This paper presents a summary of land ethic as an approach to conserve the environment. According to Leopold, land ethic serves to change people’s perception of their relationship with biotic community from being “conquerors” to being “plain member and citizens of it”. Leopold contends that land ethic hasn’t been developed or achieved by the American environmentalists. If it is developed and embraced faster, success in conservation of the environment will be realized.
He suggests that proper education based on the right content, that seek to create obligation on the part of the human community and the devaluation of the primacy given to economic determinism are the ultimate gate-passes to the realization of the land ethic. The proposal can be used to develop land ethic that supports economic relations with the biosphere. In this case, a cognitive picture of land as a “biotic mechanism” is developed.
There is also a need to adopt “biotic pyramid” image instead of the “balance of nature” view which according to him did not capture accurately the little we understand about the soil, waters, fauna and flora.
Leopold’s view of humans and of biotic communities
According to Leopold, man is part of an interdependent community whose actions have ramifying effects on biotic community. He is contended with the fact that man is self-centered/selfish and is only motivated by economic gains. He adopts a pessimistic view of human being and regards them as being deficient of the requisite social conscience necessary for the formation of land ethic, and therefore man appropriates land on the basis of benefits to be accrued regardless of biotic community.
The result is a conflict of interest where human being strives to maximize economic gains while the biotic community fights to perpetuate their species albeit being on the losing end. The biotic community, Leopold asserts, is dependent upon interdependence with humans. Leopold held that the biotic community is not passive in the perpetuation of the community life though he reckons that such biotic mechanisms were so intricate that their workings were never fully discernible. He believes that the biotic community was dependent upon the integrity of their human counterparts for continuance. None is more important than the other.
How to resolve the conflict
Education for conservation is recommended to solve conflict in the eco-system. Conservationists and government agencies concerned with conservation issues should design sound education that has content on conservation.
The training will seek to create obligation on the part of the humans to ‘love, respect, and admire the land’. Include conservation issues into the mainstream development e.g. in road construction. Environmental impact assessment needs to be done and findings respected and followed to the latter. Develop a system of conservation devoid of economic self interest in order to preserve those species that have no economic value.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Leopold’s view
Interdependence of parts seeks to create an awareness of how human community in the absence of biotic community is incomplete and therefore the need to coexist. Secondly, education should precede rules, while content should seek first to create obligation towards biotic community by capturing the need to revise the approach to education for conservation. The idea that the government, private and corporate entities ought to partake in conservation measures is a strong point held by Leopold.
Furthermore, Leopold does believe that obligations are meaningless in the absence of conscience. He calls for the strengthening of conscience-building approaches based on intellect and emotions. A position that human history is pegged on environment (biotic) highlights the fact that the future is much a product of what we do now with our land.
While painting a gloom picture of the present and the past, he succeeds in painting a deem future. This is a pessimistic view and is a strong de-motivating factor. The government should be in forefront in conservation issues but Leopold talks of it as having been overburdened.
Two fundamental claims of the American conservation movement
No land ethic yet –He says that it has failed to create ideal sense of obligation on the part of the humans, since even though we proclaim our ‘love for and obligation to the land’, its surely not the soil, waters, plants nor animals that we cherish as we continue to plough down- slope leading to soil erosion and water pollution not to mention the wanton extermination of fauna and flora a due to our self-centered economic orientations. It presupposes that land ethic shapes human orientation from conqueror to being member and part of the biotic community. Lack of this ethic has made it hard to move away from economic determinism. Wrong approach and Lack of uniformity among the conservationists – the education content did not succeed in establishing that sense of obligation and respect for the biotic community.
Also the various groups have divergent views as to what really constitutes the biotic community and therefore scattered policies. In trying to make the conservation subject simple, it has trivialized it.
Has American environmentalism moved in the direction Leopold advocated?
Leopold faults the conservationists for not being serious on rules they formulate. For example, the 1933 case where the offer was “widely accepted” but the practices were “widely forgotten”. This shows the negligence and lack of seriousness on the part of conservationists as no follow-up was ever made to ensure full implementation.
Also, he contends that much burden has been given to the government as private farmers fail to perform. And government contributes to extermination of some species in stead of protecting them.