Buddy Huffaker, executive director of The Aldo Leopold Foundation: “We keep trying to show what it looks like to live the challenge articulated by Aldo Leopold; to live on a piece of land without spoiling it over time.”
For the first time in Zagreb, the unique lecturer, executive director of The Aldo Leopold Foundation from the U.S.A., Buddy Huffaker, took part in an academic session on bioethics Tuesday’s named “Aldo Leopold and the land ethic: Reflections in contemporary times” held the previous month. The major work of the author Aldo Leopold (1887 – 1948), “A Sand County Almanac”, redefines cultural elements inscribed in the natural world. Defying speciesist hierarchizing, interdependent relationship between humans and non-human beings happens in the biotic community: “Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” (Leopold, 1949:216)
Admitting the inherent value of every living organism, the revolutionary green position opposes the crisis caused by anthropogenic factors. As a platform for the ”fresh” knowledge production and incorporation of holistic principles in everyday practices, the Foundation actively enhances the work of favorite thinker of ours. In the following lines, we reveal more about the main ingredients of ethical cuisine – the bare roots of modern ecophilosophy and of many ecological movements – in an in-depth conversation with Huffaker.
I see that, in Wisconsin, you are extremely focused on environmental management and biodiversity preservation. What is the significance of your intensive engagement?
The Foundation owns and leads the place, where, in the 1930’s, the Leopold family bought a worn-out farm and later restored it to be ecologically healthy. This spot, as a National Historic Landmark, attracts people from all over the world to see the site that inspired the Almanac. We manage it for wildlife/nature protection type activities, and we take care of the land, as well as develop interpretive programs promoting Leopold’s special idea. The concept of land ethic pushes us forward towards accepting that we are a part of the natural world and not separate from it. If we acknowledge the effort of expanding the sense of community, the same kind of care and consideration – like the ones we have for our friends and family – could be extended to flora and fauna… Consequently, we keep trying to show what it looks like to live the challenge articulated by Aldo Leopold; to live on a piece of land without spoiling it over time (which is a vast humanities experiment in general).
Your Foundation, evolving with the ecological paradigm, is an actual place where theory is put into practice. Tell us a bit about the legacy of Leopold’s family; how did it influence you?
That’s an interview for itself… When I got there, it was right as the family was growing the Foundation… He had five children (all scientists and such warm and generous individuals); the oldest had passed by the time I started, so I knew four of them, and I consider his daughter Nina to be my mentor. I had a wonderful chance to get to understand her father’s philosophies directly from her, and I just have the great honor to continue that. We have been a center of thought before building a true center 15 years ago – representing sustainable design and development, it is made out of the trees the family planted when they first took over the property… So, it’s really cool to say: ”They started growing our building 80 years ago.“
Every time we update the construction, we try to reflect on new technology. We’re striving to become a net-zero energy building with a minimal footprint – this is how we see the Foundation gradually evolving. We compost our waste, we conserve water in terms of our appliances, we are making a transition from gasoline trucks to electric vehicles and with solar panels, we produce all the energy we need… Whereby some things, that help us operate more efficiently, are transferable anywhere in the world.
In March, you dedicate a whole week to his teachings.
The event’s purpose is to actually move beyond Aldo Leopold; his work establishes the fundamental background, but others put these values through various contexts… The whole spectrum of land ethic is represented, including indigenous cultures, other ethnic perspectives, etc. During COVID-19, we went viral – creating a virtual community around more extensive discussion about nature protection is another segment of it, and anybody interested in the subject can easily watch any of those programs now available online.
How was proto-ecological thought constituted?
Leopold was teaching at the faculty when he decided to buy his farm. All of a sudden, he was the one who had to plant the trees and plant the prairie… In doing so, he began to comprehend that just professors wouldn’t shape popular opinion enough to have the system change. It is very much his experience on the farm – both in learning better how the land operates and how to take care of it and also in realization he had a story to share – which compelled him to write the book that could get out of the faculty, in order to reach readers from other walks of life, too.
Can we trace Christian conception in his ethical model?
He was not a trained philosopher; he read widely and worked hard to communicate his ideas coherently. On the religious perspective, he did grow up in a Christian family… He was not devout, but you can locate in his writings a kind of rhythm and patterns of the Bible. His daughter often described him as the most spiritual person she ever knew, who never went to church… There was a certain mystical aspect about him in the sense of wisdom and magic, which grew out of science and not out of any particular religious tradition.
Alongside the vision of synergetic interactions between people and the Earth, a boom in integrative approach is occurring. Are there any disadvantages to it?
Some people want to know exactly what they should do. And Leopold doesn’t necessarily offer strict guidance – such as driving less, eating vegan, recycling plastics, etc. So, that might be one downside to it… He was hoping individual responsibilities would come from within; with government kind of providing the framework, ensuring fair rules to play by… Still, it’s going to take all of us to grasp more integratively our relation to the natural world if we are going to implement the real solutions.
But on the other hand, it seems to be one of the reasons he remains relevant to this date – you get to read him and recalibrate against what makes sense for contemporary times. For example, an essay in the book talks about how a city lot can teach the same lessons as the wilderness. Wildlife and wild places were Leopold’s passions, but again, he thought one could be connected to nature in an urban environment, too.
To wrap up this theoretical interpretation, how do you comment on fluidity in his philosophy?
Providing a common vocabulary in an effort to bring everybody together in caring about nature, he was one of the first writers known both as a scientist and as a poet. His motives consist of the emotional moment of our lives and the scientific aspects of reality. He created the opportunity for each of us to be a positive agent of change; and it is our responsibility to get things going and keep things moving… I am a bit romantic in that respect… Let me quote the line from Aldo Leopold near the end of his life: ”Although the situation is hopeless, it should not prevent us from doing our best.“
In the end, do you think the land ethic carries the answers to the problems of modern civilization?
Obviously, it is not that simple, but I am not sure where else we would look to find the answers… Humanity has altered the globe so much, leaving Anthropocene as the big generational challenge on the table. In definition, it embodies the very power structure of our society, which is not respectful of the Earth, nor the understanding of its needs (including our self-interests of what we as humans genuinely need to survive)…
Most of human history has these unfortunate – and at times horrendous – accounts of how we have treated each other poorly and unjustly, whether that’s different genders, races or species in question… Those dysfunctional relationships carry themselves over to how we treat the Earth; as the land is unhealthy, it reflects social injustice… If we can create the ethics of care for all life – all people, all flora and fauna – then some of those (social) injustices should be addressed, resolved and ideally, eliminated.