March sunlight poured into the third floor library atrium and a bald eagle soared overhead as Dr. Curt Meine addressed the Saturday morning crowd of faculty and students. A Senior Fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, Dr. Meine was invited to speak as part of an effort to promote sustainability across disciplines at Loras. The presentation, “Communicating for the Long Run: Aldo Leopold and the Development of Sustainable Thinking,” examined Leopold – a mid 20th century author, philosopher and ecologist – as a pivotal player in the conversation about mankind’s relationship with the planet.
When it came to our view of the earth, there were two deeply divided schools of thought: Malthusianism (after Thomas Malthus) which emphasized the apocalyptic outcome of overusing our natural resources, and Cornucopianism (horn of plenty) which considered the earth to be an inexhaustible resource.
Aldo Leopold fell somewhere between the two, recognizing the earth as bountiful and resilient, while also acknowledging mankind’s abuse of natural resources and stressing the vital importance of living in right relationship with our environment in a phrase which he coined: “land ethic.”
“The individual,” Leopold says, “is a member of a community of interdependent parts … The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.”
In the face of an astounding environmental disconnect, Leopold’s land ethic is even more relevant today than it was 77 years ago. Dr. Meine addressed the daunting task of fixing the deeply interconnected network which is the environment.
“This is worrying, folks,” said Dr. Meine. “We’re living in a new reality. We’re living with the hydra, a multifaceted problem which can only be solved by multifaceted change.”
Touching on his work in sustainable land use, Dr. Meine cited Leopold’s efforts in working with Norwegian immigrant farmers to adapt their farming methods in order to restore the health of the soil and water on their farms.
“Change is hard,” Dr. Meine conceded, “but if a Norwegian bachelor farmer can do it, dang it, so can the world.”
A period of Q&A followed, and one question rose above the rest: “What can we do? How can we motivate others?”
“You don’t have to be doing this as your full-time job,” said Dr. Meine. “We need people everywhere, in every area striving to make a sustainable difference where they’re at. Don’t wait for us to tell you. You are leaders. Don’t confuse leadership with power and authority. We’re it. You’re it.”