SESSION 3 Leopoldian Philosophy and Ethics: Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
Leopoldian Philosophy and Ethics:
In the Academy and, More Important, Beyond
Friday, April 3rd, 2009
This wide-ranging conversation overlays Leopoldʼs Land Ethic on a variety of
contemporary concerns: how does the Land Ethic apply to economic valuation of
ecosystems? How does the Land Ethic apply to the growing environmental justice
movement, or to the cities in which so many of us reside? What are differences between
Aldo Leopold as a man and an icon, and how might this distinction inform Leopoldʼs
relevance today?
Gus Speth
Steve Kellert
Peter Brown
Baird Callicott
John Grim
Dale Jamieson
Sylvia Hood Washington
Well our third panel is certainly on a central topic. Steve Kellert will introduce it.
Steve is a distinguished professor at the school and has been here for quite a
while. Of all the people on the faculty he has been the person most centrally
involved with the issues that will be discussed on this panel and he has written a
great deal about it. We are honored to have Steve leading and moderating this
Over lunch just now Estella Leopold, reflecting upon her fatherʼs contribution,
said “We restored the land, and in the process we restored ourselves.” Itʼs not
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
just about being good to nature or minimizing pollution, or being sustainable in
our use of resources and materials derived from the natural environment.
Leopold in his land ethic articulated a very powerful and intuitive approach that
weʼre still struggling to understand.
Much of the discussion this morning was about commodifying ecosystem
services: a narrow notion of utilitarian benefits derived from natural systems that
are hopefully extracted and used in a sustainable fashion. It was about
regulatory control to correct market failure.
All those are important, but thatʼs not all there is. Itʼs also about the love and
beauty of the land, a sense of kinship and connection to the land – which is not
an idle amenity value. Leopold was fundamentally a biologist, above and beyond
everything. And he understood that love and beauty of the land, the integrity and
connection and experiential relationship to the land, that the sense of kinship,
and even our own affirmed spirit, of relation to that creation that the land
represents, is deeply biological. Itʼs all about being comfortable in our place,
being motivated, being good stewards.
And thatʼs deeply emotional. Emotional connection to the land is every bit as
utilitarian as the material extraction of resources in a sustainable way, which is
about a relation to the land. Weʼre all biologically based. Weʼre all deeply
emotional creatures. We all have an aesthetic response to the land, everybody,
so far as I know, on this earth.
If thatʼs true, itʼs genetically encoded. If itʼs genetically encoded, unless itʼs
vestigial, itʼs there for a good reason. The necessity of our connectedness to
nature is important whether youʼre living off the land or youʼre an investment
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
banker. It has to do with critical thinking and problem solving and creativity and
imagination and commitment, motivation, satisfaction, pleasure. And I think
Leopold understood that.
As much as he was a great scientist, Leopoldʼs most enduring and powerful and
compelling legacy is the land ethic. And a major question is, “Why?” And I think
Iʼve already alluded to why I think itʼs so important. Because people talked about
it, a sense of duty and responsibility for being good stewards and nurturing and
caring for the land, before Leopold, and theyʼve talked about it since. But thereʼs
something about the way Leopold talked about it that was particularly compelling,
and it stood the test of time. In fact, it appears to kind of expand in terms of its
convincing qualities over time.
And, again, I think that he implicitly and intuitively understood that it wasnʼt just
about material wellbeing; it was also about a sense of beauty and spiritual
kinship, and a love of the land. All those factors contributed to our fitness and
survival as a species every bit as much as economic materialism – which he was
very skeptical of in a lot of ways.
Leopold understood that how our being, how our humanity as individuals and as
a culture and as a group is affirmed and enriched and expanded by our love and
sense of beauty and kinship with the land. I think he understood that that wasnʼt
something that you just learn.
We cultivate it through our understanding and our appreciation and our
experience and what weʼve heard about. But I think he understood that these
are deeply biological, that they are all about whether or not we would be
successful as a species. And if we turn our back on the land from the
perspective of how it enriches our sense of beauty and of who we are and our
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
ability to be, to develop attachments and to be motivated and to be good
stewards, if we turn our back on it and think that itʼs only about economic
materialism, I donʼt think weʼll be sustainable. Just like this space would not be
sustainable if it was just energy efficient and nothing else.
Leopold said, “The physics of beauty is one department of natural science still in
the Dark Ages. Everybody knows that the autumn landscape in the north woods
is land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics,
ecosystem services, whatever you want to call it, itʼs nothing.” He said it
represents a millionth of either the mass or energy of an acre.
And then Iʼll just say finally, his most famous remark of all: “We can be ethical
only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise
have faith in.” Ethics is a process of ecological evolution. Ethics is all about selfinterest, in a very expanded understanding of self-interest that goes beyond the
immediate moment and recognizes values as yet uncaptured by language in
terms of why theyʼre in our own self-interest. The love and beauty of the land is
in our self-interest. If we turn our back on it and think itʼs all about economic
materialism, we will live in a depauperate and impoverished world which would
turn on us as much as if we destroy the ecosystem services that allow for
pollination or decomposition or seed dispersal or whatever we want to call them.
So itʼs much more than economic materialism.
Now let me introduce Peter Brown. He is a professor at McGill University. I think
you all know Peter Brown. Heʼs contributed so much, and heʼs just written this
book thatʼs very important, Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
I should start by saying I have a Shack gene. Iʼve never exactly heard that
before. Even though I have no genetic linear connection to the Leopold family,
Iʼve been influenced by Leopold for decades now.
And when I lived in Washington, where I taught at the University of Maryland, I
bought a very degraded farm in the mountains near Cumberland Maryland and
basically worked on restoring a run-down house and the landscape. And then
when I moved to Quebec I did the same thing. So why am I doing this, one of my
students asked me one day. Well, itʼs in part atonement, right? For having
participated in a society that is so very, very harmful. Itʼs a way to sort of work a
little bit of that out.
But, also, I try to spend at least a day a week in the bush. In Quebec we call the
woods “the bush.” And y'know, when I come out of there I often think, “Well, if I
had a word to express this, it would be “alleluia.” You feel so enormously
energized by and at peace in the bush. Itʼs really just a great thing.
Well the bad news this morning was it looks like the present economy is going to
be saved, vast sums of money are going to be spent to restore an economy that
is basically at loggerheads with the earth on which it exists. And although there
are many important problems that we have now concerning unemployment, the
lack of imagination that is being displayed around the world – the partial
exception may be of President Sarcozy and one or two others – is really pretty
frightening. And I think that Gusʼs new book does a really good job of showing
that the economy is really on a collision course with the future wellbeing of our
species and most other species.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
Iʼve never positioned my work within the conservation movement the way
Courtney talked about it this morning, about the conservation movement not
having an economics or a way to think about economics. And so I wrote this
book with some other Quakers, particularly Jeff Garver, and we relied very
heavily on Leopold to formulate an ethical framework for macroeconomics.
So in terms of the title of this panel, it is both inside and outside the academy,
because weʼre trying to influence the way economics is thought about and taught
in universities. That probably is about as difficult a task as there could be on
earth. And weʼre also trying to influence the way macroeconomic policy is
thought about and executed in places like the Federal Reserve.
The key fulcrum we use for our arguments is a slightly revised version of the
Leopoldian ethic, which Iʼll just read briefly. “A thing is right when it tends to
preserve the integrity, resilience, and beauty of the commonwealth of life. It is
wrong when it tends otherwise.”
So I just want to use that as a point of departure to talk about how we might
rethink the macroeconomic system. Itʼs essential to do it. And Iʼm just going to
focus this around five questions and give a sentence or two about each question.
So if you ask the question about the economy, “Whatʼs it for?” the answer that
youʼre given is, “For growth and consumption with low level of inflation and high
employment.” And what this leaves out is of course the world, right? It doesnʼt
include the fact that the present economic system is destabilizing the earthʼs
biophysical systems.
John Mayer Keynes, in my view, was a person who tried to rethink the economic
system to achieve social stability, so you wouldnʼt have a roller-coaster ride on
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
the business cycle, and you wouldnʼt have frequent wars. He tried, I think, to
head off World War II, but the theories that he worked on were formulated too
late and werenʼt accepted even when they were formulated.
So we really just go back to Keynes and say, “Well sure, one of the primary
objectives of the economy has to be social and ecological stability, or social and
biophysical stability of the planet.” And we just need to expand the lens that weʼre
working with and weʼll get an entirely different way of thinking.
The second question we ask is, “How does it work?” And one of the most
astonishing things about current economic theory is that thereʼs no significant
connection between economic theory and the science of the last 200 years. This
is, basically, a medieval metaphysical and theological system thatʼs been held in
intellectual isolation from the discoveries of science, and yet it has the
pretensions to rule the world. So we make the argument of this very central
insight of ecological economics, that the economy has to be seen as subordinate
to the earthʼs biophysical systems.
The next question that we ask is, “How big is too big?” And the current economic
system says, “There is no such thing as too big unless it causes too much
inflation to get there.” And we say itʼs too big if it violates the Leopoldian rule,
right? If it destroys the integrity, resilience and beauty of the commonwealth of
life. So this economic system overall is much too big.
The fourth question is, “Whatʼs fair?” If you look in the textbooks on economics,
they have no idea, basically. Within current economic theory there is no analysis
of the idea of fairness at all. Itʼs just blank. If you ask an economist whatʼs fair, it
would be the quintessential Canadian word. He or she would have to say, “Eh?”
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
And we also argue that fairness is something that pertains not only between
people but between species, and the human appropriation of about 50 percent of
the earthʼs biophysical, or life support capacity by humans is unfair, right? Weʼre
taking half the cake, and weʼre one out of 10 or 20 million species.
“How should it be governed?” is the last question. Well, the obvious answer I
think is “Not by the guys who are governing it now,” right? Because they canʼt
answer four simple questions. And so we propose a variety of institutional
innovations including a global reserve, which would be somewhat like a Federal
Reserve but would analyze the earthʼs life support capacity, not the money
supply and interest rates.
We suggest – and thereʼs a very complicated number of issues here, Iʼll just
mention one – that we really need to think about money as the socially
sanctioned right to intervene in the earthʼs life support systems. Weʼve given that
capacity very unequally to different people, and theyʼre using it in many cases
very irresponsibly. Thank you.
Baird Callicott, whoʼs a long-term colleague and friend and as many of you know
probably the preeminent scholar on Leopold and one of the great environmental
ethicists in our country. Baird?
Thanks Steve. Iʼd like to say that Iʼm especially honored to be invited here for
this event, and in the presence of so many brilliant people. And I would like to
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
agree with Steve, whoʼs given us an opportunity to celebrate this space, that it is
indeed a beautiful space, and I think we should all just bask in that for a second.
Again, I would like to say that Steve has brought up an important point and that is
that the aesthetic aspect is built into what I call the summary moral maxim, or the
golden rule of the land. That maxim is something that everybody can quote from
heart: “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty
of the biotic community.”
But part of the job of philosophers is not to write hagiographies, but to engage in
critical discussion — in this case, to have a critical engagement with the land
ethic. I have been a staunch advocate and exponent of the land ethic for my
entire career; and I thank the Leopold family for making that possible.
I do think that the land ethic is perfectly appropriate for the scales to which it is
addressed, that is to say the scales of the ecosystem, the biotic community, the
landscape. It doesnʼt, however, really address, as Bill McKibben said, the most
critical environmental challenge of our time, and thatʼs global climate change,
which exists at a global scale: not at the scale of the biotic community, not that of
the ecosystem, but at the global scale.
And also the temporal scales are incredible. If you look at “Thinking Like a
Mountain,” the temporal scale that Leopold is asking us to think in terms of is a
scale of decades, while now weʼre now called upon to think in terms of centuries
and millennia.
But, fortunately, Aldo Leopold, ever the prophet, provides us with what Iʼm now
beginning to call an “earth ethic” as well as a “land ethic,” and it was, amazingly,
sketched in a 1923 essay which lay unpublished in the archives of the University
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
of Wisconsin Steenbock Library until it was discovered by my colleague, Eugene
Hargrove, and published in the first volume of Environmental Ethics in 1979.
And so rather than me wax on to interpret the earth ethic for you, like many of my
colleagues that have spoken previously Iʼd just like to read a bit from this essay.
Itʼs in the section of “Some Fundamentals of Conservation in the Southwest”
subtitled “Conservation as a Moral Issue.” Leopold, back in 1923, is anticipating,
by the way, the Gaia hypothesis, which didnʼt really emerge until the 1970s
except in the work of Vladimir Vernadski back in 1926. So Leopold here
anticipates Vernadskiʼs concept of the “biosphere,” the title of Vernadskiʼs book.
Vernadski, too, eventually had a connection with Yale. His son taught Slavic
Languages and history here and introduced the elder Vernadskiʼs work to G. E.
Hutchinson, who had some of it translated and published in the 1940s.
Leopold writes, “It is at least not impossible to regard the earthʼs parts, soil,
mountains, rivers, atmosphere, etc., as organs or parts of organs of a
coordinated whole, each with a definite function. And if we could see this whole
as a whole through a great period of time” — notice the temporal perspective
here — “we might perceive not only organs with coordinated functions, but
possibly also that process of consumption and replacement which in biology we
call the metabolism or growth.” The earth, actually, has a metabolism. “In such a
case we would have all the visible attributes of a living being, which we do not
now recognize to be such because it is too big and its life processes are too
“And there would also follow that invisible attribute, a soul or consciousness,
which many philosophers of all ages, ” — Plato primarily in his cosmological
work, the Timaeus — “ascribed to all living things and aggregates thereof,
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
including the ʻdeadʼ earth.” And Leopold puts dead in quotation markets, because
the earth is not dead.
“Thereʼs not much discrepancy except in language between this conception of a
living earth and the conception of a dead earth, with enormously slow intricate
and interrelated functions among its part as given us by physics, chemistry, and
geology. The essential thing for present purposes is that both admit the
interdependent functions of the elements.
“But anything indivisible is a living being. Possibly in our intuitive perceptions,
which may be truer than our science and less impeded by words than our
philosophies, we realize the indivisibility of the earth – itʼs soil, mountains, rivers,
forests, climate, plants and animals - and respect it collectively, not only as a
useful servant but as a living being.”
And here is where Leopoldʼs poetry, which has biblical resonances, is even at
this early stage of his writing so brilliantly exemplified. He says, “Not only as a
useful servant” — Steve, confirming your point here — “But as a living being
vastly less alive than ourselves in degree, but vastly greater than ourselves in
time and space. A being that was old when the morning stars sang together and
when the last of us has been gathered unto his fathers will still be young.”
So the land ethic has received, or has merited I should say, and has indeed
received a great deal of philosophical attention, as well as attention from
nonphilosophers and conservationists. We now face the challenge of global
climate change and global warning, and I think that these two paragraphs in this
three-page little section, which is just a faint sketch of an earth ethic, warrant now
as much attention as the land ethic has received and that we can develop it as a
companion – not a substitute for, but rather as a companion to the land ethic; I
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
mean that an earth ethic might be for the 21st century what the land ethic has
been for the 20th century.
And Iʼm trying to do this myself. At the moment Iʼm six chapters into a book
called, From the Land Ethic to the Earth Ethic: Aldo Leopold in a Time of Global
Climate Change, but I had to stop work on that because I drew the short straw,
and now Iʼm chairing my department – which is the most miserable decision Iʼve
ever made.
So with that, maybe Iʼve got a minute or so left, Iʼll just bring my remarks to a
Our next speaker is John Grim, a great colleague here who, with his spouse,
Mary Evelyn Tucker, came to Yale a couple of years ago. They are the creators
of the Religion and Ecology program that has resulted in a ten-volume work on
the Worldʼs Great Religions and their Ecological Traditions. And Johnʼs work,
especially on indigenous traditions, has helped frame this understanding of how
all people and all places and all ages have struggled with trying to find meaning
through their relation to a larger creation. John?
Thank you Steve. Thank you for opening our lungs to this space. You feel this
breathing out into this space. Itʼs a gorgeous feeling in the body.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
Dean Gus Speth, thanks for your leadership in bringing this event to pass, and
Lisa Fernandez, thank you for all your organizing and all of the student help,
thank you so much.
I wanted to do two things. I wanted to do a meditation – well as the speaker
says, Iʼm here powerless and pointless. But I can at least hold up the image, and
you all have it. I wanted to do a short meditation on this image [of Aldo Leopold,
with extended arm, holding a White Pine], just something simple. And then I
wanted to jump off from a couple of sentences in A Sand County Almanac to
make a connection to our religion and ecology project.
This image, Iʼve seen it before, and when I first saw it it immediately gripped me.
I am taken immediately to the winter dance ceremonialism of the Okenogen
people. At the winter dance, those who assemble for it come together over four
nights, and from approximately eight or so in evening until eight or nine the next
morning they sit at the edges of the room. In the center of the room is generally
a lodge pole pine – and I realize that Aldo Leopold is not grasping a lodge pole
pine here, but the image nonetheless captures this moment for me.
As a person who has a song – and not everyone will have a song in these
communities - a song has been given by those beings in the landscape to
individuals. And as an individual prepares to sing his song, all of the others will
quietly sit and wait, and that person may dress himself in the manner of that
being which has given him a song.
And they go forward and they sing four times their song, slowly, and they come
to the pole and they grasp at that old man. They stand at the center of the world
in their tradition and they speak to their people. And they speak in a way that
has a strong ethical dimension to it.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
One time I remember, especially, is a woman who, while she was alive, I could
never call her by her name because of a particular story I wonʼt go into now. But
Annemarie Sampson was a Winochi woman and an herbal specialist. And I had
heard her at the pole as she was grasping the tree. And she spoke of the
troubles of her people, the difficulties. She reflected, “Seems sometimes I donʼt
know which way to step any more.” And in her hesitation came to her the
thought, “But wherever I step, wherever we step, we step on this earth.”
I feel that when I look at this picture. I feel someone whoʼs speaking at the
center of the earth, at the center of his being, and heʼs stepping on the earth. Itʼs
some voice thatʼs coming through.
My feeling about Aldo Leopold, this picture, and the remarks especially that were
made this morning, is a spirituality in those types of concerns, and the sense of
sitting in the dark and thinking about all that we do not know. What gives me a
feeling in this image is the affection in that moment of unknowing, that cloud of
unknowing. The deep affection that brings someone like Aldo Leopold to his
vision, and the affection that Steve and others have mentioned with regard to the
In that sense thereʼs a passage from A Sand County Almanac that goes this way.
“No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal
change in our intellectual emphasis – loyalties, affections, and convictions. The
proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in
the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it. In our attempts to
make conservation easy, we have made it trivial.”
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
This relates to the religion and ecology project that Steve mentioned, and in fact
Iʼm reading from the Confucianism and Ecology volume where one of the authors
refers to this quote from Aldo Leopold. “This work in religion and ecology is an
effort to deepen the discourse in the humanities, in the environment, from the
standpoint of the humanities.”
And so we have urged the religious traditions to begin to retrieve from their
tradition those moments in which individuals and communities have interacted
with the earth, with ecosystems, and bring it forward for contemporary evaluation
with regard to environmental issues. And if need be, the most different acts
reconstruct themselves: retrieval, reevaluation, reconstruction.
Sylvia Hood Washington is our next speaker, and Iʼve not worked with her, but
Iʼve known about her for many years. Sheʼs a scholar, scientist, an engineer.
Sheʼs worked to bridge the science and humanities. Sheʼs been an activist and
worked on issues of environment justice and health and ethics and literacy and
activism among African Americans and Latinos and other ethnic immigrant
groups. And she is an author when she finds the time. Itʼs a pleasure to have
her with us today.
Thank you. First Iʼd like to thank Susan Flader and the Leopold family for inviting
me to be on the Aldo Leopold Foundation board. It has been a privilege to know
them personally and to get a better understanding of what the ethic means from
their perspectives and how they live their lives.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
My work is interdisciplinary in nature, and I believe that there are two questions
that environmental scholars must answer when examining or explaining their
present and possibly future inextricable environment conditions of urban
populations. The first question is, “How can Leopoldʼs land ethic be used
effectively to understand how and why certain human communities bear a
disproportionate burden of environment health problems in a post-modern
society?” The second question, “Of what value are Aldo Leopoldʼs ethics and
philosophies to urban populations in the 21st century and beyond?”
Scholars are wise to embrace Leopoldʼs beliefs. As Donald Worster pointed out
in one of his essays summing up Leopoldʼs ethics, “The whole landscape is to
some extent an artifact, an endless dialogue between the human and the nonhuman.” The proliferation of landfills, smokestacks, lead- and asbestoscontaminated homes, schools and playgrounds, as well as poisoned aquifers and
superfund sites, are environmental artifacts of an urban and industrialized land
These artifacts are indeed a testimony to how certain men viewed land and
certain groups of people in industrial landscapes. The consistent geographic
location of these artifacts to certain human populations and their concomitant,
disparate human health impacts are the foundations for the environmental justice
Today we know that the human body, too, is an artifact of the ongoing struggles
between those who are in power and those who have been constructed as others
within the human population. The causation of environmental health inequalities,
particularly in the urban landscape is a direct outcome, as Leopold aptly stated,
of “the conquerorʼs role becoming eventually self-defeating, because it is implicit
that the conqueror knows ex cathedra, just what makes a community clock tick,
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
who is valuable, and what and who is worthless in community life. It always turns
out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat
The social construction of certain human beings as “other” and less deserving of
a healthy landscape has been a constant theme in my research and publications.
The philosophical evolution of believing that all humans are created equal and
deserving of equal environmental protection has not yet arrived. The urban
communities of the poor, the immigrant, and the minority are disproportionately
the sites of LULUs – locally unwanted land uses – and they suffer
disproportionately from asthma, lead poisoning, mercury poisoning, poisoning
and inequitable exposures to PCBs and dioxins.
The impact of industrial effluents on the human body and the human genome
continues to unfold. But it is clear that the mentality of dumping waste in
someone elseʼs backyard by those in power, i.e., the conquerors, could not and
did not foresee that their practices would eventually cause problems for them as
well as those they were dumping on. The bioaccumulation of PCBs and its
impact on human health was not foreseen, neither was the impact of mercury
production and disposal of pesticides.
The concept of conquerors always went tandem with the idea of losers. But
Leopoldʼs ethic was prescient in its description of a holistic view of man and
nature. Manʼs massive misuse of the landscape as a sink for industrial wastes,
particularly in urban settings, catapulted every living creature down a slippery
slope of new and older diseases, both chronic and infectious, at unprecedented
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
Epidemiologists have postulated that the higher prevalence of chronic diseases
and emergent infectious diseases today might be a direct consequence of
environmentally compromised immune system and/or the creation of
environmentally induced or aggravated genetic mutations. The public health
community today argues that most of the disease that will plague humans now
and in the future will be environmental in nature as opposed to vector borne and
infectious diseases.
Environmental justice is, in my opinion, a call for the full implementation of
Leopoldʼs land ethic for all human communities. Environmental health disparities
and the rise of the environmental justice movement are human artifacts of manʼs
interconnectedness to the landscape. When he poisons the land, he poisons
himself, even though he does not see himself reflected in othersʼ humanity.
Thank you.
Our last speaker has the unenviable task of coming after all of us but will have
the final word and sum it all up, and what better person than Dale Jamieson,
whoʼs a very esteemed environmental ethicist, professor of law as well at New
York University, and has probably done as much as anybody to bring notions of
ethics to the challenge of global climate perturbation.
Thank you. Well I would just like it to be said that I endorse the sentiments of my
colleagues about how wonderful the space is and about our gratitude to you for
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
hosting this meeting. Having said this I will get right to the point, and in the
interests of time I will be direct and brusque.
Aldo Leopold was an extraordinary man who created an important and distinctive
body of work and had an intellectual trajectory that is intriguing and important.
Leopold the man belongs to his family, to the universities with whom he was
associated, and to history. But Leopold is more than a man; he has become an
icon of the American conservation movement. There are buildings, schools and
wilderness areas that are named after him. I learned this morning that he
appears in Chinese school textbooks, and indeed that he was in Weyerhaeuser
ads in the early 1950s.
I remember once, many years ago, going to a meeting hosted by the U.S. Forest
Service, and in the lodge in which we were being housed, in the place
traditionally reserved for the Gideon Bible, there was a copy of A Sand County
Icons play important roles in cultural narratives. They provide a focus for
particular views. They make salient particular preoccupations and concerns.
However, icons also obscure other views and other concerns. For example,
Martin Luther King, Jr., is the icon in our culture of saintly integrationist nonviolent
civil rights work, playing off of the militance and separatism of Malcom X. John
Lennon in our culture is the icon of the starry-eyed dreamer of “Imagine”,
counterposed to the schmaltziness of Paul McCartney and the darkness of the
Rolling Stones.
For an icon to be powerful and to have resonance, it must be rooted in reality, as
these are. But when a figure gains iconic status, often other features of their
personalities, thoughts, and dispositions are suppressed. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
like Malcom X, was a black militant. John Lennon was perhaps a darker
personality than Mick Jagger, and he was certainly capable of making some
schmaltzy music.
One thing that weʼve learned from the speakers today and from the great
historical work thatʼs been done, is that Aldo Leopold the man was a much richer
figure than Aldo Leopold the icon. But in the two or three minutes that remain to
me today, Iʼm going to play the role of the iconoclast.
There are some features of Aldo Leopold the icon that I think are troublesome for
the contemporary environmental movement, and in some ways must be
reinterpreted, transcended, or understood in new ways if this icon is to remain an
important force for helping us to address the problems that we will face in the
future. Iʼm going to mention six respects in which I think Leopold the icon tends
to bring out sides of environmental issues and controversies that are not the
central ones that we must face today.
First, with Leopold the icon, conservation is typically conceptualized as local or
regional, as opposed to global.
Second the Leopold icon is associated with rural conservation or conservation in
small-town America, rather than with questions of urban environmentalism, and
today most of the worldʼs population is urban including even the majority of
people in the American West.
Third, the Leopold icon sets the mold of environmental ethics being
fundamentally based in science rather than in philosophy. In that sense E. O.
Wilson is the grandchild of Aldo Leopold.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
Fourth, the Leopold icon leads to a picture of environmental ethics as first-order
moralizing about how to live, rather than as second-order theorizing about the
ethics of our relationship to nature.
Fifth, the Leopold icon is associated with the view of conservation resting on
sound management and individual and community action, rather than on political
struggle in a more collective way.
And sixth, it is associated with the idea that being green is about a commitment
to a man, a book, a cause, or a slogan, rather than a commitment to a certain
kind of critical thinking. The icon is associated with the idea that somehow we all
know what is to be done when it comes to the environment; the question is
simply committing ourselves to doing it, and to acting on the basis of the land
Now I donʼt want to simply invert these dualisms, affirming what has been
suppressed and suppressing what has been affirmed, I donʼt want to say,
“everything associated with Leopold is wrong; thereʼs another side to this on
which everything is right.” Rather what I want to say is that thereʼs another side to
each of these dualisms that we must find the resources to mine if weʼre going to
successfully deal with the environmental challenges of this century.
Iʼll close with just four quick points. The first is that, as others have said, our
most serious and impending environmental threats are global. Climate change is
the obvious example, weʼve also come to see questions of biodiversity loss (for
example) as essentially global as well in a way that is very different from how
such questions were viewed a half century before.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
Secondly, these environmental threats are fundamentally entwined with
questions of justice in the good old-fashioned sense of the term: global justice
between nations, and individual relationships of justice between people.
Third, there are conflicts of values and conflicts of goals that must be thought
through reflectively and critically and in some way resolved or accommodated. It
isnʼt the case that we all know what to do and itʼs simply a matter of doing it.
There are real differences of interests and values that are at stake in
environmental conflicts.
Fourth, finally and most importantly, the environmental questions we face are not
fundamentally scientific questions and their solutions will not primarily involve
more and better science. In the United States, for example, immediately
consequent to the release of the last IPCC report, the percentage of people who
believe that climate change is caused by humans actually declined.
Global environmental problems are largely the unintended consequences of
people in our societies conducting business as usual: taking our children to
school, enjoying life, having nice meals with friends, and so on. The kind of
revolution that we need is a revolution of our institutions and of our ways of life.
And this is not a matter of more and better scientific information.
Now I think that much of what I have said is in the spirit of Leopold the man, as
he has been portrayed by historians and by those who knew him. However,
these perspectives are not represented in the iconic Leopold of the
environmental movement. If we are to really address the challenges of this
century, weʼre going to have to enrich that icon and move beyond it. Thank you.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
What an incredible range of points and complexity of perspectives that have
been articulated, and itʼs hard to know where to go. We only have about 15
minutes left and I want to give you all an opportunity to ask questions and make
Let me just throw out a few questions that were highlighted, at least for me, in
some of the discussion that may help hopefully generate some thoughts or
questions on your part. There was a question asked by at least a couple of the
speakers, whether the land ethic as articulated by Leopold has the temporal or
spatial scale sufficient to address the nature of our environmental challenges
today, particularly the global scale.
Another question that was asked is the land ethic meaningful to those
populations that dominate the world that we live in today, and not the world that
Leopold necessarily was raised in. Weʼre primarily an urban animal, living in a
built environment, and many exist in situations of impoverishment and injustice.
And so there are questions of justice and value, conflict and power, and other
considerations that make one wonder about the land ethic as perhaps something
formulated more for a different context and a different, less institutional, more
individual level.
There were questions raised about – and this is a Leopold quote – making
conservation easy. Have we made it trivial? And I would reframe that to say: are
we failing? When Leopold made that remark he was talking about the economic
materialism that was presumed to be sufficient to provide the incentive structure
and the redressing of marketing failure and so forth that would give people the
reason to take right action in relation to the land. And he talked about a much
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
deeper, more robust, more humane understanding of our relationships to the
land that was far broader and deeper, and was more difficult to articulate, as
difficult as it is to square our biotic system with our economic system.
A fourth question that was raised, the one that was just addressed to some
degree, “Is science insufficient to develop a robust ethic, one that engenders
adequate moral action?” Do we look to E. O. Wilson, do we look to others who
believe in understanding who we are from an empirical and evolutionary and
biological point of view? Is that sufficient to develop an understanding that
motivates us to take an ethical position, or not? Do we need a different kind of
formulation of ethical responsibility and moral action?
These are some of the issues, very difficult issues, that were raised. Lots of
others as well. But let me stop there and turn it over to you for questions, and if
you make speeches keep them brief. Weʼll get some response from the panel.
So, if any of you are brave enough, please speak up.
Gus. Gus is always brave enough.
For Dale: In your list, how many of the things do you think are really
shortcomings? How many of the things in your list are failure to sort of reach far
enough, or to be inclusive enough? Iʼm trying to get at the idea of limited scope
as opposed to giving bad directions? Theyʼre two different things, right? And
presumably one canʼt do everything in one system, even a complicated
So Iʼm just curious if you could bring out in your list what are the things that are
really troublesome? For example, the struggle issue strikes me as perhaps
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
leading us in the wrong direction in the icon person. Some of them, maybe, we
just didnʼt get there.
Thatʼs a hard question and I canʼt really pretend to give a full answer, but here is
how I look at it. Icons are for people. Theyʼre beginning points for people and
they take them to a certain place. Leopold by his very nature, as a Midwestern
American, cannot be everyoneʼs icon. And for that matter there have been
developments in science since Leopold did his work that Baird and others have
attempted to fold into the Leopoldian understanding of nature. Iʼm thinking, for
example, of the rise of patch theory, disequilibrium ecology, and so on.
But at some point the extensions begin to run out, and the iconic value does
begin to turn negative. I donʼt know where we are exactly with that, but itʼs a very
good and difficult question.
Audience Member:
I have a question for Sylvia Hood Washington. I was wondering if there was any
particular environmental thinker that you feel has addressed the tragedy of
Katrina, the way the black population has suffered from the environmental and
political devastation of Katrina. Or just your thoughts on that related to the
questions that you laid out in terms of social justice, environments and politics.
I havenʼt really come across any paper or book by a contemporary environment
scholar that I think addresses Katrina in its totality. Iʼve heard Robert Bullard
speak, whoʼs a sociologist – heʼs considered the father of the environmental
justice movement – and try to describe Katrina from the traditional environmental
justice rhetoric of social equity and procedural equity.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
But what bothers me with a lot of scholarship in this area is that it does not take
into account a number of different disciplines like engineering. Engineering
infrastructures are tied to land use, which gets back really to Aldo Leopoldʼs land
ethic – how do we view the land, how do we use the land, how do we redevelop
the land? And all these decisions are contingent on whoʼs living on the land.
I mean, I hate to say this, but certain environmental justice communities really
believe that this phenomenon is a continuation of a chattel mentality for certain
types of human populations. And so some humans are more disposable than
others. If you look at where these populations are located from that perspective,
then you get a better grasp of environmental injustice.
But thereʼs a philosophy that I think is missing in a lot of the environment justice
discourse, and I think it would lend itself to a better reception if it did have a more
discreet environment justice paradigm.
Clive Hamilton:
Thanks. Clive Hamilton. Iʼm a visiting Fellow here at FES and Iʼm from the
Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National
University. One of the things thatʼs been trying to burst out in the discussions
today is the extent to which Leopoldʼs land ethic and the broad interpretation of
his ethic can accommodate the most devastating environmental threat we face,
and that is climate change. And there are views in here that it can be extended
to accommodate this sort of issue.
But Iʼd like to point out that climate change is the quintessential global issue.
And weʼre going to need action on the parts of communities, countries,
collections of countries and their political institutions around the world. And Aldo
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
Leopold, for all of his enormous influence in the United States, has virtually no
purchase philosophically or in practice outside of the United States – even in
Australia, where the environment movement is most similar to that in the United
States. So certainly Leopold has very little impact on environmentalism in
Europe, let alone in China or in India.
So Iʼd just like to put that, those global facts, to the panel and see if they can
make some response.
If I can make just a brief response. In conversations with Curt Meine and Susan
Flader, I was interested in exploring again Aldo Leopoldʼs interaction with
American Indian peoples, with native peoples. And they brought me again into
the work in the Southwest. And then I was interested in exchange between Aldo
Leopold and Pueblo peoples, Navaho peoples.
So again, Iʼm going in the direction of people who hadnʼt necessarily met Aldo
Leopold or his work, and certainly the icon doesnʼt mean the same thing for
native people. He is not an iconic person.
Briefly then to make a final response, Susan brought me to reflect upon the
recent celebration, this year also, of Aldo Leopold arriving in the Southwest, in
Albuquerque. A number of native people participated. And I think thatʼs
significant. They were not brought as simply tokens, because there were a
number of native people, both in the audience and on the program. And so here
we have an example of not simply the icon, but the issue – a range of issues
being explored.
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
We need to move on, but I just want to say that every field has its iconic figures.
They were all humans at one point with deeply flawed and inadequate
understandings. But they become iconic as part of their maturity,
institutionalization, and enduring impact on the field.
One of the characteristics, the immaturity of our field, is that we have very few
iconic figures. We shouldnʼt necessarily throw the few that we have overboard
so long as they have some core of enduring truth. But thatʼs just more of a
historical reflection, since I often find my students hardly know who Evelyn
Hutchinson is, who Aldo Leopold is, who René Dubos was. You know, we need
our iconic figures.
But anyway, I saw a few other hands out here. Estella, did you have your hand
Given how many languages A Sand County Almanac has been translated into —
last I heard it was about 14, or ten — well, thatʼs pretty good. Thereʼs one
pending still in another country. But that may have some further influence.
Iʼd also like to throw a question, a comment back to you, about Sylviaʼs comment.
I think itʼs very important that she brought up this question of overpopulation.
And of course we have some statistics that may give us some hope, but that was
a new element that she threw into the discussion today. If anyone has any
further comments Iʼd be interested in that.
Audience Member:
The IPAT Formulate of Ehrlich and Holdren says impact is a function of
population, affluence and technology. And so theyʼre very much on the
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
wavelength of Bill McKibben this morning: something has to be done to cap
greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, otherwise the whole gameʼs
over. When that occurs it will either be allocation to nations or individuals or
some entity like that.
Basically, the policy theaters are then those three variables [population,
affluence, and technology] plus ethics or conduct. And a country like the United
States, 439 million people projected by the census bureau by 2050, thatʼs a
catastrophe. And the United States, once it has its carbon allocation, which the
sooner the better, the lower the better, thatʼs going to have to be one of the
variables that gets on the table right away.
Audience Member:
Imagine Pinchot and Leopold talking today. How would they have this
conversation? Because earlier in the day I heard that, with the Wilderness
Society, Mr. Pinchot was this utilitarian. And Iʼve always read that theologically
Mr. Leopold was a Christian Platonist.
But if they were both sitting there right now, what would they be saying to each
other about economic justice issues in the ecology? Any ideas? Would they be
talking to each other at all?
Well, first of all, I think that economic justice was paramount in the conservation
thinking of Gifford Pinchot. Itʼs the greatest good for the greatest number for the
longest time. In Aldo Leopoldʼs case, I think that his conception of economic
Symposium and Celebration Honoring Aldo Leopoldʼs Graduation Centennial
“Yale Forest School”
justice was a little bit more transformative. That is to say – in a phrase, by the
way, which has intrigued me - we can have beauty and utility on the same piece
of land. And so the idea I think that he was pursuing came out in our discussions
this morning about the new agrarianism, and a sense of achieving the capacity to
live the good life at a lower level of consumption. As Arnie Ness sometimes
says, “Rich in ends and limited in means.”
So it was a different conception of economic justice than just distributing: how do
we slice the pie? So that would be the best answer I can give you to that
I think thatʼs a good wrap-up on. The only thing I would say to complement that
would be beauty is utility, and that was I think an enduring understanding that
Leopold offered us. Complicated, difficult to understand, but worthy of
So with that: the nice thing about this room is that you can both experience and
hear the final word out there.
Itʼs been a great panel. Iʼd like to thank them all.