Jan 6, 2013

A Land Ethic

June 10, 2009  from edge::regenerate

Aldo Leopold argues that what is centrally missing in our Western culture today is a “land ethic.” According to Leopold, ethical values are what hold a community together and allow its members to cooperatively co-exist. Just as our culture has awakened to the violent injustice of slavery, so now is it time that we awake to the injustice we are inflicting on the lands we live within.

In the time of Odysseus’ Greece, slaves were property that could be dealt with as owner saw fit. If he wanted to hang them, he had full proprietary rights to do so. Today we look at this and are horrified by such actions because we know in our hearts that all humans are our brothers and sisters and deserve the same basic rights, opportunities, and freedoms that we do. Yet we turn around and commit the same violent crimes against our biotic family. We treat land as property and as such we have the proprietary rights to do with it as we see fit. If we want to destroy the life of the land, it is our right to do so. As Leopold states it, “The disposal of property was then, as now, a matter of expediency, not of right and wrong.”

A land ethic would involve living rightly with the land. Doing what is right in this case can be evaluated in terms of whether or not an action preserves and adds to “the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” The implication here is that we as humans can and should be living with the land in ways that work with and elevate its systemic generative capacity for life.

How would you evaluate the community you live in under these standards? How would you evaluate your own land-use practices?

Great post on land ethic above...

Land ethic - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia has a great summary of different basis for land ethics.

Economics based
This is a land ethic based wholly upon economic self-interest.[2] For example, a farmer who plants on a slope and lets the soil wash into the community creek in order to obtain the personal benefit of money from the sale of the crops is acting from an economic based land ethic. Leopold sees two flaws in this type of ethic. First, he argues that most members of an ecosystem have no economic worth. For this reason, such an ethic can ignore or even eliminate these members when they are actually necessary for the health of the biotic community of the land. And second, it tends to relegate conservation necessary for healthy ecosystems to the Government and these tasks are too large and dispersed to be adequately addressed by such an institution. This ties directly into the context within which Leopold wrote Sand County Almanac.

For example, the prevailing ethos for the US Forest Service in his day, from the founder of the USFS, Gifford Pinchot, was economic and utilitarian, while Leopold argued for anecological approach, one of the earliest popularizers of this term created by Henry Chandler Cowles of the University of Chicago during his early 1900s research at the Indiana Dunes. Conservation became the preferred term for the more anthropocentric model of resource management, while the writing of Leopold and his inspiration, John Muir, led to the development of environmentalism.[citation needed]

Utilitarian based
Utilitarianism was first put forth by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Though there are many varieties of utilitarianism, generally it is the view that a morally right action is an action that produces the maximum good for people.[3] Utilitarianism has often been used when deciding how to use land and it is closely connected with an economic based ethic. For example, it forms the foundation for industrial farming; as an increase in yield, which would increase the number of people able to receive goods from farmed land, is judged from this view to be a good action or approach. In fact, a common argument in favor of industrial agriculture is this it is a good practice because it increases the benefits for humans; benefits such as food abundance and a drop in food prices. However, a utilitarian based land ethic is different from a purely economic one as it could be used to justify the limiting of a person's rights to make profit. For example, in the case of the farmer planting crops on a slope, if the runoff of soil into the community creek led to the damage of several neighbor's properties, then the good of the individual farmer would be overridden by the damage caused to his neighbors. Thus, while a utilitarian based land ethic can be used to support economic activity, it can also be used to challenge this activity.

Libertarian based
Another philosophical approach often used to guide actions when making (or not making) changes to the land is libertarianism. Roughly, libertarianism is the ethical view that agents own themselves and have particular moral rights including the right to acquire property.[4] In a looser sense, libertarianism is commonly identified with the belief that each individual person has a right to a maximum amount of freedom or liberty when this freedom does not interfere with other people's freedom. A well known libertarian theorist is John Hospers. For libertarians, property rights are natural rights. Thus, it would be acceptable for the above farmer to plant on a slope as long as this action does not limit the freedom of his or her neighbors.

In addition, it should be noted that this view is closely connected to utilitarianism. Libertarians often use utilitarian arguments to support their own arguments. For example, in 1968, Garrett Harden applied this philosophy to land issues when he argued that the only solution to the "Tragedy of the Commons" was to place soil and water resources into the hands of private citizens.[5] Harden then supplied utilitarian justifications to support his argument. However, you could argue that this possibly leaves a libertarian based land ethics open to the above critique lodged against economic based approaches. Even excepting this, the libertarian view has been challenged by the critique that people making self-interested decisions often cause large ecological disasters such as the Dust Bowl disaster.[6] Even so, libertarianism is a philosophical view commonly held within the United States and, especially, held by U.S. ranchers and farmers.

Egalitarian based
Egalitarian based land ethics are often developed as a response to libertarianism. This is because, while libertarianism ensures the maximum amount of human liberty, it does not require that people help others. In addition, it also leads to the uneven distribution of wealth. A well known egalitarian philosopher is John Rawls. When focusing on land use, what this translates into is its uneven distribution and the uneven distribution of the fruits of that land.[7] While both a utilitarian and libertarian based land ethic could conceivably rationalize this mal-distribution, an egalitarian approach typically favors equality whether that be equal entitlement to land and/or access to food.[8] However, there is also the question of negative rights when holding to an egalitarian based ethic. In other words, if you recognize that a person has a right to something, then someone has the responsibility to supply this opportunity or item; whether that be an individual person or the government. Thus, an egalitarian based land ethic could provide a strong argument for the preservation of soil fertility and water because it links land and water with the right to food, with the growth of human populations, and the decline of soil and water resources.[9]

Ecologically based
In addition to economic, utilitarian, libertarian, and egalitarian based land ethics, there are also land ethics based upon the principle that the land (and the organisms that live off the land) has intrinsic value. These ethics are, roughly, coming out of an ecological or systems view. This position was first put forth by Aldo Leopold in Sand County Almanac but two other examples include James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis which postulates that the Earth is an organism[10] and the deep ecology view which argues that human communities are built upon a foundation of the surrounding ecosystems or the biotic communities.[11] Similar to egalitarian based land ethics, the above land ethics were also developed as alternatives to utilitarian and libertarian based approaches. Leopold's ethic is currently one of the most popular ecological approaches. Other writers and theorists who hold this view include Wendell Berry (b. 1934), J. Baird Callicott, Paul B. Thompson, and Barbara Kingsolver.

Leopold's land ethic
Leopold argues that the next step in the evolution of ethics is the expansion of ethics to include nonhuman members of the biotic community,[12] collectively referred to as "the land." Leopold states the basic principle of his land ethic as, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

He also describes it in this way: "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land...[A] land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."

Ecologically based makes the most  sense to me... what is your opinion... why?   Monte Hines

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