Smaller communities of hunter and gathers, then larger communities of towns and cities seeking Sustainability or “to sustain” is the ability to continue over a prolonged period of time.  Do we have what it takes?  Is there enough time and will to correct the course to achieve sustainability?  Do we individually and societally have a collective plan to make a difference?  These are the great questions of our time.


In the global public discourse of nations, there are three broad dimensions of sustainability policies: the environment, economics, and social issues concerning the ability to continue over time. This global discourse should not be lost to those individuals and communities that  live in hilltops, valleys, and bottomlands of the Driftless Area. 


The question is:  Are we seeking a balance of the environment, the economics of life, and social interactions found in this unique landscape? 


The soil, water, and biota, we see and do not see, added to the non-living elements of the earth which collectively are the “land” that is the base for sustainability. The land has been supporting humanity in the Driftless Area for at least fifteen thousand years. During this interval, the land has supported us all over these thousands of years, and continues to as a result of the introduction, and advance we know now, is that of agriculture.  Today, we are experiencing an even more diverse culture with an increasing population that is surviving on the economics of new knowledge and technology. 

But is this sustainable?


Over time with this increased knowledge, we have created both laws and ethical standards to protect the land of the hilltops, valleys, and bottomlands of the Driftless and beyond. But are we making progress overall … for the prolonged period … beyond our children and grandchildren’s lives? Are we acting to achieve sustainability? Have we found a balance that allows sustainability?


Humanitarians and scientists have realized for many decades that the products that define the standard of living of our western culture are destroying Planet Earth. Humanity is consuming and depleting the land and its resources of Planet Earth at an accelerating rapid rate that is not sustainable. Laws do not seem to stop this pattern. Social norms of wants and what makes a “good life” and those perceived needs accelerate our economic depletion of the land and its ability to provide for us by nurturing the biota and health of this interconnectedness.  Without that basic health, we are lost.  Technology seems to be chasing capitalism more than solving environmental problems. So, what are the actions needed to increase our sustainability on the land?


We need a change in the way we live and treat the land. This must come through with actions of the land ethic that was expressed over 75 years ago … in the Driftless Area … specified in the pages of the Sand County Almanac as expressed by naturalist … and now futurist … Aldo Leopold.  Regarding the treatment of the land, he stated “ Something is right when it preserves the ecological integrity, aesthetics, and is economically expedient, to do otherwise it is not”.  Is this not the basis for sustainability in the Driftless and the entire world? Can we just  make this standard our guide in the Driftless–learn from others that ARE doing much more, to expedite these goals, and reject the idea that just because we want sustainability, we also must take action in our own lives, communities, and regions to do so?


The ecological integrity of the land still existed just two hundred years ago. The forest of the hillsides, the prairies of the hilltops, slopes and valleys, and the water that flowed through all supported all … all in balance … supporting each other. There was a flow of energy and nutrients that all plants, animals, and biota not seen by human vision, needed and utilized. All used and consumed only what they needed, including the homo sapiens. 


The same scenario can happen again … and flourish, utilizing modern man’s ingenuity and applied technology. We must recognize that the progress of agriculture and urban communities have disrupted the ecological integrity and take action to create again to rebalance this reality. 

The aesthetics of the land was also intact until after this time. Ironically, Nature still holds the keys to the solutions of survival, and the appeal of the aesthetics of nature today, but we need to be aware of how we have lost it and take action to restore and protect it where we can. 


The colors of the forest, prairies and lowlands of  river bottoms still change with the seasons; yet, the natural colors of these plant communities have been lost to agriculture, invasives, and development.  How can we go forward to restore the aesthetics of these plant communities and reduce human growth effects? The Driftless Area is a leader in approaching agriculture and nature preservation sustainably –and that can go even a longer way in restoring ecological integrity.  


Small community services and commerce activities are moving to tourism and recreational development of the land that are affecting the peacefulness of the serenity of the remote hills that are the signature of the Driftless. Sounds and sites of nature are turning to the noise and ugliness of development and sport without guidance. What happened to the swishing sound of a rake or broom?  The leaf blower has replaced these gentle swishes with noise that can be heard a quarter mile away, and the questions begs, why? The world of motors has made life easier, but in our laziness,  we have choked the serenity out of why we loved this place in the first place.  Addressing that systemic continuum of “laziness” affects us all–our collective will to sustainability support our communities beyond ourselves, our childrens’ ability to survive, our own health–and yes–saving our larger home–the planet..


And then, what does economic expediency mean? This is a question Leopold legacy scholars could only speculate on. Yet years of studying Leopold’s life and reading Sand County Almanac, (published originally by Oxford University Press in 1949) over and over it has become clear to me. If we look at the economics of ecological relationships, nature over millions of years has perfected the flow of biological, chemical, and physical interactions between all organisms into a balance and flow of energy that functions smoothly. With the increase in human disturbances this “balance” becomes disrupted. Understanding these interrelationships of biota, let alone correct them, would take several human life times of scientific study of even a single interaction of one organism. Can technology intervene for us to learn fast enough, take action based on facts and data, and to change and rebalance?


As for Leopold, through his life he believed in the great powers of observation of plant and animal community interactions which is the empirical basis to begin understanding of ecological scientific inquiry. Leopold believed one should quickly make the correction in the conservation management of the plant/animal disturbance and observe the results. If the correction did not create observable results over an abbreviated period, try another solution. If the time of the disturbance were too long before correction the original disturbance would cascade into greater ecological problems. Bottom line?  The economics of evolution of nature has self-corrections if humanity lets it happen. 


So,  humanity seeks a return to balance that was there in the first place. We just need to read the land, its communities … and of course the Driftless … with the intelligence that nature has  given humanity through a half million years of emergence from our origins.  


–Rand Atkinson, 

Author:  REVOLT,  Practical Ecology to Save Planet Earth for our Children

Purchase via:  A. L. Ferndock Publishing LLC

3894 Star Lake Road, Star Lake WI  54561, Phone 608-778-1131