It’s a fair question for a conservationist or really any person concerned with the future. After all, the man and his wise counsel are increasingly revered not only in the USA but around the world. He was innovative, passionate, and persuasive. His impact on how humans relate to the Earth is, in my opinion, a signature event in the history of humanity. If he were alive today I bet he would be doing many great things to advance a land ethic. And who doesn’t see the need for such an ethic today?
Currently we Americans are consuming more of the Earth than is sustainable. People in developing countries aren’t far behind in their pursuit to enjoy the comforts we’ve enjoyed for decades. Climate change is the recognized universal symbol of the problem. Yet, experts are documenting more anthropogenic-driven changes endangering the planet’s biological, chemical and geological cycles.
Faced with such huge problems it is natural to search for a technical fix, but such thoughts are only a fool’s hope. Leopold recognized long ago the solution would come through an unwritten moral code that compels us to keep, conserve and restore the health of our planet. He recognized an ethic cannot be written by one person if it is to be embraced by all. He realized people with the problem have to be part of the solution, and correctly understood social change develops in the minds of a thinking community.
So what would Leopold do were he alive today? Perhaps he would ask us to continue the conversation – to work with him to enlarge the thinking community until our societies treat the land and its inhabitants not just as useful servants. What does that work look like? Can we do what he did?
We need to lead others through the tough conversations about the problem and possible solutions. In adopting an Earth ethic, many people will realize the need to shed a part of their cultural DNA – the cultural norms of a society with an unsustainable ecological footprint. Helping others through this change (and surviving it yourself) will require lots of interactions and development of strong relationships with many others. That work, done well, is known today as adaptive leadership.
History helps to ground us and, if we are willing, can set us in the right direction in our journey. We can learn much about addressing this problem from the brilliant yet humble Leopold. He was a practitioner of adaptive leadership before it had a name. With no training, he diagnosed and mobilized the social system, viewed himself as a system, and survived and thrived through the challenges. His values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors can guide our steps forward. We can also learn how to affect social change from modern adaptive leadership scholars like Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz. What might we conservationists learn about leading others through change if we listened and learned from them all?
In search of an answer to that question, join Leopold scholars Drs. Curt Meine and Julianne Warren and me as we discuss Leopold’s life and work through the lens of adaptive leadership on Tuesday, April 8th from 10-11:30 am Alaska Standard Time/2-3:30 pm Eastern Standard Time in a Webinar sponsored by the Management Assistance Team, a program of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
For a more in-depth exploration of how to be more Leopoldian, check out the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s excellent two-day Land Ethic Leaders workshop designed to “equip participants with tools to both introduce Leopold’s land ethic to a wider audience and also to deepen understanding and engagement through dialog about the meaning and value of conservation.”
As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and observations. If you have believe these conversations are important, I encourage you to subscribe, engage and share.