Land as a part of community

Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac wrote that land is a part of community, that the collective and individual aspects of land, including soil, water, plants, and animals, enlarges the boundaries of community.

And what then, might I ask, are the ethical standards we have created in relationship to the land as a part of community?

Leopold, in 1949, wrote that no ethical standards for the land had been established. He said that first ethics were created between individuals and then between individuals and society, but community ethics had yet to extend between ourselves and the land.

Leopold wrote, “Land use ethics are still governed wholly by economic self-interest.”

We can see how economic self-interest has helped to govern land in the 68 years since the publication of A Sand County Almanac. Soil conservation was created so that farmers could form districts to help them write their own rules for the land. If the land contributes to the economy and has economic value, it must be governed.

In contrast, those things which have no economic value to our self-interests are not governed.

For example, we tend to think of bees for their economic value: no more pollinators would mean no more food for animals and the people who depend on it. This has brought the bees some protection because they have economic value. Many do not, however, look at a bee and say that it needs protection because it is a part of the land and community. We therefore shrink our perspective of what community is.

Only governing the aspects of land that have economic value and not community value is dangerous to both the environmental health of society and to the Earth itself.

As an example, we can examine the State of Ohio vs. Loren Cartwright case.

This was a local case in which the Fayette County Health Department learned in 2009 that Mr. Cartwright was dumping household garbage on his land on Bogus Road. Six years later the illegal dumping was still occurring. Charges were not filed until after $105,741.69 was spent to clean up the mess and help neighbors fight off rats the health department said were “visiting” nearby homes. This shows that economic self-interests, and not community or private land-owner ethics, were the driving force for stopping the activity.

When the rain filters through a garbage dump it carries whatever contaminates it has picked up ― medication, chemicals, toxins, pathogens ― into the ground and rivers where people draw their water for bathing, cooking and drinking. Atoms and molecules know no private/public land boundaries. It’s all a part of the land, of community.

Is there yet, as Leopold wrote 68 years ago, an extension of social conscience between people and the land as a part of community? Perhaps not. Should the community form ethical standards to the land as a part of community, as opposed to only forming ethical standards for those with economic self-interests?

“No important change in ethics was ever accomplished,” wrote Leopold, “without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions.”

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By Ashley Bunton

Staff columnist

Reach Ashley by email at, by phone at (740) 313-0355 or by searching for @ashbunton