Land Ethic: An Even Exchange
Colter, CS16, Falls Church, VA

"We are being called upon to act against a prevailing culture, to undermine our own entrenched tendency to accumulate and to consume, and to refuse to define our individuality by our presumed ability to do whatever we want." - Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Living in Falls Church, a city known for its economic prosperity and political activism, it would stand to reason that my personal land ethic stems from the values of the community I grew up in. However, this is not the case at all. Despite being politically progressive, most members of my community turn a blind eye towards environmental protection and justice, especially at the local level. Public parks and natural spaces are, more often than not, shoved aside by our city boards and commissions, in favor of commercial development projects that will track in more revenue which can be put towards our top notch school system. Somewhat ironically, the reason I developed a land ethic at all was due to my escape from this "top notch" system in my earliest years of education.

For two years before Kindergarten, I attended "Discovery Woods," an outdoor immersion Preschool focused on building up students' connections to the outdoors, and fostering an appreciation for undisturbed land. In many ways, Discovery Woods epitomized the same values I see reflected here at Conserve School, as we spent most of our class time outside, and were given the freedom to pursue our interests. When I finally returned to Elementary School, and re-immersed myself in the traditional education model, I couldn't help but notice all the ways my school and community had failed to practice an effective land ethic.


As I continued to get older and more perceptive, I saw how little regard those with positions of power gave towards maintaining the health of the land, cutting down entire forests for real estate, building major roads near fragile waterways and many more unsustainable practices. Frustration with my community's incredible potential to lead Northern Virginia into a sustainable future, yet lack of real progress due to widespread apathy about environmental issues, was what eventually inspired me to personally take action. Knowing that my local government was too concerned with promoting local business to recognize the chance to draw attention to, and protect, our community's natural places, I turned instead to my peers, who used them every day for recreation, peaceful studying, and exercise. By starting an environmental club at my Middle School, I was finally able to make real change because I was surrounded by people who had a personal connection to the places we were trying to protect. Our community gardens and park cleanups were deeply personal projects, and gave us the motivation we needed to push reluctant adults in our community to step up and play their part. From this experience I developed my personal land ethic: broadly speaking, a belief that as long as we rely on the the environment and wilderness for pleasure and as a resource, we have a duty to safeguard it.

Leopold viewed a "land ethic," as a set of moral principles pertaining to "man's relationship to the land and to the animals and plants which grew upon it." Leopold's ambiguity allows for people of all walks of life and ideological affiliations to feel that they too hold themselves to a land ethic, essentially as long as they maintain some sort of relationship with it. While my definition may hold true to the ideals articulated throughout a "Sand County Almanac," it explicitly states that our relationship with nature must be an even exchange, as opposed to exploitation coupled with recovery, or rejuvenation, periods. My definition would largely satisfy Leopold's broader position, conflicting only with his occasionally tolerant approach towards ecological disruptions.


While at Conserve School, I would like to personalize my understanding of my land ethic so that it is unique to me, and not simply a broad instruction which can be applied in almost any context. While I can only truly personalize my land ethic as I gain more experience and comfort addressing and discussing issues that pertain to conservation, environmental stewardship, and philosophy, there are certainly unique aspects of my community's conservation predicament which I could use to better apply my definition. As I continue to investigate my community's ecological and social circumstances in my Taking Action Project, this will occur naturally. As I further my understanding of my own land ethic, I also want to consider how I could apply it to issues and areas that do not explicitly pertain to the environment or conservation. For example, I am fascinated with political science, particularly the passage of legislation, and would like to discover the role I can play in ensuring our governmental institutions are treated the same way as the land should be; if we rely on it as a resource, we have a duty to demand it's legitimacy and significance are understood and respected. While I seek to develop my land ethic in the context of environmental justice, I would also like to make sure that I can apply what I have learned, and will continue to learn, to my life, no matter what career I choose, where I live, or how much money I make.