I saw a new film about the legendary environmentalist Aldo Leopold, his life and his legacy. The films name is Green Fire. It's bittersweet, gives you hope and makes you cry.
Here is a link to the site for the movie. http://www.greenfiremovie.com/
After the film a few of us had a debate about the "Land Ethic" as it relates to environmental sustainability. Is the land ethic overarching everything we do, or is sustainability what we look to for our guidance? There were two camps, one was that environmental sustainability was the overarching concept while the land ethic was only a subset of environmental sustainability and the other was that the land ethic is the main idea for where environmental sustainability is created. I felt that the land ethic is the overarching guideline that we base our decisions on regarding environmental sustainability. The ethic gives us the guidance to determine what is sustainable. We can't have environmental sustainability with out a land ethic.
I pulled a couple of excerpts from Leopold's book
The Land Ethic
When god-like Odysseus returned from the wars in Troy, he hanged all on one rope a dozen slave-girls of his house-hold, whom he suspected of misbehavior during his absence.
This hanging involved no question of propriety. The girls were property. The disposal of property was then, as now, a matter of expediency, not of right and wrong.
Concepts of right and wrong were not lacking from Odysseus' Greece: witness the fidelity of his wife through the long years before at last his black-prowed galleys clove the wine-dark seas for home. The ethical structure of that day covered wives, but had not yet been extended to human chattels. During the three thousand years which have since elapsed, ethical criteria have been extended to many fields of conduct, with corresponding shrinkages in those judged by expediency only.
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.
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 downriver. 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.
The Ethical Sequence
This extension of ethics, so far studied only by philosophers, is actually a process in ecological evolution. Its sequence may be described in ecological as well as in philosophic terns. An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on freedom action in the struggle for existence. An ethic, philosophically is a differentiation of social from anti-social conduct. These are two definitions of one thing. The thing has its origin in the tendency of interdependent individuals or groups to evolve modes of co-operation. The ecologist calls fees symbioses. Politics and economics are advanced syrnbioses in which the original free-for-all competition has been re placed, in part, by co-operative mechanisms with an ethical content.
The complexity of co-operative mechanisms has increase with population density, and with the efficiency of tools. It was simpler, for example, to define the anti-social uses sticks and stones in the days of the mastodons than of bullet and billboards in the age of motors.
The first ethics dealt with the relation between individuals; the Mosaic Decalogue is an example. Later accretions dealt with the relation between the individual and society. The Golden Rule tries to integrate the individual to society, democracy to integrate social organization to the individual.
There is as yet no ethic dealing with man's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus' slave-girls, is still property. The land relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but no obligations.
The extension of ethics to this third element in human environment is, if I read the evidence correctly, an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity. It is the third step in a sequence. The first two have already been taken. Individual thinkers since the days of Ezekiel and Isaiah have asserted that the despoliation of land is not only inexpedient but wrong. Society, however, has not yet affirmed their belief. I regard the present conservation movement as the embryo of such an affirmation.
An ethic may be regarded as a mode of guidance for meeting ecological situations so new or intricate, or involving such deferred reactions, that the path of social expediency is not discernible to the average individual. Animal instincts are modes of guidance for the individual in meeting such situations. Ethics are possibly a kind of community instinct in-the-making.