September 16 – The Legacy of Aldo Leopold and the 11 Days of Global Unity
Erwin Klaas, Professor Emeritus of Animal Ecology at Iowa State University
The renowned conservationist, Aldo Leopold, began his essay The Land Ethic with the story of the Greek god Odysseus who hanged all of the slave-girls of his household because he suspected them of misbehavior during his absence in the Trojan Wars. This hanging involved no ethical question because the girls were merely property. Leopold wrote, “The disposal of property was then, as now, a matter of expediency, not of right and wrong.”
The Land Ethic appeared in a now famous book titled A Sand County Almanac, first published in 1949. The book has had over two million copies printed and has been translated into nine languages. It continues to inform and inspire the environmental movement. I first read A Sand County Almanac in 1953 as a freshman in college; it has guided my thinking throughout my career as a wildlife research biologist.
Aldo Leopold was one of the first to distinguish between the concept of land as a community and land as a commodity. His concept of land includes soils, waters, plants and animals. Land viewed merely as a commodity is something to be bought and sold, like the slave girls owned by Odysseus. A land ethic, according to Leopold, “…changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”
Although five decades have passed since Leopold’s essay was published, we are not much closer to the ideal of viewing land as a community and caring for it in a sustainable way. Land owners still sell their land to the highest bidder without regard to how that land will be used. Thus, thousands of acres of Iowa farmland, the richest farmland in the world, is covered over with concrete, roads, houses and shopping malls every year.
Politicians and most citizens believe this is good because such conversion is considered economic development.
The mission of We, The World is to maximize social change on a global scale and to awaken a spirit of caring and involvement in the public so that millions of people begin to see themselves as part of one global interdependent community – and to actively take part in creating a world that works for all. Leopold too was advocating for social change and a major shift in how we think about land. I am sure that if Leopold were alive today, he would be one of the supporters of this newly-framed message of peace, justice, and environmental stewardship.
Through the power of the internet, we can now reach 10 times more people in 11 days than Leopold has been able to reach in 50 years. Let us hope that 11 Days of Global Unity can maximize awareness of humanity’s major challenges, and inspire, inform and involve the public in visionary solutions. Nothing could please me more than to see Leopold’s legacy live on in this renewal of hope for the earth and all of creation.