of our governments seem incapable of accomplishing these goals. Change is needed. People are just too ignorant and self-interested to admit it and take action.

  2. Jacob Naylor / Nov 12 2011 2:18 am

    Action is needed, but it will not happen if everyone doesnt agree to the terms. The Kyoto protocol attempted to make changes to help curve pollution levels but it fell apart because several key nations including the US decided not to adopt it and it lacked affective regulation measures. This presents a common problem known as the prisoner dilemma, which I will outline.
    If two prisoners are being questioned for a crime, they can either rat on the other person or keep their mouth shut. They have no idea what the other person will say about them though. If they both keep their mouth shut then they would both serve minimal time. If both rat eachother out they both serve an ample amount of time. If only one person rats and the other stays quiet then one person receives all the punishment and the other goes free. Therefore, they both logically conclude to rat on eachother because they want to go free and assume the other person will rat. However, if they were both to stay silent then they would both end up with a smaller sentence. In terms of the environmental movement, the country that agrees to some compact but then doesn’t follow it is like the person who agrees not to rat the other out but does anyway. Thus, they have the most to gain from the compact by not following it. This problem applies directly to global movements toward environmental protection.
    -Jake Naylor

  3. jrickuofm / Nov 12 2011 3:18 am

    I can appreciate what you both have to say in regards to this subject. Ownership of property and the continuing conflict for natural resources such as oil can be seen evident on news programs across the globe, implicitly and explicitly. I agree that the development of the social norm in the idea that man as the conqueror of land has become far to ingrained with the conceptualization in our mainstream industrial practices. I believe that their is a way for our country to resort back to ideals similar to Leopolds and away from Locke’s. Ever since Locke has defined the three degrees of individual property rights to: rights to property of the self (body); right to property produced through their own creation; right to resources cultivated to produce the end state of the property. Even though Locke goes on to say that an individual is only justified to take resources as long as it leaves enough for the common good of others, Leopold replied by stating that the land was the fountain of energy and an equal member of the biotic community. Leopold furthered his point that it is our responsibility as human beings and equal interdependent members of the biotic community that we replenish the goods we cultivate from the soil. Keeping these ideologies in mind, it is that of the former which has prevailed as the cultural norm, I believe there is way to provide for a gradual development for a society practicing a similar land ethic Leopold desired but it wont be easy. Despite my personal doubts in regards to the application of this theory, the fact that we live in an age where the developments of modern weaponry have come to the point of where they are used primarily for deterrents more so in application leaves us with the thought that we are all interdependent of each others actions. If we could come to the realization that for the reasons why weapons of mass destruction are no longer deployed, we could come to the rational understanding that as much as we’d like to kill each other, and I use this phrase primarily as a figure of speech but has resemblance of reality, we can not because we are reliant on each other for forms of trade and know all to well that an allies will come to aid. With that being said, it is vitally important to end war and its detrimental effects on nature provides one giant leap toward Leopold’s ideal of sustainability; however, it does not acknowledge the replenishing of goods. Replenishing in this view would take on different forms, the prevention of detrimental effects of war, but most importantly preservation techniques. Instead of fighting for more oil, the United States should be implementing preservation requirements; requirements that could have plausibly prevent the BP oil spill. The key to providing a gradual development towards a land ethic would start with saving the land from war and a conscious effort enforced by government toward preservation and replenishment requirements.

  4. theranapuer / Nov 14 2011 3:30 am

    Whenever environmental issues arise, oftentimes the arguments break down into two sides: pro-environment and pro-economics. These are commonly presented as completely opposing arguments, in which one is impossible without the other. But is this necessary, or are these two viewpoints closer than most think?

    The idea that people will never use natural resources provided by the environment is 100% unrealistic and will never happen. The environment is simply too useful to be left completely untouched and tranquil. And why should that be considered a bad thing? I don’t know anyone who wants to go back to the days of hunting and gathering. But the idea that the environment can be used to improve human quality of life doesn’t necessarily mean that the environment must be destroyed to do so. bsekaran identifies logging as an environment-consuming practice, but trees can be logged in sustainable ways that minimize environmental impact by using techniques that allow for reforestation of this renewable resource. The manipulation of environments to meet human needs can be done in a manner which is conducive to the preservation of the environment and helps future economic development.

    While the implementation of such practices may violate Leopold’s land ethic by the letter, it upholds it in spirit. Even Locke, who claimed that man had dominion over land, did not condone waste. We’ve already seen a mass priority shift toward green practices; maybe a commitment to something similar to a land ethic in which human actions affect the biota only in sustainable ways is realistic after all.

  5. Z Menze / Jan 4 2012 6:43 am

    The depopulation in rural areas to urban areas has made people to loose touch with the reality that everything in our life depends on land. The movement of people to the tensely populated areas that are expensive has mede people to think that there is no where else to like freely since their mindset has been corrupted by the economic oppresion they receive in the cities. The reality is the the lack of development in rural areas in order to accrue income has devalued these areas, as a result the youth tend to leave for the cities. Talking about land to some people is regarded as non sensical since the means of production like agriculture and fishing have been labelled as old ways of living by the corruted and oppressed youth of today. This is caused by the fact that the whites have indoctrinated us to work for them in the farms and not to own the farms. This has portaryed agriculture as labour intensive rather than a gateway to entrepreneurship. If the youth of today can be exposed to the amount of millions the farmers are making every year maybe they would be motivated.

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