A Review of Aldo Leopold's Book on the State of Ecological Consciousness in The West Using Baird Callicott's Scholarship

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In 1949, Aldo Leopold made an important contribution to the body of literature addressing the state of ecological consciousness in the West, especially the United States. Subsequently, a review of his claims begins the discourse with further analysis using Baird Callicott’s scholarship on Leopold's work. Then, I will consider the way business, economics, and other cultures value nature at varying levels. The shifting paradigms in each topic lead to developing my perspective on nature and how a decentralized method of conservation and not a centralized government mandated one is better for global sustainability (Akerson, Cullen, & Hanson 2009).

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Perhaps the most contested claim in the essay is that “conservation is a state of harmony between nature and man” but the purpose of his article is not to define what harmony is, but rather that the efforts to achieve something close has been negligible. A government solution is not the best, nor is a pseudoethic grounded in an economic mindset. A good example in the essay is the U.S Forestry Service choosing to plant trees solely for their present economic value but in turn harming the biodiversity of the forest they should be protecting. Rather a shift in the social gestalt from commodity value to whole biotic value is necessary (Leopold 1947).

For Leopold, there are two ways an individual views nature; as either pure economic commodity or an integral part of sustaining biota in the environment. There are of course individuals, who recognize “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community” but this idea exists in an older paradigm believing in a balance of nature. (Leopold 1947). The new paradigm recognizes the anthropogenic influence is pervasive in a flux and not balance of nature (Pickett, Parker & Fiedler 1992). The rising consciousness of human impact on environment and increased efforts can be viewed in industry but also education (Akerson, Cullen & Hanson 2009), where serious efforts in reduction of wastes have been made.

Business has long been viewed in conflict with conservation, but within the past two decades, evidence has shown that becoming an eco-sustainable business provides grounds for competitive advantage and better financial performance (Sharma, Iyer, Mehotra & Krishanan 2010) and is not just for better public relations. The increase in demands by consumers to provide value to not only to people but the planet as well underlie the approach to sustainable development for securing profit.

When the basic tenants private property ownership are met, resources in most cases ensures the conservation of species, eco regions, and the environment better than public or government ownership (Pannell, Marshall, Curtis & Vanclay 2006). As a matter of fact, large central government authority over resources has resulted in more harm to the people, planet and the environment than individuals or tribes (Agrawal & Ostrom 2001).

Decentralized measures where groups who are in active proximity to the resource and given the property rights to manage it for their long term benefit are able to better protect say elephant populations or a pod of dolphins than ministers thousands of miles from the situations (McPhereson & Nesiwdomy 200). Ultimately, all resources biotic and abiotic are scarce. However, they myth that economists can put a price by strictly looking at the commodity price (Fullerton &Stavins 1998) in conservation efforts if false, non-use value is determined through indirect measures and essential in major government and business decisions to protect resources. This asserts that there is more than just an AB cleavage when it comes to valuing the environment and a change in views (Leopold 1947).

While Callicott does a broad multicultural survey of environmental perspectives and religious groups view on the environment, he does a perfunctory job of describing Islamic environmentalism as another Western view to its Judeo-Christian counterparts (Callicott 1994) my own experience in Islam has taught me to view the environment as co-worshippers and witnesses of human action (Deen 1996). Part of their teleology to their creator is in part is being for humans to use in their livelihood. Whether or not humans have done a good job being vice-regents (Deen 1996) as Earth’s stewards is up to debate, but Muslims believe that the Earth (biotic and abiotic) will be called to bear witness to human actions. While I see the merits of the Gaia theory and believe in evolution I find it hard to take it wholeheartedly (Lenton & Wilkinson 2003), because a Gaia being an organism made of parts of “unconscious” parts doesn’t reproduce itself without external actions or decision making.

I believing doing what I can by recognizing that I will be held accountable for my use of nature one day. For people that don’t believe in another existence or accountability thereof have a narrower scope of consequence of their actions. They pursue conservation and value nature for their posterity to be able to see and enjoy or have comfort in knowing that diversity or resource remains in existence and that’s okay with me.

Leopold’s Land Ethic was an important contribution to the environmental consciousness and has provided the basis of discourse for the development of an environmental ethic. Since his publication, the world has homogenized further in species distribution but globalized in scale of human interaction. Through the combined efforts individuals and institutions the true conservation of nature for the future can be realized.

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