ON THE DEEP ECOLOGY PATH by David Orton
ON THE DEEP ECOLOGY PATH
by David Orton
“The main driving force of the Deep Ecology movement, as compared with the rest of the ecological movement, is that of identification and solidarity with all life.” Arne Naess
Coming to an appreciation for the philosophy of Deep Ecology may, for many forestry, biocide and wildlife activists, have come by travelling a similar path as myself — by starting on a personal journey through various environmental struggles and by identifying with the natural world. It is often only much later that one discovers that there is an actual philosophy of deep ecology, first sketched out in the 1973 article “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary” by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who is now in his late eighties. “Shallow” here means thinking that the major ecological problems can be resolved within the continuation of industrial capitalist society. “Deep” means to ask deeper questions and not stay on the surface. This deep orientation understands that industrial society has caused an Earth-threatening ecological crisis. (For the best introduction to the ideas of Arne Naess read his “Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline Of An Ecosophy” translated and edited by David Rothenberg. “Ecosophy” is the personal code of values guiding one’s interaction with nature.
My own ecological awareness path, started in the late 70s in British Columbia. I remember naively arguing for a genuine “multi-use” of the forests where all “interests” were treated on an equal footing. I also agitated inside the BC Federation of Naturalists, that there should be no financial compensation to the logging companies for any withdrawal of crown (public) lands for wildlife reserves or parks. Only later, under the influence of deep ecology, did I come to see that humans could not “own” land and other species; that humanity is part of a biological community without any privileged status; and that in conflicts between the needs of humans and the vital needs of other species or the Earth itself, generally human and corporate needs must give way. Later, when I moved to Nova Scotia, the forestry battles centered on forestry biocide spraying. I intervened from the perspective that in nature there are no “pests”.
Deep Ecology Platform
This platform was worked out in 1984 by Arne Naess and US philosopher George Sessions:
1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth, intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
2. Richness and diversity of life-forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
4. Present human interference with the nonhuman 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 nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
6. Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.
The Deep Ecology Platform has received widespread acceptance within the deep ecology movement, as representing the most general and basic views that supporters of this movement have in common. (How to change the Platform, so that it can evolve and yet keep movement legitimacy, is an issue in itself!) The platform does not prescribe what to do in concrete situations, but requires activists to think this through for themselves.
Deep ecology has become enormously influential (and bitterly attacked) in a relatively short period of time. This philosophy is not only about changing personal consciousness away from human-centeredness or anthropocentrism, it is also about voluntary simplicity (activists have to live the talk) and a needed spiritual change. To exit global industrial society, which destroys nature and communities everywhere, we humans have to share our identities, like past animistic societies, with other animals, plants, peoples and nature itself. Then, destroying other species and their habitats would be unthinkable from a moral or ethical viewpoint.
A challenge to create a deep ecological revolutionary movement is to outline a sweeping program of social change with alternative social, political, and economic visions. Front line activists need to apply deep ecology to specific issues and struggles, no matter how socially sensitive, e.g. population reduction, aboriginal issues, workers’ struggles, etc. Change through individual consciousness-raising, a major focus of much of deep ecology, is important but not enough.
One of the interesting developments within deep ecology over the last few years is the emergence of a “left” tendency, for example “left biocentrism”. Its supporters see that paying attention to social questions ( questions of class, justice and corporate power, but within an ecocentric framework) is a necessary part of human mobilization towards a deep ecological world. (For some examples of this general tendency, the writings of Andrew McLaughlin and Richard Sylvan, Judi Bari’s essay “Revolutionary Ecology: Biocentrism & Deep Ecology” and my essay “My Path to Left Biocentrism - Theory and Actual Issues.”) Deep ecology can only be implemented in fundamental opposition to industrial capitalism and not within it.
If we can agree with Hegel that philosophy is “capturing one’s time in thought”, then deep ecology has captured what should be our relationship to the natural world in this 21st century. Let’s get to work.