Several years ago, I read an interesting review of Julianne Lutz Newton’s Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, a book about Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac. The review was written by Verlyn Klinkenborg, and published in The New York Times Book Review (“Land Man” / “A guide to the life of Aldo Leopold, author of ‘A Sand County Almanac.'” Nov. 5, 2006, p. 30).
One could easily conclude, based on that review, that Leopold was a man who understood the seriousness of the ecological crisis man is up against, and the degree to which we must change our ways and chart a different course. “That the situation is hopeless,” Leopold wrote in a letter in 1946, “should not prevent us from doing our best.”
The review also brings out the fact that in the early 1940’s, Leopold observed that “It is increasingly clear that there is a basic antagonism between the philosophy of the industrial age and the philosophy of the conservationist.” But here is the part that I find most worth mentioning: “In 1944 (he died of a heart attack in 1948) he confessed to a friend that he had come to a disarming realization — that nothing could be done about conservation ‘without creating a new kind of people.'”
That sentiment reminds me of something else I once read; and for this, we must fast forward 63 years after Leopold made that confession. This comes from a book ad, which appeared in The New York Times Book Review (July 1, 2007, page 22). The book being advertised in the ad is Notes from a Dying Planet, 2004-2006: One Scientist’s Search for Solutions, by Paul Brown. It is a small ad, less than a quarter of a page; and for me, one sentence in particular stands out. It is this one, in reference to Paul Brown: “He concludes that our only hope for survival will be an evolutionary leap in human behavior.” I couldn’t agree more.
But that’s also far more complicated than people realize. For example, while it’s true that thought patterns and such need to change and in major ways, if we are at bottom, products of nature and nurture — genes and environment — then our environment helps shapes us even before we have an opportunity to reshape it.
Fortunately, however, while factors such as that may make the challenge of achieving that “evolutionary leap in human behavior” appear all the more daunting, we do potentially have the ability to take such factors into account.
Again, I said potentially. And that’s just one factor we need to take into consideration.