Deep Ecology is a branch of ecological philosophy that views humanity as interconnected and interdependent with its environment. It proposes that all entities of nature have an equal right to survive and evolve without interference from other entities. Deep Ecology is concerned with creating environmental ethics that help establish principles by which the human community should live by.
Deep Ecology can be considered radically conservative in that it draws its basic principles from established religious beliefs and philosophies of Western Europe, North America and the Orient and incorporates many shared insights and intuitions of primal cultures and Native American Indians. These values and beliefs can also be considered a remembering of previously known and practiced wisdom. The wisdom derived from deep ecology principles is concerned with the connection to natural surroundings and the natural processes that are fundamental to life.
Understanding Deep Ecology
Arne Naess created the term Deep Ecology in his 1973 article, “The Shallow and the Deep, Long Range Ecology Movements.” The heart of deep ecology lies in the deep questioning regarding human life, civilization and wild nature primarily by means of dialogue as opposed to the structured and rational demeanor of traditional science. Deep ecology goes beyond conventional thinking about environmental dilemmas to include a more articulate worldview that includes religious and philosophical considerations. Also, included in this inquiry is the engagement in intuition, being in touch with ourselves and our experience of nature. These processes constitute an access point to ecological consciousness.
Deep Ecology asks what it means to be a unique human being, how one can maintain an individual identity while also being connected and inseparable to the biosphere and how to perceive oneself without a dividing line between the self and all other entities.
Ecological consciousness and deep ecology are distinctly different from the prevailing worldview of industrial societies which portray humanity as isolated and separate from nature, superior to and entitled to dominate and exploit the riches of the Earth for their own benefit. P 65. The notion of dominance and control over nature has also transferred to the dominance of men over women, the affluent and powerful over the poor, and the dominance of Western over non-western cultures.
Another important facet in ecological consciousness is the fusion of the physical and spiritual realms as being equally important and essential for a balanced perspective and lifestyle. Beliefs that include intuition and creativity are equally at home with scientific perspectives that affirm theories based on more objective evidence.
Warwick Fox, an Australian philosopher, has articulated the fundamental theme of deep ecology by saying that there is no division between living and non-living entities regarding the importance of their existence and any perceived discrepancy between these realms illuminates a lack of ecological consciousness.
The insight just mentioned has prompted the development of two norms or intuitions articulated by Arne Naess. These norms are not derivable from other principles or intuitions. Their acquisition is by the process of deep questioning and illuminates the significance of transcending to the philosophical and religious levels of wisdom. They cannot be validated scientifically as the framework of science is mechanistic and narrow in its definition of data. These norms are called self-realization and biocentric equality.
Self-realization is not only the identification with one’s identity and that of humanity but also includes the world of non-human existence and its inherent importance and value. This is quite different from the traditional view of the self typically defined as an “isolated ego striving primarily for hedonistic gratification or for a narrow sense of individual salvation in this life or the next.” (Bill Devall and George Sessions, p. 67).
Biocentric equality is the realization and understanding that everything that constitutes the biosphere has an equal right to live, thrive and evolve to their own unique destinies within the larger self-realization. It follows that this acknowledges equal and intrinsic worth to all organisms and entities. Naess further implies that biocentric equality is true in principle despite the fact that all species utilize each other to fulfill the necessities of food, shelter and other survival needs. Theologians have understandably had a difficult time resolving the issue of mutual predation and its religious implications.
Humans as individuals and as communities also have other needs beyond subsistence that include loving relationships, play, recreation, creativity, spiritual and psychological growth and a propensity to relate to their habitat in a reverent manner. Material needs are actually a lot less important than we would suppose given our more familiar orientation to materialism and consumerism perpetuated by modern industrial societies.
Many individuals, whether they support the radical stance of deep ecology, recognize that people need a healthy environment in which to thrive. Most would support ecological perspectives and interventions such as conservation, preservation, sustainability and an effort to limit degradation of the Earth’s living and non-living systems. The following table summarizes the contrasting aspects between the dominant worldview and that of deep ecology.