- Social Sciences
- African Studies
- American Studies
- Asian Studies
- Communication Sciences
- Ethnic Studies
- European Studies
- Gender Studies
- Physical Sciences
- Life Sciences
- Animal Communications
- Cell Biology
- Evolutionary Biology
- Food Science and Technology
- Human Anatomy
Deep ecology is a contemporary ecological philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of all living beings, regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs. The philosophy emphasizes the interdependence of organisms within ecosystems and that of ecosystems with each other within the biosphere. It provides a foundation for the environmental, ecology and green movements and has fostered a new system of environmental ethics.
Deep ecology's core principle is the belief that, like humanity, the living environment as a whole has the same right to live and flourish. Deep ecology describes itself as "deep" because it persists in asking deeper questions concerning "why" and "how" and thus is concerned with the fundamental philosophical questions about the impacts of human life as one part of the ecosphere, rather than with a narrow view ofecology as a branch of biological science, and aims to avoid merely anthropocentric environmentalism, which is concerned with conservation of the environment only for exploitation by and for humans purposes, which excludes the fundamental philosophy of deep ecology. Deep ecology seeks a more holistic view of the world humans live in and seeks to apply to life the understanding that separate parts of the ecosystem (including humans) function as a whole.
The phrase "deep ecology" was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss in 1973, and he helped give it a theoretical foundation. "For Arne Næss, ecological science, concerned with facts and logic alone, cannot answer ethical questions about how we should live. For this we need ecological wisdom. Deep ecology seeks to develop this by focusing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. These constitute an interconnected system. Each gives rise to and supports the other, whilst the entire system is, what Næss would call, an ecosophy: an evolving but consistent philosophy of being, thinking and acting in the world, that embodies ecological wisdom and harmony." Næss rejected the idea that beings can be ranked according to their relative value. For example, judgments on whether an animal has an eternalsoul, whether it uses reason or whether it has consciousness (or indeed higher consciousness) have all been used to justify the ranking of the human animal as superior to other animals. Næss states that from an ecological point of view "the right of all forms to live is a universal right which cannot be quantified. No single species of living being has more of this particular right to live and unfold than any other species." This metaphysical idea is elucidated in Warwick Fox's claim that we and all other beings are "aspects of a single unfolding reality". As such Deep Ecology would support the view of Aldo Leopold in his book, A Sand County Almanac that humans are "plain members of the biotic community". They also would support Leopold's "Land Ethic": "a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Daniel Quinn in Ishmael, showed that an anthropocentric myth underlies our current view of the world, and a jellyfish would have an equivalent jellyfish centric view.
Deep ecology offers a philosophical basis for environmental advocacy which may, in turn, guide human activity against perceived self-destruction. Deep ecology and environmentalism hold that the science of ecology shows that ecosystems can absorb only limited change by humans or other dissonant influences. Further, both hold that the actions of modern civilization threaten global ecological well-being. Ecologists have described change and stability in ecological systems in various ways, including homeostasis, dynamic equilibrium, and "flux of nature". Regardless of which model is most accurate, environmentalists contend that massive human economic activity has pushed the biosphere far from its "natural" state through reduction of biodiversity, climate change, and other influences. As a consequence, civilization is causing mass extinction. Deep ecologists hope to influence social and political change through their philosophy.
Næss and Fox do not claim to use logic or induction to derive the philosophy directly from scientific ecology but rather hold that scientific ecology directly implies the metaphysics of deep ecology, including its ideas about the self and further, that deep ecology finds scientific underpinnings in the fields of ecology and system dynamics.
In their 1985 book Deep Ecology, Bill Devall and George Sessions describe a series of sources of deep ecology. They include the science of ecology itself, and cite its major contribution as the rediscovery in a modern context that "everything is connected to everything else." They point out that some ecologists and natural historians, in addition to their scientific viewpoint, have developed a deep ecological consciousness—for some a political consciousness and at times a spiritual consciousness. This is a perspective beyond the strictly human viewpoint, beyond anthropocentrism. Among the scientists they mention specifically are Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, John Livingston, Paul R. Ehrlich and Barry Commoner, together with Frank Fraser Darling, Charles Sutherland Elton, Eugene Odum and Paul Sears.
A further scientific source for deep ecology adduced by Devall and Sessions is the "new physics." which they describe as shatteringDescartes's and Newton's vision of the universe as a machine explainable in terms of simple linear cause and effect. They propose that Nature is in a state of constant flux and reject the idea of observers as existing independent of their environment. They refer to Fritjof Capra'sThe Tao of Physics and The Turning Point for their characterisation of how the new physics leads to metaphysical and ecological views of interrelatedness, which, according to Capra, should make deep ecology a framework for future human societies. Devall and Sessions also credit the American poet and social critic Gary Snyder—with his devotion to Buddhism, Native American studies, the outdoors, and alternative social movements—as a major voice of wisdom in the evolution of their ideas.
The scientific version of the Gaia hypothesis was also an influence on the development of deep ecology.
The central spiritual tenet of deep ecology is that the human species is a part of the Earth and not separate from it. Human life is dependent on the harmonious balance of interdependent relationships between organisms. In the words of Chief Seattle, "Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it". A process of self-realisation or "re-earthing" is used for an individual to intuitively gain an ecocentric perspective. The notion is based on the idea that the more we expand the self to identify with "others" (people, animals, ecosystems), the more we realize ourselves. Transpersonal psychology has been used by Warwick Fox to support this idea.
A number of spiritual and philosophical traditions including Native american, Buddhist and Jain are drawn upon in a continuing critique of the philosophical assumptions of the modern European mind which has enabled and led to what is seen as an increasingly unsustainable level of disregard to towards the rights and needs of the natural world and its ability to continue to support human life. In relation to the Judeo-Christian tradition, Næss offers the following criticism: "The arrogance of stewardship consists in the idea of superiority which underlies the thought that we exist to watch over nature like a highly respected middleman between the Creator and Creation." This theme had been expounded in Lynn Townsend White, Jr.'s 1967 article "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis", in which however he also offered as an alternative Christian view of man's relation to nature that of Saint Francis of Assisi, who he says spoke for the equality of all creatures, in place of the idea of man's domination over creation. Naess' criticism is a criticism of the modern Protestant view of creation as property to be put into maximum productive use: a view used frequently in the past to exploit and dispossess native populations.
The original Christian teachings on property support the Franciscan/stewardship interpretation of the Bible. Against this view, Martin Luther condemned church ownership of lands because "they did not want to use that property in an economically productive fashion. At best they used it to produce prayers. Luther, and other Reformation leaders insisted that it should be used, not to relieve men from the necessity of working, but as a tool for making more goods. The attitude of the Reformation was practically, "not prayers, but production." And production, not for consumption, but for more production." This justification was offered to support secular takings of church endowments and properties.
Contemporary teaching of the Catholic Church expressly supports deep ecology themes: "Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life or his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation." This continues a traditional Catholic understanding of nature as a creation of God, and a tangible expression of God.
Drawing upon the Buddhist tradition is the work of Joanna Macy. Macy, working as an anti-nuclear activist in the USA, found that one of the major impediments confronting the activists' cause was the presence of unresolved emotions of despair, grief, sorrow, anger and rage. The denial of these emotions led to apathy and disempowerment.
We may have intellectual understanding of our interconnectedness, but our culture, experiential deep ecologists like John Seed argue, robs us of emotional and visceral experience of that interconnectedness which we had as small children, but which has been socialised out of us by a highly anthropocentric alienating culture.
Through "Despair and Empowerment Work" and more recently "The Work that Reconnects", Macy and others have been taking Experiential Deep Ecology into many countries including especially the USA, Europe (particularly Britain and Germany), Russia and Australia.
The Dragon Dreaming approach developed by the Gaia Foundation of Australia for organisation and project planning is based upon experiential deep ecology.
Philosophical – Spinoza and Deep Ecology
Arne Næss, who first wrote about the idea of deep ecology, from the early days of developing this outlook conceived Spinoza as a philosophical source.
Others have followed Naess' inquiry, including Eccy de Jonge, in Spinoza and Deep Ecology: Challenging Traditional Approaches to Environmentalism, and Brenden MacDonald, in Spinoza, Deep Ecology, and Human Diversity—Realization of Eco-Literacies
One of the topical centres of inquiry connecting Spinoza to Deep Ecology is "self-realization."
Proponents of deep ecology believe that the world does not exist as a resource to be freely exploited by humans. The ethics of deep ecology hold that a whole system is superior to any of its parts. They offer an eight-tier platform to elucidate their claims:
- The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
- Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
- Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.
- The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
- Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
- Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
- The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
- Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
In practice, deep ecologists support decentralization, and identifying politically with ecoregions; the breakdown ofindustrialism in its current form; and an end to authoritarianism.
Deep ecology is not normally considered a distinct movement, but as part of the green movement. The deep ecological movement could be defined as those within the green movement who hold deep ecological views. Deep ecologists welcome the labels "Gaian" and "Green" (including the broader political implications of this term, e.g. commitment to peace). Deep ecology has had a broad general influence on the green movement by providing an independent ethical platform for Green parties, political ecologists and environmentalists.
The philosophy of deep ecology helped differentiate the modern ecology movement by pointing out the anthropocentric bias of the term "environment", and rejecting the idea of humans as authoritarian guardians of the environment.
Interests in Nature
Animal rights activists state that for something to require rights and protection intrinsically, it must have interests. Deep ecology is criticised for assuming that plants, for example, have their own interests as they are manifested by the plant's behavior - self-preservation being considered an expression of a will to live, for instance. Deep ecologists claim to identify with non-human nature, and in doing so, criticise those who claim that non-human (or non-sentient) lifeforms' needs or interests are inexistant or unknowable. The criticism is that the interests that a deep ecologist attributes to non-human organisms such as survival, reproduction, growth and prosperity are really human interests. "The earth is endowed with 'wisdom', wilderness equates with 'freedom', and life forms are said to emit 'moral' qualities." However, the overarching criticism assumes that humans, in governing their own affairs, are somehow isent from this same assumption; i.e. how can governing humans truly presume to understand the interests of the rest of humanity. While the deep ecologist critic would answer that the logical application of language and social mores would provide this justification, i.e. voting patterns etc., the deep ecologist would note that these needs and interests are ultimately deducible solely from the application of logic to the observed behavior of the life form, which is the same standard used by deep ecologists to perceive the standard of interests for the natural world.
Deep ecology is criticised for its claim to be deeper than alternative theories, which by implication are shallow. However despite repeated complaints about use of the term it still enjoys wide currency; deep evidently has an attractive resonance for many who seek to establish a new ethical framework for guiding human action with respect to the natural world. It may be presumptuous to assert that one's thinking is deeper than others'. When Arne Næss coined the term deep ecology he compared it favourably with shallow environmentalism which he criticized for its utilitarian and anthropocentric attitude to nature and for its materialist and consumer-oriented outlook. Against this isArne Næss's own view that the "depth" of deep ecology resides in the persistence of its interrogative questioning, particularly in asking "Why?" when faced with initial answers.
Both ecofeminism and deep ecology put forward a new conceptualization of the self. Some ecofeminists, such as Marti Kheel, argue that self-realization and identification with all nature places too much emphasis on the whole, at the expense of the independent being. Similarly, some ecofeminists place more emphasis on the problem of androcentrism rather than anthropocentrism. To others, like Karen J. Warren, the domination of women is tethered conceptually and historically to the domination of nature. Ecofeminism denies abstract individualism and embraces the interconnectedness of the living world; relationships, including our relationship with non-human nature, are not extrinsic to our identity and are essential in defining what it means to be human. Warren argues that hierarchical classifications in general, such as racism orspeciesism, are all forms of discrimination and are no different than sexism. Thus, anthropocentrism is simply another form of discrimination as a result of our flawed value structure and should be abolished.
Misunderstanding Scientific Information
Daniel Botkin has likened deep ecology to its antithesis, the wise use movement, when he says that they both "misunderstand scientific information and then arrive at conclusions based on their misunderstanding, which are in turn used as justification for their ideologies. Both begin with an ideology and are political and social in focus." Elsewhere though, he asserts that deep ecology must be taken seriously in the debate about the relationship between humans and nature because it challenges the fundamental assumptions of Western philosophy. Botkin has also criticized Næss's restatement and reliance upon the balance of nature idea and the perceived contradiction between his argument that all species are morally equal and his disparaging description of pioneering species.
"Shallow" View Superior
Writer William Grey believes that developing a non-anthropocentric set of values is "a hopeless quest" He seeks an improved "shallow" view, writing, "What's wrong with shallow views is not their concern about the well-being of humans, but that they do not really consider enough in what that well-being consists. We need to develop an enriched, fortified anthropocentric notion of human interest to replace the dominant short-term, sectional and self-regarding conception."
Deep Ecology as Not "Deep" Enough
Social ecologists such as Murray Bookchin claim that deep ecology fails to link environmental crises with authoritarianism and hierarchy. Social ecologists believe that environmental problems are firmly rooted in the manner of human social interaction, and protest that an ecologically sustainable society could still be socially exploitative. Deep ecologists reject the argument that ecological behavior is rooted in the social paradigm (according to their view, that is an anthropocentric fallacy), and they maintain that the converse of the social ecologists' objection is also true in that it is equally possible for a socially egalitarian society to continue to exploit the Earth.
Links With Other Movements
Parallels have been drawn between deep ecology and other movements, in particular the animal rights movement and Earth First!.
Peter Singer's 1975 book Animal Liberation critiqued anthropocentrism and put the case for animals to be given moral consideration. This can be seen as a part of a process of expanding the prevailing system of ethics to wider groupings. However, Singer has disagreed with deep ecology's belief in the intrinsic value of nature separate from questions of suffering, taking a more utilitarian stance. The feminist and civil rights movements also brought about expansion of the ethical system for their particular domains. Likewise deep ecology brought the whole of nature under moral consideration. The links with animal rights are perhaps the strongest, as "proponents of such ideas argue that 'All life has intrinsic value'".
Many in the radical environmental direct-action movement Earth First! claim to follow deep ecology, as indicated by one of their slogans No compromise in defence of mother earth. In particular, David Foreman, the co-founder of the movement, has also been a strong advocate for deep ecology, and engaged in a public debate with Murray Bookchin on the subject. Judi Bari was another prominent Earth Firster who espoused deep ecology. Many Earth First! actions have a distinct deep ecological theme; often these actions will be to save an area of old growth forest, the habitat of a snail or an owl, even individual trees. Actions are often symbolic or have other political aims. At one point Arne Næss also engaged in environmental direct action, though not under the Earth First! banner, when he tied himself to a Norwegian fjord in a successful protest against the building of a dam.
There are also anarchist currents in the movement, especially in the United Kingdom. For example Robert Hart, pioneer of forest gardening in temperate climates, wrote the essay "Can Life Survive?" in Deep Ecology & Anarchism.
Robert Greenway and Theodore Roszak have employed the deep ecology platform as a means to argue for ecopsychology. Althoughecopsychology is a highly differentiated umbrella that encompasses many practices and perspectives, its ethos is generally consistent with deep ecology. As this now almost forty-year old "field" expands and continues to be reinterpreted by a variety of practitioners, social and natural scientists, and humanists, "ecopsychology" may change to include these novel perspectives.