What Would Aldo Leopold Do?

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?

Leopold deep in thought

Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, http://www.aldoleopold.org

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.


About cognizantfox

Cognizantfox has served his country over twenty-five years doing the unselfish, noble work of conserving America's natural heritage.
This entry was posted in Conservation, Leadership and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What Would Aldo Leopold Do?

  1. Susan Todd says:

    Great commentary Jimmy! The webinar is on a Saturday, is that right?

    I want to have my 101 students read this essay. Is that okay with you?

    Keep up the great work!


    On Sat, Mar 15, 2014 at 8:30 AM, cognizantfox

    • James says:

      Thank you Dr. Todd for helping me understand Aldo Leopold in a deeper way. The Webinar will be on Tuesday, April 8th at 10a Alaska Standard Time. Feel free to share this post with folks. I hope they may find something within useful!

  2. Duke says:

    The hardest part in starting to address this particular issue is, in my opinion, tackling the enormity of changing a world’s value system. Many people find that a daunting task and, while supportive of a land ethic that AL instilled in many conservationists, quickly move on to more manageable endeavors. As professional conservationists, I think we should start to show people that it always starts at home, in the local society, culture and politics. Neighbors share many things through the years, so why not advocate to those who know and trust you best? We need to present this as something that is achievable for the average person who shares the values of a land ethic and sustainable use of our Earth. It can only succeed when small victories lead to larger changes across the landscape.

    • cognizantfox says:

      You’re right “Duke.” Changing the hearts and minds of millions of people is a daunting thought. I like your notion of modeling the behavior for one’s neighbors. Small steps could include staying home more often, making the house super energy-efficient, having very little to no lawn, reducing the number of chemicals used in and around the home, recycling, avoiding new gadgetry, using solar panels, growing one’s own food, biking or walking to work, using mass transit, creating a neighborhood sharing program for tools, equipment, vehicles, etc. What else could one do to reduce his or her global footprint in ways neighbors would notice?

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