In 1949, Aldo Leopold wrote an essay entitled "The Land Ethic" which appeared as the last chapter in his famous work [A Sand County Almanac]. He called the land ethic "an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity". In this essay he expressed the thought that ethical systems evolve as human communities extend their sense of responsibility. As he put it: "The extension of ethics... is actually a process in ecological evolution. Its sequences may be described in ecological as well as in philosophical terms.... The first ethics dealt with the relations between individuals.... Later accretions dealt with the relation between the individual and society.... There is as yet no ethic dealing with man's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. Land...is still property. The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations. The extension of ethics to this third element in human environment is, if I read the evidence correctly an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity. It is the third step in a sequence. The first two have already been taken. Individual thinkers since the days of Ezekiel and Isaiah have asserted that the despoliation of the land is not only inexpedient but wrong. Society, however, has not yet affirmed their belief. I regard the present conservation movement as the embryo of such an affirmation."
If "society" is not yet guided by a land ethic, what has prevented this ethic from emerging? What does it require to move from lone voices of outrage, protest and judgement to effective public policy that could foster a collective sense of a meaningful land ethic? What prevents these voices from being heard? More fundamentally, what might a true land ethic look like? Can humans really "own" land? What can social conventions of ownership effectively mean in an ecosystem characterized by process and constant change? If concepts of ownership are of limited use, are we, instead, "stewards" of the land? If so, on whose behalf? What responsibilities do we as humans have to land in a sustainable ecosystem?
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a unique, experimental research work of the Union of International Associations. It is currently published as a searchable online platform with profiles of world problems, action strategies, and human values that are interlinked in novel and innovative ways. These connections are based on a range of relationships such as broader and narrower scope, aggravation, relatedness and more. By concentrating on these links and relationships, the Encyclopedia is uniquely positioned to bring focus to the complex and expansive sphere of global issues and their interconnected nature.
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