Why Aldo Leopold Has Failed: Rescuing Environmentalism from Moral Obligation

Free Public Lecture

Why Aldo Leopold Has Failed: Rescuing Environmentalism From Moral Obligations

Daniel W. Bromley

Daniel W. Bromley

Anderson-Bascom Professor Emeritus of Applied Economics, UW-Madison

Monday, March 13, 2017
5:00 PM
1106 Mechanical Engineering
1513 University Ave.


Watch a video of this lecture.

Environmentalism has emerged as a moral obligation to do what is right with respect to nature. Leopold's "Land Ethic" is just such a moral obligation. The centrality of "intrinsic value" to contemporary environmentalism is yet another moral claim. In a recently published book (Environmental Heresies: The Quest for Reasonable, Macmillan: 2016), Daniel W. Bromley and his co-author argue that environmental progress has become the victim of moral assertions about what must be done. Such moral certitude then invites reaction and assures conflict.

Environmentalism can be rescued from this perpetual conflict and contestation when it is recognized that democracies function on the basis of reason-giving. Progress is possible when environmental policy is removed from the narrow frame of arguing over what various interest groups seem to want, and is instead situated in a frame of asking for and giving of reasons for preferred outcomes. Progress is possible when interest groups are forced to articulate and defend their reasons for their desired outcomes. Democratic discourse allows policy progress by reducing the tendency for conflict. Progress in a democracy advances on the ground of what is found to be reasonable. In fact, the book argues that reasonable is a perfect synonym of the rational.


Daniel W. Bromley is Anderson-Bascom Professor Emeritus of Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has published extensively on environmental economics, international development, and the institutional foundations of the economy. His recent books include Environmental Heresies: The Quest for Reasonable, Environment and Economy: Property Rights and Public Policy, and Sufficient Reason: Volitional Pragmatism and the Meaning of Economic Institutions.

Sponsored by:

The Environment and Resources Program

Co-Sponsored by:

Water Resources Management Program
Environmental Conservation Professional Master's Program
Culture, History and the Environment Certificate
Undergraduate Studies Program

Event contact: Emily Reynolds