I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
ABQ should revive Aldo Leopold’s sustainable ethic
The Aldo Leopold Centennial Celebration this Friday and Saturday at the National Hispanic Cultural Center marks a significant opportunity. It will give us a chance to contemplate a sustainable future in the middle Rio Grande Valley, one that’s based not on short term exploitation of land and resources, but on a “land ethic” in which human economic activity is judged by its capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, endure upheavals in the status quo, and cooperate with the natural world around it.
Leopold, the famed American ecologist, gave us a very clear standard. He advised us to “examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient.”
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise.”
His land ethic, he said, “simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals or collectively: the land.”
What would Albuquerque look like if it had followed the implications of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic when the Duke City started its great growth spurt after World War II? What could the city look like ten years from now if it saw this recession as an opportunity to remake itself and put Leopold’s ideas into practice as part of a strategy to sustain itself and prosper in the changed world of the future?
With chronic long term drought as our lot, with peak oil upon us, with the instability of financial markets and the decomposition of our consumer culture based on waste and excess, and a complete make-over in the way we fuel our culture and economy in the shadow of global warming, old ways of viewing our relationship to our environment simply don’t work anymore. Like it or not.
We can longer grab, rip open, pave over, and use up the natural riches we’ve been blessed with. We’ve practically destroyed them as the old world of “inevitable growth” and sprawling into the landscape has become economically decadent. Even now, with the housing bubble burst and thousands of construction workers are jobless, the old patterns of growth and development won’t come back the way they were. New strategies are needed to generate a new kind of economy based on frugality and ingenuity, and on the kind of growth that respects what the land can give us and what it cannot.
Aldo Leopold, who lived and worked in New Mexico from 1909 to the mid l920s, was a conservationist who was instrumental in not only forming the nation’s first wilderness area in the Gila Mountains, but also in founding the study of environmental ethics, which proceeds from a sense of social conscience and broadens its sympathies to include the natural world.
Embracing Leopold’s land ethic would change our city in dramatic ways, and probably put thousands of people back to work.
Although it’s impossible to say exactly what might happen, at the very least a land ethic would place governmental incentives in an almost 90 degree turn from what has been valued and subsidized up to now.
A land ethic standard would probably have city government subsidizing and supporting infill development. It would place an even heavier emphasis on preserving and enhancing urban open space and the removal of concrete-lined arroyos to help recharge the aquifer. I can see a native plant revival, serious debate about the historic wilderness patterns of the bosque, and an emphasis on water retention and habitat creation though purposeful native plantings.
A land ethic standard would emphasize and reward the vast array of water saving strategies available to private residents, companies and city government itself. There’d be no parking lot in the city that wasn’t sloped to feed runoff water into plants.
Water would become the city’s most precious and revered resource. Everything would be done to preserve it, reclaim it, and reuse it. Residents would become experts at personal water management, with billing incentives to do so.
Mass transit would be the normal way to move about. Buses and shuttles would be everywhere, drastically cutting the city’s contribution to green house gases from private autos. Albuquerque would probably develop a defined edge again where the city stops and the landscape begins. Resources would be used to improve existing conditions inside the city, instead of spreading resources thin, subsidizing private sprawl developers.
Over all, in embracing Leopold’s land ethic, Albuquerque could become a new kind of city, a city that acts as a model for other parched western metropoli, and it would be more competitive economically.
With resources and finances bound to be tight, if not this drastically severe, for years to come, conferences, new businesses and migrating prospective home buyers will be ever more discerning about the places they chose to visit and live. They will spend their money, I think, in cities that evidence an intelligent and nurturing care of the land and its resources. In other words, they’ll invest in sustainable, inventive cities that are ahead of the curve in terms of efficiency, fuel consumption, land preservation and water conservation.
This weekend’s Leopold colloquium will feature some of the best minds in New Mexico and the West when it comes to creating ways of life that respect the natural community in which we live. It’s not to be missed.