DEEP ECOLOGY

The fundamental worldview of industrial society is that Earth is like a gravel pit or a lumberyard — just a resource for human use. We live disconnected from the evolving earth community, but our deepest allurement is a rich, intimate participation in nature and the ongoing adventure of the Universe. – Brian Swimme

Every social transformation ... has rested on a new metaphysical and ideological base; or rather, upon deeper stirrings and intuitions whose rationalised expression takes the form of a new picture of the cosmos and the nature of man. -- Lewis Mumford

I believe the philosophy of deep ecology has captured what should be our relationship to the natural world for post-industrial society. It is a philosophy which is not only about ideas but also about feelings and emotions. — David Orton

 

Flagstaff Sky

 

Deep Ecology brings together cutting-edge science, philosophy, spirituality, and action.  It is arguably the most holistic philosophy of environmental ethics that we have.  But it is also a social movement that seeks to find the ways and means of creating a viable, sustainable human culture, one that can live in balanced harmony with the Earth.  Deep ecology concerns itself with making the changes that are necessary so that future generations of all species may flourish on this planet, and so that evolution may continue to reveal its wonders. 

Deep ecology puts the issue of our worldview, and its effects upon the web of life, into perspective.  It offers a new understanding of how humanity has brought itself to this critical point in evolution, where the survival of our species, and of millions of other species, is at stake.  But it also offers a new vision of how we can address current crises by transforming the way our species relates with the rest of the natural world.  So deep ecology provides hope and direction, an alternative to denial and despair.  It offers ways to work with ecological realities, and to celebrate the possibilities that Mother Nature still holds for us.

My first deep ecology teachers, John Seed and Joanna Macy, were—and are— Dharmagaians.  From them I learned about the inner and outer dimensions of the Great Turning, or paradigm change, as they guided mourning ceremonies and evolutionary journeys during the Council of All Beings workshops I attended in the 1980s and 1990s.  Since I was first introduced to deep ecology in 1986, at the same time that I became involved in the rainforest movement, I have seen deep ecology deepen and expand both as a field of consciousness and a movement.


The Movement

Yosemite High Country ©  Suzanne Duarte

Deep ecology characterizes an emerging worldview and a movement that is radically pluralistic.  It is not so much a system of thought as a systemic mode of perception that emerges from ‘below,’ through intuitions coming from the ecological unconscious that are demanding to become conscious.  Once the stirrings of the ecological unconscious become conscious and one ‘discovers’ deep ecology, a journey begins from which there is no going back; for deep ecology leads us into a wide-ranging inquiry into ways of seeing, experiencing, and relating with the natural world in a holistic, ethical manner.  And that changes our consciousness. 

Ecology is the study of relationships between nonhuman organisms and between nonhuman species and their habitats.  Human ecology is the study of relationships between humans and their natural and social environments.  Deep ecology is the study of the relationship between the human mind and the natural world, and the behaviors that result from our attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions. 

Deep ecology’s primary method is questioning: asking deeper and deeper questions about how we humans perceive and relate with our Gaian habitat, the Earth, and the other life forms of the planet.  In deep ecology, we examine ourselves as well as what we are relating with, in the recognition of our interdependence with the health of the biosphere. 

The Cat's Eye Nebula- an example of a planetary nebula

As a field of consciousness, like a “morphic field,” deep ecology has emerged through countless conversations, dialogues, conferences, and workshops—not to mention books and journals—among people who are sharing their deep ecological journeys, changing their paradigms, searching for answers to the same questions, exchanging insights and ideas, and reflecting on each others’ discoveries.  One writer has called the deep ecology movement a “multifaceted narrative,” but I see it more as a long-range, evolving conversation through which the ecological unconscious is making itself conscious in a multifaceted way.  Many of the people I’ve listed as Dharmagaian Allies have been engaged in deep ecological conversations with each other over the last few decades, learning from and sharing with each other—and creating a field of consciousness.

The first American book on deep ecology, written by George Sessions and Bill Devall, was called Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered. ‘Living as if nature matters’ remains a good tag line for deep ecology, for it appeals to people who both care about the nonhuman world and know that it matters.  For me, the book was revolutionary, for it provided a whole new understanding of industrial civilization’s separation from and exploitation of the natural world, and the roots of that behavior in the Western worldview.  George Sessions has said,

The long-range Deep Ecology movement emerged more or less spontaneously and informally as a philosophical and scientific social/political movement during the so-called Ecological Revolution of the 1960s. Its main concern has been to bring about a major paradigm shift - a shift in perception, values, and lifestyles - as a basis for redirecting the ecologically destructive path of modern industrial growth societies. Since the 1960s, the long-range Deep Ecology movement has been characterized philosophically by a move from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism, and by environmental activism.

In Canyonlands, Utah © Suzanne Duarte

Thus began my own journey of conscious paradigm change, which renewed my sense of intimacy with and belonging within nature, and brought a sense of community with others who embraced this emerging perspective, many of whom happened to be rainforest activists.  This journey eventually led me to conceive of Dharmagaians as the larger community of ecocentrically inspired people, whatever movement they identify with, and of this website as a learning and networking center where they can exchange views and ideas regarding our current predicaments.

The philosophically oriented Trumpeter Journal, whose first issue came out in 1983, says,

The Trumpeter is an environmental journal dedicated to the development of an ecosophy, or wisdom, born of ecological understanding and insight. As such, it serves the deep ecology movement’s commitment to explore and analyze philosophically relevant environmental concerns in light of ecological developments at every relevant level: metaphysics, science, history, politics. Gaining a deeper understanding involves a comprehensive set of criteria that includes analytical rigour, spiritual insight, ethical integrity, and aesthetic appreciation.

Thus, with “analytical rigour, spiritual insight, ethical integrity, and aesthetic appreciation,” deep ecology addresses the most critical question of our time:  How can humans live sustainably, and with a fulfilling quality of life, without destroying the planet?   Human ecologist/eco-philosopher Paul Shepard put the corollary of this question in this way:  “Why does society persist in destroying its habitat?”  These questions have provoked a critique of the worldview of industrial civilization, which regards the natural world as a storehouse of resources and commodities for human consumption, as well as a waste dump for our throw-away culture. In regarding the natural world as less-than-human, or not even alive, this worldview—which underlies the global economy—separates humans from the more-than-human world.  This is the paradigm that deep ecology seeks to change.

 

The Platform

Since it was first given a name by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1972, deep ecology has drawn many adherents and provoked much controversy.  Adherents or supporters of deep ecology have identified these characteristics of the industrial worldview as the source of ecologically destructive behaviors: materialism, mechanism, reductionism, anthropocentrism and the will to dominate and coerce.  These are the characteristics of the dominant industrial paradigm that deep ecology asks us to question and to change if we wish for humans to adapt to and survive on this planet. 

Needless to say, since deep questioning and criticism of the dominant paradigm of the dominant culture is a new challenge in the history of Western thought, it has provoked the paradigm police in many fields to defend the status quo.  However, since the dominant paradigm is proving itself to be self-destructive—by threatening the extinction of our species along with much of life on Earth, not to mention the collapse of civilization along the way—the urgent task is to change the paradigm within and among ourselves in order to co-create a life-affirming, sustainable way of life.

To that end, Arne Naess and George Sessions took a retreat in (appropriately) Death Valley, California, in 1984 in order to formulate a platform for the deep ecology movement. 

Death Valley, CA, ©  Suzanne Duarte

This is The Deep Ecology Platform:

1) The wellbeing 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.

These are self-evident truths from an ecocentric or Gaian perspective.  Although many individuals, including mystics and sages throughout the ages, had recognized and stated these truths (particularly the first three), the deep ecology platform broke new ground by stating them so boldly for our time.  The platform breaks taboos in Western culture, and therefore not only raises objections but provokes outrage and resistance.  But by breaking new ground for ecologically inspired and concerned people in all fields, it opened up the space for deeper analysis and creativity— and it continues to do so.

 

Radical Pluralism

Sources of inspiration for the deep ecological movement include Buddhism, Taoism, indigenous and “pagan” traditions, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Mahatma Gandhi, philosophers Baruch Spinoza and Martin Heidegger, poets Robinson Jeffers and Gary Snyder, eco-philosopher Paul Shepard, and living systems theory, as well as scientific insights into the interdependence and evolution of ourselves, our planet and the universe.

Uncompagre Wilderness, CO, © Suzanne Duarte

Deep ecology has influenced and been cross-fertilized by many other forms of inquiry and movements seeking a way for humans to relate with nature and the biosphere in a healthy, benign manner that leaves a viable planet for future generations.  Among these are the new cosmology, ecopsychology, ecofeminism, ecoliteracy, ecospirituality, ecotheology, ecojustice, neoluddism, primitivism, green anarchism, bioregionalism, voluntary simplicity, consciousness research, ethnography, health care, ethology (animal behavior research), sustainable communities, ecovillages, permaculture, council practices, and community therapies of many kinds.  This diversity is what “radical pluralism” means.

The "deepness" of deep ecology has to do with going to the roots of our environmental crises by questioning the beliefs, assumptions, ways of thinking, values, and social and psychological dynamics that underlie industrial civilization, and seeking long-term alternatives.  This search has stimulated profound inquiry in countless fields where paradigm change is now underway.  I believe that this is the distinctiveness and significance of deep ecology.  Although it is now seldom credited, its influence is identifiable in the many current challenges to old anthropocentric and mechanistic paradigms.

When first approaching deep ecology it’s helpful to understand that this subject is not linear.  It is holistic.  It is process-oriented, interactive, and relational.  Deep ecology seeks to perceive the network quality of the web of life as a whole, which we call interdependence.  And it is multi-disciplinary: the new physical, biological, and social sciences, the new cosmology, living systems theory, the perennial philosophy, depth psychology, ritual and ceremony, group process work, wilderness rites of passage, shamanism, ecosystem restoration, gender issues, sustainable communities, nonviolent activism, and civil disobedience are all encompassed within the deep ecology perspective and are seen as connected with each other.  Interconnection and mutual reflection are characteristic not only of deep ecology and systems thinking, but are the nature of the universe we live in.  We are simply learning to see it with new, ecological eyes.  And that is what deep ecology is really all about.

Interacting Spiral Galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163

When it comes to how humans in the industrialized world relate with the natural world, we are all learners. We are learning how to move out of the dominator paradigm and be plain citizens of the biosphere.  We are learning how to relate with each other and with all other living beings with humbleness, gratitude and respect.  We are learning to let go of being know-it-alls—the overbearing, arrogant lords and masters of the planet—and to admit that there is a lot we don't know.  There are vast and profound mysteries in this universe that we have no idea how to explain, much less manipulate effectively without causing damage to our life support systems.  We are learning to recognize patterns in ourselves that are unhealthy and that contribute to the ecological crisis, and we are seeking to create new and healthier patterns of thought and behavior that enable us to live in peace and harmony with each other and the rest of creation.  We all have a lot to learn and it is a long journey, almost certainly longer than our current lifespans.    

The deep ecological perspective provokes us to think much more deeply about the seriousness of the situation that modern humans have created for ourselves and the planet.  It challenges us to stretch our minds, hearts, and imaginations to envision new possibilities.  I see deep ecology as a way to face and make sense of the realities that our species must contend with at this time.  In studying deep ecology—as in studying, for example, Buddhist meditation—we are working with "higher mind" in ourselves and each other; for in deep ecology we are working with the sacredness of the world and the sacredness of our callings as human beings. 

Wetland, California © Suzanne Duarte

Expressions of deep ecological views and sensibilities range from scholarly academic studies, to poetic cosmological expositions and sermons, to hard-core direct action; from disciplined, reverent group processes, to solo wilderness rites of passage, to wild pagan celebrations in nature; and from story to poetry, song, dance and Earth art of every kind and on every scale.  As an examination of the human psyche’s relationship with nature, the literature on deep ecology is vast and continues to grow.  This bibliography is a good starting point, but there are many, many other books that I consider deep ecological—or Dharmagaian.

 

Defining Characteristics

These are what I regard to be the defining characteristics of deep ecology:

• Deep ecology strives for a holistic, systemic view and analysis of the relationship of humans with the rest of the natural world—beyond anthropocentrism (human-centeredness).  Humans are perceived ecologically, within the context of all living phenomena, not as separate from nature. This has been called a biocentric or ecocentric view, or an ecological worldview, or ecological consciousness, in which the wellbeing of the entire Earth community is the primary concern and value. (See “Beyond Anthropocentrism.”)

When you try to pick out anything by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe.  — John Muir

• From an ecological perspective, all species of beings have inherent value; for they all have a purpose within the ecosphere, the Earth community, or they wouldn't be there. The richness and diversity of species also have intrinsic value because they support the flourishing of life in diverse ecosystems. This is a non-utilitarian view, in which organisms and species are valued beyond their usefulness to humans.  Therefore, deep ecology places a high value on undisturbed wild lands where nature's evolutionary processes still have a chance to unfold.

• Likewise, deep ecology values and seeks to protect indigenous human ways of life that are integrated with ecosystems in healthy, sustainable ways. Thus, deep ecology also values cultural diversity in what Wade Davis calls the "Ethnosphere": the sphere of languages, beliefs, practices and cultures that preserve the richness of human ways of knowing and expressing harmony with the biosphere. Many supporters of deep ecology work with indigenous peoples to preserve their cultures as well as their ecosystems. They have much to teach urbanized humans about re-inhabitation of land and interdependence with nature.  (See Indigenous Wisdom.)

• Deep ecology also has a psycho-spiritual dimension, which many supporters of deep ecology refer to as the ecological Self (with a capital S).  In industrial society our socially defined sense of self (ego) is small and limited compared to the sense of self that is identified with the interdependent community of all beings, the larger Self, in our bioregion — or within Gaia.  This identification occurs through deeply embodied psycho-spiritual experiences of the natural, nonhuman world as our larger body, our larger Self. When we meet the nonhuman world without anthropocentric ego filters, we sense that — as the Bioneers say — "It's all connected, it's all intelligent, it's all relatives." Matter, energy and information flow between ourselves and Gaia without boundaries. As we gain a feeling of belonging within the larger organism of which we are a part, our circle of awareness and compassion expands, and thus our sense of self expands. As the boundary between our own interests and those of the natural world dissolves, our consciousness evolves beyond anthropocentrism into ecocentrism. This is where deep ecology aligns with the Bodhisattva Path of Mahayana Buddhism. (See Buddhadharma and Ecopsychology.)

• Deep ecology asks deeper questions about the ultimate causes of our ecological crises, rather than settling for solutions based on the existing assumptions of industrial civilization.  Solutions based on existing assumptions are those offered by "reform environmentalism."  Deep ecology is distinguished from reform environmentalism by going to the root of our culture's dysfunctional relationship with nature, which is perceived to be our worldview, or the story of the universe (cosmology) that we have inherited from the culture, which is mostly unconscious.  Reform environmentalism tries to reform existing institutions and policies, without questioning the worldview they are based upon. 

• Deep ecology is a long-range social movement in which our species is seen in the perspective of "deep time," from our long evolutionary journey—99% of which was spent as gatherers and hunters—to our long journey ahead as we move from industrialism towards an ecologically sustainable way of living on this planet.  For this, we need ecological wisdom, maturity, and integrity, which can be cultivated through deep experience, deep questioning, and deep commitment.

• The long-range deep ecology movement is reformulating the field of ethics and applying a new ecocentric ethic in many fields. In general, it opposes all forms of domination, oppression and tyranny between humans and in relation to the Earth.  It is nonviolent and democratic.  It is opposed to corporate globalization and to the consumer monoculture that has been forced upon cultures and ecosystems around the world.  It is skeptical of technological fixes to deep systemic problems.  It favors local self-determination, preferably in the form of bioregionalism.  And it encourages personal responsibility for acting with awareness of the larger concerns of the Earth community.  It encourages all supporters of deep ecology to participate in the “Great Turning"—turning our culture away from its self-destructive course toward a life-sustaining path of conscious cultural evolution.

• The deep ecology movement is still co-evolving the new ecocentric worldview and ethic. It is a work in progress, the Great Work that will determine the future of our species and of life on Earth.

 

Michael Dowd, in “The Big Picture: the Larger Context for All Human Activities,” places deep ecology at the center of the shift that is occurring in the modern worldview:

Heart of the Whirlpool Galaxy

As a species, we must make a profound shift in consciousness in the direction of deep ecology if we are to survive. We must grow from seeing ourselves as discrete, separate beings that walk around on Earth, to feeling and knowing ourselves as an expression of Earth. Our thinking and behavior must align with, and flow out of, the reality of our situation: the planet is our larger body, our larger self. We are dependent upon the community of life, air, water and soil in every conceivable way. Unless we make this shift in consciousness, we will continue to be a "cancer," a parasite, consuming its own host environment. We will survive only with the spiritual guidance and awareness of the body of Life as a whole with its billions of years of evolutionary wisdom.

 

 

Also see Deep Ecology Links, Paradigm Change, New Cosmology, and Ecopsychology. The Great Turning section of this website contains much more on the challenges of our time and Dharmagaian responses.

  

Reflection © Suzanne Duarte


Ecology and spirituality are fundamentally connected, because deep ecological awareness, ultimately, is spiritual awareness. -- Fritjof Capra

The main hope for changing humanity's present course may lie ... in the development of a world view drawn partly from ecological principles - in the so-called deep ecology movement. -- Paul Ehrlich

 

© 2009 Suzanne Duarte