Sand County Almanac is one of those books like Walden and Silent Spring that has had an enormous impact on the environmental thinking of Americans…whether you have heard of the book or whether you think you disagree / agree with the author.
It is also one of those books that feels incredibly current to be nearly 70 years old. Several times while reading the book, I had the yearning, the hope, that things would change. That people would look at our world in a different way. That we would play a better role in the world.
The bonus is that a lot of things did change. Like, a ton of things changed. Even the most ardent anti-environmentalist of 2019 has adopted much of Leopold’s ethic. The world we live in and the way we approach our environment is nothing like the 1920s, 30s or 40s. While reading and hoping for change, it was happy to think – “hold up, wait, these changes did happen! Yay!”
And yet, the book still feels so current because humans are still having more issues than ever with destroying the very environment that makes our civilization and daily life possible.
It’s like Aldo Leopold won the argument over which side is “right” – but we are still fighting over what exactly that means in day to day life.
The analogy that came to mind is so much of Dr Martin Luther King’s writings. He won the argument. He persuaded nearly everyone that racism is wrong. And yet. When you listen to his speeches and writings, they still read like he’s writing them today. The problem persists but in a more complex and toxic manner.
Basically no one in 2019’s polite society would suggest a lynching, no one would call to exterminate an entire species or deliberately destroy a wildlife habitat.
And yet, people in polite society will still talk about hiring on “culture fit” or whether the schools are “going downhill”. And people who care about the environment will absolutely fight tooth and nail over stopping regulation of nonpoint source pollution or paying the true costs of carbon energy. It’s a weird cognitive dissonance. But that’s part of being human.
Either way, I’ve found fascinating to go back and read primary sources and original arguments from the people who started big movements. Sand County Almanac is one of those. The bonus is that it’s lyrical, beautiful, fun to read, and interesting.
Here’s a few picture notes that I took.
It is amazing to think how few tools citizens, governments, and other property owners had to fight poor land use only 70 years ago. Even if someone’s actions on their property were destroying your property…you had little recourse. Now we have a plethora of legal tools and social shaming to work with. Some argue that we have too many tools, but after seeing & reading about the destruction then – I’d rather have too many tools than too few.
We are still figuring out the true value of land in the future. When the original National Forests were established, they only looked at the value of the timber in 100 years. Even Theodore Roosevelt could not comprehend the astronomical value that those lands have now for recreation, clean water, wilderness, and wildlife.
People have to have ownership – not just education. That’s why I love all the new ownership based PSAs for public lands (example)
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