Renewable Energy: Aldo Leopold revisited

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

With ongoing efforts to minimize environmental damage from an ever-expanding human population and industrialization, it is always refreshing to stop and smell the roses and remind ourselves of the goals that sustain our efforts.

In the Midwest and beyond, Aldo Leopold provided a philosophical basis for ecological restoration and produced a generation of leaders in the ecological movement. Charles Johannsen showed videos to the Prairie Preservation Society about the life and work of Aldo Leopold, as witnessed by his three children and remaining former graduate students.

Leopold saw the importance of preserving remnants of the original native prairie landscape in southern Wisconsin for future generations to enjoy and study to better understand the complex interactions occurring in native ecosystems.

Countless parcels of preserved and restored prairies throughout the Midwest stand in testimony to the influence he and his early students had on those who were inspired by their efforts.

Our initial contacts with Aldo Leopold’s thoughts came to us through our former undergraduate professor and friend, Dr. Philip Whitford, who earned his doctorate at Madison and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Whitford and his wife, Kay, purchased a rundown farm on the sandy soils of Marquette County, Wisconsin, and worked to restore the landscape in a Leopold-like fashion. We were frequent visitors and were inspired by their efforts.

Upon moving to Illinois, we found our way to the Morton Arboretum and had courses with May Watts, who wrote the insightful book, Reading the Landscape. We restored one of the first prairie patches in Cook County under the guidance of Ray Schulenberg. We have fond memories of birding classes with Floyd Swink.

Beyond these living legacies of Leopold’s efforts are his philosophical writings found in A Sand County Almanac. As a dissenter to the abuse of the land, he viewed his book as an effort at rationalizing that dissent.

“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land,” he wrote. “We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but [lately] often forgotten.

“Our current condition can be summed up in his words: “our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy.”

As advocates of energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and sustainable systems, we realize that if pursued without any consideration to the limits of growth on a finite planet, neither we nor the planet will recover our health.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the April 13-19, 2011 issue

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