All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate… The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it…So how is the land ethic doing these days? Holding its own in the face of “economic motives?” How are the 95% of the members of the planet’s biotic community that have no economic value to us faring?
One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly upon economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. Wildflowers and songbirds are examples. Of the 22,000 higher plants and animals native to Wisconsin, it is doubtful whether more than 5 per cent can be sold, fed, eaten, or otherwise put to economic use. Yet these creatures are members of the biotic community, and if (as I believe) its stability depends on its integrity, they are entitled to continuance…
A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal… It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense.
Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land. Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen, and by innumerable physical gadgets. He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities where crops grow…
The ‘key-log’ which must be removed to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem… A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise… (Aldo Leopold)
A Sand County Almanac was published in 1949. The Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Johnson in 1964 and there are now 757 wilderness areas (including the Aldo Leopold Wilderness in New Mexico) of 109,511,966 acres. More than a quarter of the land area of the United States is considered “protected areas” (with various levels of protection – the strictest Level I and Level II , National Parks and Strict Nature Reserves and Wilderness Areas, are 210,000 square miles).
These are great things we have done. Aldo Leopold would be proud.
However, it should also be obvious to us that the term “protected area” refers to protection from something, and it should be more obvious that that ‘something’ is “economic motives.” Really, a park is just a word that refers to land that is legally protected from those who desire to turn it into dollars. In our country those protections are fairly strong and a “park” really means what it is supposed to. In other places in the world this is not the case. This may be why 10% of the protected areas on the planet are in the US.
Orangutans have no economic value. Oh sure, there are ecotourism dollars being generated to visit the last refuges of these economically worthless beings, but unless we “quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem” they won’t be around very much longer. Because, unfortunately for them, they live among resources that can be put to economic use.
One the homes for 6,000 or so of these last of one of our biotic community relations, is Tanjung Puting National Park, one of the remnants of the forests that used to cover Indonesia and have been reduced to less than 1/5 their original extent. This is because they were of “economic use” and not protected – but they were of “economic use” not standing as they originally were, they were of “economic use” only after they were cut down, sawed up and sold as paper, pallets, boards, desks, picture frames, and a myriad of other consumer goods.
In The Final Cut we learn that
On paper Indonesia has an extensive system of conservation areas to protect its unique biodiversity, covering 19 million hectares or 13% of the forests. The country has 37 national parks, but in reality many of these are under attack from economic interests.What does being “under attack from economic interests” look like?
Tanjung Puting National Park is being attacked on an unprecedented scale. Hemmed in by rapidly-expanding oil palm plantations, its waters poisoned by mercury used in gold mining, damaged by forest fires, the future viability of this protected oasis is severely threatened.There are many very fine people fighting against these economic uses in order to save the last remaining orangutan habitat. One of them is OFI, Orangutan Foundation International. And they’ve had some recent victories. The park is still standing and there have been some international agreements, thanks to the hard work of many committed orangutan lovers, that have bitten into illegal logging. But, nevertheless, the park is under severe attack.
The gravest danger is posed by illegal logging. While the more remote regions of the park have long been affected by small-scale logging over the last year the level and extent of the logging have grown dramatically. Tanjung Puting is now facing an onslaught orchestrated by local timber barons, determined to strip the park of its remaining commercial timber.
The logging has spread like a contagion from the south and east into the core of the park, and is now even rampant along the Sekonyer River, where the research stations and tourist lodges are found. The head of Tanjung Puting National Park, Suherti Redy, believes that if the current rate of logging continues the park will be gone in five years.
The logging is carried out in full view of the local authorities and is flourishing in an atmosphere of endemic corruption among the park rangers, police and military. The main culprits behind the massive timber theft are a group of sawmill owners in the nearby port of Kumai, principally Kartono and Halim, and local timber tycoon Abdul Rasyid.
But I’ve just got to wonder… why is it so hard?
I mean, like the guy who cut down the last tree on Easter Island for what must have been “economic uses.” Market forces, the scarcity of supply (the last remaining tree) and the huge demand must have made that sucker worth a lot of currency. It seems that made it an easy decision.
This brings me to that popular saying, which probably originated with Alanis Obomsawin (an Abenaki):
Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.The market would respond: "That last tree?! That sucker will be worth billions! The last little zoo? The sky's the limit for admission prices! The last pure water? Millions of dollars per cup! The last air? Billions of dolla-- urrp, gasp, ..."
It’s more than a “terrible sense of deficiency.” The economic market is fundamentally insane. It is insane because it believes that 95% of our biotic community has no value; or, in other words, the entire planet is not worth saving. And it’s delivering on that. It will act as if it’s not worth saving up until the last gasp of breathable air. (Visit the large cities in China on a bad day if you doubt that last bit about the air.) It just doesn’t get that basic problem with turning land into money: sooner or later, you run out of things to eat, water to drink and air to breathe.
We have a really good measure of this fundamental insanity now. The global level of C02 just keeps climbing, in spite of the fact that all our decent scientists are screaming at us to stop putting the stuff into the atmosphere. There’s a lot of talk out there about doing something about it, but when you look at the disaster that is the latest climate meeting in Warsaw, polluted by fossil fuel interests, and the desperate grasping by the natural gas industry to own that powerful word “clean,” it becomes clear that our actions are still fundamentally insane. We (again humans in the aggregate as judged by our actions) have chosen economic value over ecological conscience.