Deep Ecology on the green fuse

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keywords: Arne Naess, What is Deep Ecology?, Deep Ecology critique

Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology was originally developed by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess. It has grown into a worldwide movement of considerable influence. Naess does not lay out Deep Ecology as a rigid system, but instead presents a set of principles which he invites people to integrate into their own personal philosophy of life.

Deep Ecologists emphasize that human beings are only part of the ecology of this planet, & believe that only by understanding our unity with the whole of nature can we come to achieve full realization of our humanity. Deep Ecology believes that all organisms are equal: Human beings have no greater value than any other creature, for we are just ordinary citizens in the biotic community, with no more rights than amoebae or bacteria.

The Deep Ecology Platform

The eight points of the 'Deep Ecology Platform' presents it's basic principles:

  1. The flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth has intrinsic value. The value of non-human life forms is independent of the usefulness these may have for narrow human purposes.
  2. Richness and diversity of life forms are values in themselves and contribute to the flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth.
  3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
  4. Present human interference with the non-human world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
  5. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of non-human life requires such a decrease.
  6. Significant change of life conditions for the better requires change in policies. These affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures.
  7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of intrinsic value) rather than adhering to a high standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
  8. Those who subscribe to the forgoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

Arne Naess, 'Ecology, Community and Lifestyle', Cambridge, 1989, CUP, p. 29.

Key Concepts

Naess introduced the term 'ecosophy' to describe the philosophical ecology of which Deep Ecology is a part. Ecosophy draws on the science of ecology and systems theory as well as many philosophical and religious traditions. Native American belief, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, the pre-Socratics, Spinoza, Thoreau, Leopold and Ghandi all influence Deep Ecology.

Deep Ecology is presented in contrast to reformist 'shallow ecology' which retains a utilitarian and anthropocentric attitude to nature. 'Shallow ecology' tends to focuses on technological solutions to environmental problems.

Deep Ecology requires us to ask deep questions about our personal lifestyle society and experience. By probing deeper we can discover our true place in nature.

Naess calls his own version of Deep Ecology 'Ecophilosophy T', but it is not intended to be definitive. Naess wants each individual to think through their beliefs and construct their own philosophy.

Deep Ecology as a Movement

Perhaps because Naess encourages diversity, Deep Ecology has developed into a varied and dynamic movement. Activists and thinkers holding different philosophical perspectives can agree on the basic principles, and therefore act for a common purpose. The movement collaborates with the peace and many other social justice movements. There are strong crossovers with Ecofeminism and Eco-Spirituality.

Deep Ecology was a catalyst for the formation of Earth First!, & is very influential.

Earth First activists. Copyright: Adrian Harris.
Earth First activists ©

Self realization

'Self realization' is central to Naess' Deep Ecology. Self realization in this sense means broadening and deepening our sense of self beyond the narrow ego to an identification with all living beings.

Once we 'see ourselves in others' in this broad way our natural inclination is to protect the Earth:

' flows naturally if the self is widened and deepened so that protection of free nature is felt and conceived of as protection of our very selves'.

Naess in 'Thinking Like a Mountain', p. 29

related links: What is Deep Ecology?, Deep Ecology critique, Ecofeminism , Eco-Spirituality Bioregionalism , recommended books
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