Risk management and the wisdom of Aldo Leopold

Julianne Lutz Warren, Susan Kieffer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Human demands on nature have increased due to our burgeoning population. The applications of scientific knowledge to the development of increasingly powerful technologies and consumptive lifestyles by more and more people have created a modern category of human-caused disaster - stealth disasters. Stealth disasters - such as agriculturally-induced soil erosion and release of unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases into Earth's atmosphere - tend to have protracted, unobvious onsets; do not necessarily have dramatic manifestations; and often do not attract public attention until they reach a stage approaching catastrophic consequences. At this late stage it is difficult or impossible to undo damage. Scientists tend to be among the first to understand the physical causes and notice the developments of stealth disasters and their risks and yet scientific knowledge is not enough to prevent or mitigate them. As we search for ways to deal with stealth disasters, the concept of "land health" assembled by the prominent conservationist and author, Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), can, in normative terms, provide an ecologically grounded example of nature in good condition toward which society can aim. Evidence of the reverse - symptoms of land illness - can provide a checklist for risk analysis and management that helps guide people away from harm-causing attitudes and activities and toward beneficial outcomes. Leopold's criteria of land health motivated by a land ethic that incorporates the whole of nature may be applied at geographic scales ranging from local to global as a framework for contemporary risk management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-174
Number of pages10
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Aldo Leopold
  • Globalization
  • Land ethic
  • Land health
  • Stealth disaster

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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