An ethic has its origin in the tendency of interdependent individuals or groups to evolve modes of cooperation. The land ethic 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.
We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel understand, love or otherwise have faith in. An ethic to guide the relation to land is made more real to us through the existence of an image of the land community such as the one employed in ecology:
Plants absorb energy from the sun. This energy flows through a circuit called the biota, which may be represented by a pyramid consisting of layers. The bottom layer is the soil. A plant layer rests on the soil, and insect layer on the plants, a bird and rodent layer on the insects, and so on up through various animal groups to the apex layer, which consists of the larger carnivores.
The species of a layer are alike not in where they came from or what they look like, but rather in what they eat. For every carnivore there are hundreds of his prey, thousands of their prey, millions of insects, uncountable plants. Man shares an intermediate layer with the bears, raccoons and squirrels which eat both meat and vegetables.
The key to a land ethic is simply this: quit thinking that economics determines all land use. Land relations hinge on investments of time, forethought, skill, and faith rather than on investments of cash. A thing is right, or ethical, when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong, or unethical, when it tends otherwise.
ALDO LEOPOLD … was born in Burlington Iowa in 1887. Educated at the Lawrenceville School and Yale University, he joined the US Forest Service in 1909 as a Forest Assistant in New Mexico and Arizona. One of the founders of the Wilderness Society, he initiated, in 1924, the first Forest Wilderness Area in the US which is now the Gila National Forest. Moving to Madison, Wisconsin, he was Associate director of the Forest Products Laboratory as well as consulting forester to several states. Mr. Leopold founded the profession of game management and wrote the first important book on the subject. In 1933, the University of Wisconsin created a chair of game management for him. He died in 1948, while fighting a brush fire on a neighbor's farm. His death cut short an assignment as adviser on conservation to the United Nations, and left The Sand County Almanac as the last statement of his uncompromising philosophy.
THE TAO TEH CHING #80, by Lao Tzu, 500BC
Let there be some small communities with few inhabitants.
The supply of vessels may be more than enough, yet no one would use them.
The inhabitants would love living there so dearly they would never wish to move to another place.
They may have every kind of vehicle, but they would not bother to ride them.
They may have powerful weapons, but they would not resort to using them.
They would return to a simple system of cords and knots to record their simple events, as was done in ancient times.
They would be content with plain food, pleased with simple clothing, satisfied with rustic but cozy homes, and would cling to their natural way of life.
The neighboring country would be so close at hand that one could hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking along the boundaries.
But, to the end of their days, people would rarely trespass the territory of another's land.