Thursday, November 3, 2011

Aldo Leopold and the World at 7 Billion

As the world population surpasses the 7 billion, a significant proportion of our kind is consumed and some time paralyzed the worry over the capacity of our planet to provide for evermore humans.

After we learned to cultivate and grow things, and especially since we invented and deployed the plough, our relationship with nature changed forever since. Moreover, we have our Judeo-Christian moral and intellectual foundation to undergird our agrarian proclivities. “And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28, American King James Version).

For many centuries, our relationship with the earth has been largely adversarial, man against nature. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, John Muir, George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature, Aldo Leopold’s A Sandy County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring have been literary cornerstones or more boldly the sacred text of an era of environmental conscience.

Today we realize that the future of our kind is inextricably bound with the health of the planet. It is not about the preservation or conservation of charismatic wilderness or monuments of nature or keystone species of plants and animals. It is about everything. It is all or nothing. It is about the only place we call home. It is about our survival. It is about repairing a broken relationship. It is that moment, “let talk about us”, humans not apart from but as part of nature, not separate.

As we grapple with the gargantuan 7 billion question, the eternal wisdom of Aldo Leopold may provide a platform for humble and deep reflection. Here is Aldo’s forward to the Sand County Almanac.

“Like winds, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.

Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the aesthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

The land as a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly forgotten.

But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal–clear: our bigger – and – better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health so as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be a little more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings”.

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