Aldo Leopold moves towards the main point of his article in a very gradual and coherent way. He defines ethics ecologically and as well philosophically. Ethics is “a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence” ecologically, whereas philosophically ethics is a “differentiation of social from antisocial”. Ethics teaches individuals to live in harmony as a society and forms symbiosis with all the elements of his environment. The example of Odysseus is very apt to describe man’s relation with the third element of his environment, land. Land has always been dealt in the terms of property, finances and expediency. Here lies the thesis of the writer that land must be preserved and animal and plants living on it and man’s behaviour towards it must alter. The writer exposes the irony in man’s slogans for his home land meanwhile destroying the habitat unhesitatingly. The land ethic requires man to become its citizen not its conqueror, because history has taught us that conquers are self destructive. The writer believes that the history is not just the sequence of human enterprise but it is also affected by the land. He gives examples of two places Kentucky and Southwest to show the impact of occupancy on the flora of the land. One thrives with bluegrass while the other got barren and deteriorated.
The writer regrets the fact that even positive propaganda about conservation of land has not brought about desired results. Education about conservation is also useless if the content is not adequate and effective. It does not change the values of people, they are not introduced to the idea of sacrifice or obligation towards land only “self enlightened interest” is taught. Even farmers do the bare minimum to save a land for community’s benefit no matter how much is offered as help to reinforce them. The problem is the desire for quick success and lack of social conscience. Ethics depend up on people’s mind and its importance to them. They need to feel strongly for it.
In the absence of a strong land ethic, very lame substitutes have been given. The writer wants us to give importance to all the entities of the land even if they have no economic value. The writer does not simply throw the whole responsibility of conservation and preservation of land and its resources to the government as the private land owner also needs to get passionate about the land he owns. He can get benefit from it but does not feel obligated to conserve his land. If asked to do it, he shows financial restrictions as his hurdle. The writer accuses the insufficient conservation education. It does not give any mental image of land as a “biotic mechanism” which human beings need. Instead of the image of “the balance of nature”, “the land pyramid” is a truer image. It shows soil, plants, insects, birds, rodents and other animals as layers, each layer depending on the other forming the food chain through the long process of evolution. The writer strengthens the need for a land ethic by describing biota as a circuit of life and land as sustained energy that never dies out. It moves upwards, dies out, absorbs and changes the composition of flora and fauna. Transportation has spread this energy worldwide. Some biota are strong and violent conversions do not cause disorganization in them like the western Europe and Japan. The land never dies, its capacity to sustain life decreases. So to retain a dense population the land needs to be flexible and elastic.
The writer feels that the presence of ecological conscience is imperative. He divides two modes of thought as group A and B. Group A is economical and agronomical concerned only with the business side of land. Group B cherishes the biota and the natural stream of things. They possess ecological conscience. They fret about the extinction of exotic species, the result of game hunting, the rare plants and the trees. The farmer needs to understand that producing more food does not necessarily mean that he is producing good food. Both quality and quantity needs to be superior. Man is playing a very paradoxical role towards land, both positive and negative. The reference of Robinson’s poem “Tristram” lines published in 1927, urges man to leave a mark on the land by feeling responsible towards it.
The writer feels very strongly for land and the life existing on it. His main thought is that man should move beyond the greed of money and stop valuing nature by the criteria of economical value. It can only be done if the education is teaching us love and respect for the land that offers us shelter, food and so much more on the philosophical level as well. The writer explains the hurdles in the path of establishment of land ethic. The modern man is so distracted by his life style that he finds it boring. Farmer’s attitude towards land and the lack of ecological education is another factor. The writer very strongly emphasizes a very simple land ethic. We must stop seeing land in the financial light. We should do what is “ethically and aesthetically” right as well as economically expedient.
I do appreciate the compassion of the writer towards nature and its elements. I do agree with the importance he wants to impart to land ethics as land and its resources is our life support and if we only limit our mind to personal benefit this asset will be lost.