The Land Ethic

Nature is diverse; a rich web of connections. When species, or even whole ecosystems, are lost the tug is felt throughout the web – and we are part of that web. There is an intricate connection and interdependence of life that scientists have yet to fully comprehend, but they know that it is being lost at levels never before known to the earth. Looking out on the landscape of Schaumburg and its neighboring suburbs, it is not difficult to see why biodiversity is being threatened as so much of the land is impermeably paved and developed. Yards and open spaces are covered in turf grass, often sprayed with chemicals; non-native species brought in for ornamentation are spreading and choking the nature preserves. Many might look at this land of shopping malls and parking lots and call it a loss for biodiversity, but there is much that can be done to promote biodiversity and open spaces even here in Schaumburg!

Without a guiding ethic, however, the conflict between conservation and commerce is difficult to navigate and biodiversity will continue to lose out to economic growth. In 1949, conservationist Aldo Leopold defined a “Land Ethic” in his posthumously-published book A Sand County Almanac; and, Sketches Here and There. Leopold’s land ethic was so forward-thinking that it is just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. Leopold developed his ethical principles after restoring biodiversity and soil health to his piece of property near Baraboo, Wisconsin. He wrote:

“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 (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for). The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land” (Leopold, 1948).

The Schaumburg community must begin to see itself in an expanded way, as a larger community, and recognize that all the elements of this area have intrinsic value. Moreover, the health of these systems – from wetlands to forests – are necessary for the health of the whole community, humans included. Leopold explains that “In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such” (Leopold, 1948).

Schaumburg has already taken much, for the natural landscape has been conquered in favor of shopping outlets, businesses, and residences; but hope is not lost. Through community education and policy change, biodiversity can be promoted and restored to this community. A recovery of plant and animal species will take place, but it should happen hand-in-hand with a recovery of human experience in nature and the positive effect that nature has for the human spirit and psyche. We must vigorously work to conserve what is left and increase biodiversity in open spaces as well as in backyards, schools, and corporate landscapes.

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