Deep Ecology

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Deep ecology is a recent philosophy or ecosophy based on a shift away from the anthropocentric bias of established environmental and green movements. The philosophy is marked by a new interpretation of "self" which de-emphasizes the rationalistic duality between the human organism and its environment, thus allowing emphasis to be placed on the intrinsic value of other species, systems and processes in nature. This position leads to an ecocentric system of environmental ethics.

Deep ecology describes itself as "deep" because it is concerned with fundamental philosophical questions about the role of human life as one part of the ecosphere...


The phrase deep ecology was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1972, and he helped give it a theoretical foundation. Naess rejected the idea that beings can be ranked according to their relative value. For example, judgements on whether an animal has an eternal soul, whether it uses reason or whether it has consciousness have all been used to justify the ranking of the human animal over other animals.

Naess 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".

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 external 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"[1]. 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.


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 realise ourselves. Transpersonal psychology has been used by Warwick Fox to support this idea.

Other traditions which have influenced deep ecology include Taoism and Zen Buddhism, primarily because they have a non-dualistic approach to subject and object. In relation to the Judeo-Christian tradition, Naess 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."


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 holds that a whole system is superior to any of its parts. They offer an eight-tier platform to elucidate their claims:[6]

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, 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....

... Respect for nature includes a belief in the inherent worth of all beings that are a part of the natural world. Only those humans who are alienated from the natural world and participate in its destruction are to be opposed. However, by deep ecology's own standards, the overwhelming majority of humanity is alienated from nature and participates in its destruction at least to some degree. Some would argue that the deep ecologists' opposition to the overwhelming majority of humanity is the very definition of misanthropy.

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