Thus, despite the fact that Muir, Pinchot, and Leopold were among the most important environmentalists of their time, irreconcilable ideological differences kept them from successfully working together for environmental causes and initiatives. In The Mountains of California, John Muir provides a detailed description of the mountainous features of the Sierra Nevada and natural formations in the Yosemite Valley, including the animals and plants that are found in these habitats.
Muir informs the readers not only of his impressions of the play of light on the slopes of the mountains but also describes his awe of the beauty of nature found in the California mountain range. In this sense, Muir advances the idea that human beings should not be allowed to destroy the things created by nature. Along this line, Muir suggests that wildlife and other things in nature should not be subject to human activities that aim to make a profit out of natural resources.
Meanwhile, Aldo Leopold uses the descriptions of his encounters and experiences with nature in A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There to illustrate the fact that modernization and industrial development has alienated human beings from the biotic community. He further argues that human intervention and activities in the aim of making nature more profitable or less hostile to human beings, such as killing deadly predators, have managed to offset the natural balances which have had catastrophic results for animal and plant life in many habitats.
Leopold therefore advocates for human beings to establish a harmonious relationship with nature based on the land ethic, which emphasizes the human obligation to preserve the dignity of the earth and everything found in it and not to do anything that would degrade and harm the natural environment. In an essay excerpt from his work The Fight for Conservation, Gifford Pinchot states his concern about the impact of environmental devastation on business activities and human life and argues for greater state intervention in managing natural resources to ensure sustainable use and to deter unscrupulous exploitation of these resources.
In essence, Gifford advocates for a reform not only in how modern American society viewed its natural resources to be inexhaustibe but also for a concrete reform in natural resource policy to implement measures to manage forests and other resources. Hence, Gifford argues for the implementation of management programs in the aim of averting future natural resource depletion crises that would have adverse effects on the national economy and private enterprise.
Giffords framework for his advocacy was based on the premise that the imports of raw materials were often costly and therefore unpractical for many businesses, which made state management of resource materials more cost-efficient and cost-effective. It is clear from these selections that all three authors were against the wanton expoitation of natural resources. Likewise, Muir, Pinchot, and Leopold acknowledged the role of human activities in the degradation of the environment.
For instance, Muirs descriptive essay of Sierra Nevada and its surroundings is very much similar to Leopolds musings on the diversity found in nature and how human beings should work to preserve the integrity of their natural environment. In the same manner, all three authors called attention to increasing environmental problems wrought about by the reckless use and abuse of ecological resources such as forests and grasslands.
However, a deeper look at the writings of Muir, Pinchot, and Leopolds present the distinctive ideas and assumptions that inform the arguments and positions of the three authors. It is in these details that the critical reader ultimately sees the clash in the preservationist and conservationist stance of the three authors. For instance, Pinchots conservationist perspective is emphasized by his focus on the management of resources to maximize the benefit to humans, based on the assumption that nature and the things or beings found in nature existed for human use.
Likewise, most of Pinchots arguments are premised on the idea that human beings are the center and the goal of conserving nature and its bounty. In contrast, Muirs preservationist belief is characterized by the view that nature and wildlife should be kept in the same state of being pristine and untrammelled by humans. Similar to Muirs perspective, Leopold suggests that humans should see themselves as part of the biotic community instead of seeing themselves as the center of all creations.
The writings of both authors are influenced by the basic assumption that nature and wildlife, as living beings, have innate rights and accordingy, humans have the obligation to ensure that these rights are enjoyed or protected. Thus, the basic and most significant difference between the preservationist and conservationist camp stemmed from the belief and attitude towards nature wherein the former believed that nature should be protected for natures sake, while the latter espoused the protection or management or nature for human beings sake.
The three authors basic arguments and underlying assumtions are further revealed in their narratives. Both Muir and Leopold clearly write from the perspective of someone who has experienced a close connection with nature. This is evident in the ability of these authors to describe the scenes of nature and the wildlife found in it down to the minute details, to recall their most personal feelings in their encounters of the beauty and wonder of nature, and in their reflections and thoughts about these encounters.
Pinchot, on the other hand, writes in a manner that is devoid of any sentimentality about the intrinsic characteristics of nature but calls forth self-serving human interests for continued survival and societal development to argue for natural resource management. Clearly, the three authors represent the major strains of thought in environmental preservation and conservation. Muir, with his emphasis on the total preservation of nature and wildife and his insistence on distancing human life from the works of nature, represents the ecological rights perspective in environmental preservation.
In the same manner, Leopolds argument about seeing the bigger picture in terms of wildlife and nature preservation encapsulates the basic premise of the ecosystem approach in natural resource management. Meanwhile, Pinchots focus on the conservation of nature through efficient use and the maximization of available resources is at the heart of sustainable resource management approaches.
Therefore, it is not surprising that despite being contemporaries as significant environmental theorists and activitists of their time, Muir, Pinchot, and Leopold were kept apart by basic differences in their assumptions and viewpoints. This is because the basic assumptions that underlined their beliefs in either preservation or conservation not only determined their stance on the environment but also addressed the crucial question of how nature should be used”or if it should be used at all”for continued human development.
References: Leopold, Aldo. (2008). Excerpt from A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There. In Environmental Studies, 2nd Edition (pp. 10-12). United States: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. Muir, John. (2008). Excerpt from The Mountains of California. In Environmental Studies, 2nd Edition (pp. 5-7). United States: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. Pinchot, Gifford. (2008). Excerpt from The Fight for Conservation. In Environmental Studies, 2nd Edition (pp. 8-9). United States: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.