What is a land ethic?
Aldo Leopold considered an ethic, in ecological terms, as a “limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence.” An ecological ethic limits our action upon the land…in our struggle for existence. But our struggle for existence has shifted, and is no longer so much a struggle against the land as a struggle against one another’s competing self-interests.
For all practical purposes, the land has been conquered. This does not mean, however, that the land will not rebel, or that the land will not once again be free. Which will likely come at the price of our own undoing, but whatever.
The land relation, like so many relations, is economic. When a relationship is reduced to economics, then there is no relationship other than what relates to the bottom line, or the highest rate of return.
An economic relationship, in strict terms, is a relationship that has everything to do with individuals, but little (or nothing) to do with community.
When we consider the land as property, this carries the notion that the land can be treated as one sees fit. Property is subservient to the master, and the master enjoys the privilege of bending the property to his will.
We do not have an ethic in relation to the land.
We do not have a mode of guidance outside of economic expediency.
So, WHAT IS THE ETHIC? WHAT DOES IT ENTAIL?
When the ecological processes that sustain life on this planet are so intricate, and when we tend to be so disruptive and ignorant, how do we guide our own actions?