Walcher: Admire him, but don’t read him
by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
Generations of Christian worshipers, and even atheist historians, have admired the Apostle Paul, for his consistent philosophical advice, his remarkable writing skill and of course his willingness to undergo imprisonment, torture and death for his views. Yet writers frequently lament the fact that people admire him, while paying little attention to his teachings.
That is a consistent theme throughout history. In more modern times, think of the decades Ghandi spent leading the Hindu nationalist movement in India, and teaching the effectiveness of non-violence, only to be gunned down by a fellow Hindu nationalist. Or the irony of Americans making Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday, while ignoring his preaching about treating all people equally. I think it is also true of the great leaders of the conservation movement, people we honor — as long as we don’t have to spend time studying them.
For me, the perfect example is Aldo Leopold, often called the father of wildlife ecology. At first glance, this may seem like obscure history. You might wonder if I finally got to the end of the internet, and this was the last thing on it. But our system of protecting wildlife, which most of us care about, would have evolved very differently had Aldo Leopold not died prematurely.
During Leopold’s heyday, the New Deal era, a new aspect of the environment began to creep into the American consciousness: wildlife ecology. This idea went far beyond earlier concepts confined to game management, to a much broader vision, an understanding that all wildlife is interdependent, coexisting in a “circle of life.” Previously, conservationists and governments had concentrated on protecting game from extinction. The Boone and Crockett Club was founded specifically to ensure there would always be game and fish. But this was a broader understanding of the connectedness of wildlife, including predators, rodents and insects, even the ugly critters no one wanted to hunt or eat. Leopold’s first book, in 1933, was about managing and restoring wildlife populations. He argued that species must be protected from extinction not just because we need food, but because they have an intrinsic value of their own.
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