My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Monday, June 5, 2023

June 5, 2023: Environmental Activisms: Aldo Leopold

[This summer, my older son is extending his prior efforts to help combat climate change by interning with the amazing Climate Just Cities project. That project is part of the long legacy of American environmental activism, so this week I’ll highlight a handful of such activisms. Leading up to a special weekend post on Climate Just Cities!]

On three important environmental concepts to which the pioneering conservationist connects.

1)      Forestry at Yale: In 1900, when Leopold was just 13 years old, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry director Gifford Pinchot donated money to Yale to start the nation’s first dedicated graduate forestry school. That program became young Leopold’s dream destination, and after a series of necessary steps (including attending preparatory school in New Jersey and completing undergraduate requirements at New Haven’s Sheffield Scientific School) he made it to Yale, and went on to be the poster boy for this new type of academic conservationism. This was the era when many scholarly disciplines were becoming more organized around academic study, but of course the very idea that forestry was a scholarly discipline was likewise new, and a vital part of Leopold’s own career and arc.  

2)      Game Management: Another longstanding conservationist idea that transformed into a scholarly discipline in the course of Leopold’s lifetime was wildlife management. And indeed, in this case Leopold was a pioneering figure in that transformation, as his 1933 appointment as Professor of Game Management in the University of Wisconsin’s Agricultural Economics Department (itself the first such specialized department in the world) made him the first such professor in the nation. Long ago I wrote for my Talking Points Memo column about the interconnections between big game hunting and American history, and would note that the creation of such positions and departments reflects an even more important shift when we locate them within that larger collective context.

3)      An Ecological Conscience: Those kinds of communal programs and disciplines provide important contexts for Leopold’s career, and indeed were likewise influenced by him. But ironically, it’s in a text published just after his 1948 death that Leopold’s own most influential ideas were developed. Leopold spent the last decades of his life living in central Wisconsin’s so-called sand county (or sand prairie), an area that had been over-logged and -farmed, devastated by fires, and left largely barren by the mid-20th century. Throughout his time there Leopold was working on the book that he completed not long before passing and that was published in 1949 as A Sand County Almanac. The whole book explores Leopold’s “Land Ethic” (as he termed it), but the section entitled “The Ecological Conscience” most directly expresses what he means: “In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from the conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” That’s an environmental perspective we could still much better hear and learn from.

Next environmental activism tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? American environmental voices or efforts you’d highlight?

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