is a recent branch of ecological philosophy
) that considers humankind
an integral part of its environment
. Deep ecology places greater value on non-human species
and processes in nature than established environmental
and green movements
. Deep ecology has led to a new system of environmental ethics
. The core principle of deep ecology as originally developed is Arne Næss's
doctrine of biospheric egalitarianism
— the claim 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 of ecology
as a branch of biological science, and aims to avoid merely utilitarian
environmentalism, which it argues is concerned with resource management of the environment for human purposes.
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 eternal soul
, 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 "the right of all forms [of life] 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."
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
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 particularly 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 shattering Descartes's and Newton's vision of the universe as a machine explainable in terms of simple linear cause and effect, and instead providing a view of Nature in constant flux with the idea that observers are separate an illusion. They refer to Fritjof Capra's The 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.
The scientific version of the Gaia hypothesis was also an influence on the development of deep ecology.
In their book, Devall and Sessions also credit the American poet and social critic Gary Snyder — a man with commitments in Buddhism, Native American studies, the outdoors, and alternative social movements — as a major voice of wisdom in the evolution of their ideas.
The central spiritual tenet of deep ecology is that the human species is a part of the Earth and not separate from 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.
In relation to the Judeo-Christian tradition, Næss offers the following criticism: "The arrogance of stewardship [as found in the Bible] 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.
Drawing upon the Buddhist tradition is the work of Joanna Macy
. Macy, working as an anti-nuclear activist in 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.
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:
In practice, deep ecologists support decentralization
, the creation of ecoregions
, the breakdown of industrialism
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.
The notion of intrinsic value
Some people criticize the notion that the intrinsic value of ecological systems exists independently of humanity's recognition of it. An example of this approach is that one might say that a work of art is only valuable insofar as humans perceive it to be worthwhile. Such people claim that the ecosystem's value does not reach beyond our appreciation of it. Intrinsic value is a philosophical concept which some do not accept. However, intrinsic value defined as value existing separate from human thought may in this case be conflated with intrinsic value defined as natural worth existing independent of modification or application of a substance or entity, clouding the argument. This entire argument, however, assumes both the primacy and uniqueness of the ability of humans to create value, as opposed to a collection of sentient beings dependent on a perfectly ordered system for life or even a natural system devoid of sentient life being incapable of possessing inherent value. It also is a result of the confusion between anthropogenic
- something being created by humans, and anthropocentric
- exclusive value being given to humans.
Interests in nature
For something to require rights and protection intrinsically
, it must have interests. Deep ecology is criticised for presuming that plants, for example, have their own interests. Deep ecologists claim to identify
with the environment, and in doing so, criticise those who claim they have no understanding what the environment's interests are. The criticism is that the interests that a deep ecologist purports to give to nature, such as growth, survival, balance are really human interests. "The earth is endowed with 'wisdom', wilderness equates with 'freedom', and life forms are said to emit 'moral' qualities. It has also been argued that species and ecosystems themselves have rights.
However, the overarching criticism assumes that humans, in governing their own affairs, are somehow immune 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 "interests" are ultimately observable solely from the logical application of the 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
attitude to nature and for its materialist
outlook. Against this is Arne 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.
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. Ecofeminists contend that their concept of the self (as a dynamic process consisting of relations) is superior. Ecofeminists would also place more emphasis on the problem of androcentrism
rather than anthropocentrism
Misunderstanding scientific information
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
such as Murray Bookchin
claim that deep ecology fails to link environmental crises with authoritarianism
. 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 ostensibly be to save an area of old growth forest, the habitat of a snail or an owl, even individual trees. It should however be noted that, especially in the United Kingdom, there are also strong anti-capitalist and anarchist currents in the movement, and 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.
Robert Greenway and Theodore Roszak have employed the Deep Ecology (DE) platform as a means to argue for Ecopsychology. Although Ecopsychology is a highly differentiated umbrella that encompasses many practices and perspectives, its ethos is generally consistent with DE. 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, "ecopsycology" may change to include these novel perspectives.
Notable advocates of deep ecology
- Bender, F. L. 2003. The Culture of Extinction: Toward a Philosophy of Deep Ecology Amherst, New York: Humanity Books.
- Devall, W. and G. Sessions. 1985. Deep Ecology: Living As if Nature Mattered Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, Inc.
- Drengson, Alan. 1995. The Deep Ecology Movement
- Katz, E., A. Light, et al. 2000. Beneath the Surface: Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Deep Ecology Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
- Næss, A. 1989. Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy Translated by D. Rothenberg. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Passmore, J. 1974. Man’s Responsibility for Nature London: Duckworth.
- Sessions, G. (ed) 1995. Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century Boston: Shambhala.
- Taylor, B. and M. Zimmerman. 2005. Deep Ecology" in B. Taylor, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature'', v 1, pp. 456-60, London: Continuum International. Also online at
- Jozef Keulartz, Struggle for nature : a critique of radical ecology, London [etc.] : Routledge, 1998
- Michael Tobias ed, Deep Ecology, Avant Books (1984, 1988) ISBN 0-932238-13-0.
- Harold Glasser (ed), The Selected Works of Arne Næss, Volumes 1-10. Springer, (2005), ISBN 1-4020-3727-9. (review)
- Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild, Tucson, Univ of Arizona Press (1996)
- de Steiguer, J.E. 2006. The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought. The University of Arizona Press. 246 pp.