“Obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land.” -Aldo Leopold from “A Sand County Almanac” (Underlined material my own work)
It’s a humbling experience when you read the quote that defines for you what your own belief system is when viewing the things that will cause true environmental change. As a journalist with my high school newspaper for a few years, I wonder at the impact news coverage of the environment actually has on people’s perception of the environment.
For a period of time I wanted to become an environmental journalist in order to spread environmental awareness beyond the position I have in society and reach a broader amount of people. But as I see so often the news coverage that the ice caps are melting and the rainforests are cut and the ocean is being polluted I wonder if society simply grows desensitized to that constant barrage of doom.
It is apparent to me that something else is required to make people not only care but also actively work to make the environment as healthy and pure as possible.
Through reading books such as those by Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods and Vitamin N) and Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass) I discovered a pattern in people who sought after true environmental change. Those people who took a true interest in the environment claimed to also have a relationship with it that transcended simple forms of recreation.
Enter today and the quote that struck me by Aldo Leopold. The fact that “obligations have no meaning without conscience” describes the fact that all the work environmentalists may do will not always matter personally to the people they influence.
Take for example the fact that my school recycles as often as possible and yet the new incoming freshman class left a pile of trash bags in the bin destined for the landfill, while at the same time leaving all recycle options relatively empty. Although the school tries its best to reach a zero-waste goal, most of the students still don’t care or put forth the effort. Why? I believe that most people do like fishing and camping or hiking, but they don’t have the obligatory respect for the land that comes with actively trying to make a difference.
More people need to have had the experience of finding an “extension of the social conscience from the (self) to the land” and this formed relationship must be PERSONAL.
It is a sort of reawakening that occurs when we realize we owe the land around us so much more respect than we give it now.
That is what I believe when I speak of a “relationship.” Fishing is my favorite example. On one hand, I can fish and take that photo or hold that trophy up and leave the river with my memories of fun and leave it at that. Yeah, I like nature, I like fishing.
Or, I can catch that fish and take one home or let it go and either way interpret the moment as if I am reentering the food chain of the river, not as something fully human, but as something more predator and natural to the river ecosystem. This is my relationship with the natural world. I find myself resenting the trash I see and doing less of a sport and more of a returning to a lifestyle that my ancestor lived in. The health of the land directly impacts my health in enjoying it and it is my personal RESPONSIBILITY to keep it healthy.
This is my relationship. This is why I want to see and will inspire change in the world. That’s my ecological ethic and the reason why I am an environmentalist.