Thursday, June 27, 2013

Aldo Leopold's last talk

Dan Ernst at the Legal History Blog has this post:
A Sand County Almanac was a big book for me as an adolescent, so I’m especially happy to note that Eric T. Freyfogle, University of Illinois College of Law, has posted Leopold's Last Talk, which appears in the Washington Journal of Environmental law and Politics 2 (2012); 236.  Here is the abstract:   
Aldo Leopold (credit)

During the last decade of his life, Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) delivered more than 100 conservation talks to various popular, professional, and student audiences. In them, he set forth plainly the central elements of his conservation thought. By studying the extensive archival records of these talks one sees clearly the core elements of Leopold’s mature thinking, which centered not on specific land-use practices (good or bad), but instead on what he saw as deep flaws in American culture. Leopold’s sharp cultural criticism — more clear in these talks than in his lyrical, muted classic, A Sand County Almanac — called into question not just liberal individualism but central elements of Enlightenment-era thought. This essay distills the messages that Leopold repeatedly presented during his final years. It clarifies the messages by situating Leopold’s thought within long-running philosophic discussions on the nature of life, the limits on human knowledge, standards of truth, and the origins of value. For Leopold, conservation could succeed only if it challenged prevailing cultural understandings and pressed for specific, radical change. The now-stymied environmental movement has never taken that advice to heart.
From the article:
As events unfolded... conservation continued on the trajectory that Leopold criticized, attending to the specifics of land and resource-use practices and, around 1960, taking on a stronger concern with pollution and contamination. The movement remained fragmented with groups working at cross purposes. It never took on anything like an overall goal, Leopold’s or any other. The movement did not identify bad culture as the root of the problem, and made no real effort to change the ways people saw the land and their place in it. It did little to question the dominance of individual liberalism and autonomy and offered no conservation version of what private landownership ought to mean. 

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