Deep ecology is an ecological and environmental philosophy promoting the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus a radical restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas.

Deep ecology argues that the natural world is a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the existence of organisms is dependent on the existence of others within ecosystems. Human interference with or destruction of the natural world poses a threat therefore not only to humans but to all organisms constituting the natural order.

Deep ecology’s core principle is the belief that the living environment as a whole should be respected and regarded as having certain inalienable legal rights to live and flourish, independent of its instrumental benefits for human use. Deep ecology is often framed in terms of the idea of a much broader sociality; it recognizes diverse communities of life on Earth that are composed not only through biotic factors but also, where applicable, through ethical relations, that is, the valuing of other beings as more than just resources. It describes itself as “deep” because it regards itself as looking more deeply into the actual reality of humanity’s relationship with the natural world arriving at philosophically more profound conclusions than that of the prevailing view of ecology as a branch of biology. The movement does not subscribe to anthropocentric environmentalism (which is concerned with conservation of the environment only for exploitation by and for human purposes) since deep ecology is grounded in a quite different set of philosophical assumptions. Deep ecology takes a more holistic view of the world human beings live in and seeks to apply to life the understanding that the separate parts of the ecosystem (including humans) function as a whole. This philosophy provides a foundation for the environmental, ecology, and green movements and has fostered a new system of environmental ethics advocating wilderness preservation, human population control, and simple living.

Proponents of deep ecology believe that the world does not exist as a resource to be freely exploited by humans. If material goods do not guarantee happiness beyond a very moderate level, and over-consumption is endangering the biosphere, defining a new non-consumptive paradigm of well-being seems primordial, such a paradigm would be non-acquisitive/non-consumerist and non-hierarchical in relation to our place on Earth. The ethics of deep ecology hold that the survival of any part is dependent upon the well-being of the whole. Proponents of deep ecology offer an eight-tier platform to elucidate their claims:

The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves. 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.
— Deep Ecology

These principles can be reduced to three simple propositions:

Wilderness and biodiversity preservation
Human population control
Simple living (or treading lightly on the planet).

The phrase “deep ecology” was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss in 1973. 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 from an ecological point of view “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 humanity 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.” Daniel Quinn, in his novel Ishmael, showed that an anthropocentric myth underlies our current view of the world.

The ecological problems faced by the world today are partly due to the loss of traditional knowledge, values, and ethics of behavior that celebrate the intrinsic value and sacredness of the natural world and that give the preservation of Nature prime importance. Correspondingly, the assumption of human superiority to other life forms, as if we were granted royalty status over Nature – the idea that Nature is mainly here to serve human will and purpose – receives a radical critique in deep ecology. Deep ecology developed a response to the anthropocentric view and several different actors played an important historical role in its development. Prominent among them was Joseph W. Meeker, who in 1973 told George Sessions about Arne Næss, whom Meeker knew personally. As Warwick Fox related, “One of the things that initially interested Sessions about Næss was Næss’s strong interest in, and innovative approach to, the work of Spinoza. Sessions says that he had himself ‘arrived at Spinoza as the answer to the process of teaching history of philosophy by about 1972 and independently of being in contact with Næss.'” Sessions therefore wrote to Næss at this time, beginning a lifelong association. Meeker’s (1972, 1997) book The Comedy of Survival: Studies in Literary Ecology emerged through the work of scholars seeking an environmental ethic. That book represents Meeker’s founding work in literary ecology and ecocriticism, which demonstrates the relationship between the literary arts and scientific ecology, especially humankind’s consideration of comedy and tragedy. It reminds readers that adaptive behaviors (comedy) promote survival, whereas tragedy estranges from other life forms. This thesis rests on Meeker’s study of comparative literature, his work with biologist Konrad Lorenz, and his work as a field ecologist in the National Park service in Alaska, Oregon, and California.

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 at a rate between 100 species a day and possibly 140,000 species a year, which is 10,000 times the background rate of extinction. Deep ecologists hope to influence social and political change through their philosophy. Næss has proposed, as Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke writes, “that the earth’s human population should be reduced to about 100 million.”

Environmental education
Ecology in the narrow sense refers to the biological science of ecology. However, ecological paradigms and principles are being developed and applied in almost all disciplines, and these paradigms have to do with the way we approach understanding the relationships and inter-connections within and between living beings which give to each its special place and identity. Human ecology, e.g., must certainly take account of the role of our subjective lives and spiritual needs, as well as our biological ones, in terms of their ecological effects. Ecology in this sense is not a reductionist undertaking, but a movement toward a more whole (or holistic) vision and understanding of world processes. Deep ecology seeks to look into all levels of existence and might be viewed as radical by some; for them a more anthropocentric view is appropriate because it put humans at the center. Learning how to live in harmony with our surroundings is beneficial because stopping the global extinction crisis and achieving true ecological sustainability will require rethinking our values as a society. In that way education seems to be the best way to start. Sustainability education aims to help learners understand their interconnectedness with all life, to become creative problem solvers and active citizens, and to engage personally and intellectually in shaping our common future. Experiential learning and critical pedagogy are central to providing opportunities for learners to engage in transformative sustainability learning. The “Environment” broadly defined, remains somewhat neglected within development studies, despite a substantial increase in contributions to the field over the fifteen years since 2000. Undergraduate and postgraduate courses (with some notable exceptions) often “add on” environmental issues as special lectures or modules, and there remains a tendency for those who are grounded in the material and discursive struggles that define the discipline to consider the environment as an exotic special interest, a problem that manifests itself in societies that have the leisure to care about the natural world. Development of a modern education model promoting patriotism and civic responsibility, active social position and healthy lifestyle is closely linked to the development of environmental responsibility in the younger generation. Development of environmentally responsible personality in individual is of particular importance for graduates of educational institutions. Environmental education could be integrated in different curriculum in most fields: education for sustainable development in the context of ecopedagogy.

Ecopedagogy calls for the remaking of capitalist practices and seeks to re-engage democracy to include multispecies interests in the face of our current global ecological crisis. It does so by using different ideas that challenge the way we see education. In Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy Movement, Richard Kahn (2010) reformulates Herbert Marcuse’s critical theories of society, and supports the kind of education that seizes the power of radical environmental activists and supports the earth democracy in which multispecies interests are represented. The destruction of habitats and threats to biodiversity resulting from expansion of human population and consumption is rarely addressed in a way that confronts students with the necessity to consider moral implications of such destruction. Pedagogically, a return to education associated with significant life experiences, such as hiking in wilderness areas as a youth; as well as strategically significant education, action competence, social learning, and variations and combinations of those and many other pedagogical approaches developed in the past 40 years. Some of these pedagogical approaches have been disputed—for example, the belief that experiencing environment first hand is an essential component of engaging people in conservation has been disputed by arguments that these education efforts have been informed by behaviorist socio-psychology models that assumed a linear causality between education experience and pro-environmental behavior. Rather, the critics have argued that people’s environmental behaviors are too complex and contextually dependent to be captured by a simple casual model. The process of environmental education of schoolchildren has the following methodological characteristics:

Goal-setting as the projected results reflects a model of environmentally responsible personality, taking into account trends in the development of key elements of education system; all natural sciences are involved in the development of basic ecological concepts.
The introduction of interactive training methods takes place at the high school level in teaching self-reflection, hypothesizing, predicting; school natural science education is rebuilt on the basis of system approach in accordance with the planned ecologization results. Implementation of relevant methodology will promote successful development of environmentally responsible personality in high school graduates.

In higher education, the analysis of students’ individual writing assignments after viewing films/documentaries presents an interesting case of using radical ‘messages’ within the aims of environmental education in order to trigger both student’s engagement and critical thinking. The case study “If a Tree Falls and Everybody Hears the Sound” provides an example of how environmental advocacy and the objective of pluralistic education can be combined as mutually supportive means of achieving both democratic learning in which students’ individual opinions are seen as extremely valuable, and simultaneously provide an example of the type of ecopedagogy that supports learning for environmental sustainability. The role of environmental advocacy can be crucially important if the interests of all planetary citizens—and not just one species—are to be taken seriously.

In her book Wild Children — Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education, Layla AbdelRahim argues that the current institutions responsible for the construction and transmission of civilized epistemology are driven by the destructive premises at the foundation of civilization and human predatory culture. In order to return to a viable socio-environmental culture, AbdelRahim calls for the rewilding of our anthropology (i.e. our place among other species) and of pedagogical culture, which in civilization is based on the same domestication methods of other animals.


Næss and Fox do not claim to use logic or induction 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 specifically 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. They propose that Nature is in a state of constant flux and reject the idea of observers as existing independent of their environment. 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. Devall and Sessions also credit the American poet and social critic Gary Snyder—with his devotion to Buddhism, Native American studies, the outdoors, and alternative social movements—as a major voice of wisdom in the evolution of their ideas.

The Gaia hypothesis was also an influence on the deep ecology movement.

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The central spiritual tenet of deep ecology is that the human species is a part of the Earth, not separate from it, and as such human existence is dependent on the diverse organisms within the natural world each playing a role in the natural economy of the biosphere. Coming to an awareness of this reality involves a transformation of an outlook that presupposes humanity’s superiority over the natural world. This 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. Deep ecology has influenced the development of contemporary Ecospirituality.

A number of spiritual and philosophical traditions including Native American, Buddhist and Jain are drawn upon in a continuing critique of the philosophical assumptions of the modern European mind which has enabled and led to what is seen as an increasingly unsustainable level of disregard towards the rights and needs of the natural world and its ability to continue to support human life. 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. Næss’ further criticizes the reformation’s view of creation as property to be put into maximum productive use: a view used frequently in the past to exploit and dispossess native populations. Many Protestant sects today regard the Bible’s call for man to have stewardship of the earth as a call for the care for creation, rather than for exploitation.

The original Christian teachings on property support the Franciscan/stewardship interpretation of the Bible. Against this view, Martin Luther condemned church ownership of lands because “they did not want to use that property in an economically productive fashion. At best they used it to produce prayers. Luther, and other Reformation leaders insisted that it should be used, not to relieve men from the necessity of working, but as a tool for making more goods. The attitude of the Reformation was practically, “not prayers, but production.” And production, not for consumption, but for more production.” This justification was offered to support secular takings of church endowments and properties.

Anthropologist Layla AbdelRahim sees the root of the anthropogenic degradation of the biosphere in the anthropology that constructs the human animal as the supreme predator. The ontological explanation offered for Human Supremacy by both science and religion, she says, alienate the human being from the community of life and allow for an immoral control and destruction of the wilderness, which, according to her contains the spirit and intelligence of life.

Philosophical roots

Arne Næss, who first wrote about the idea of deep ecology, from the early days of developing this outlook conceived Baruch Spinoza as a philosophical source.

Others have followed Næss’ inquiry, including Eccy de Jonge, in Spinoza and Deep Ecology: Challenging Traditional Approaches to Environmentalism, and Brenden MacDonald, in Spinoza, Deep Ecology, and Human Diversity—Realization of Eco-Literacies.

One of the topical centres of inquiry connecting Spinoza to Deep Ecology is “self-realization.” See Arne Næss in The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology movement and Spinoza and the Deep Ecology Movement for discussion on the role of Spinoza’s conception of self-realization and its link to deep ecology.

Criticism, debate, and response

Knowledge of non-human interests
Animal rights activists state that for an entity to require rights and protection intrinsically, it must have interests. Deep ecology is criticised for assuming that living things such as plants, for example, have their own interests as they are manifested by the plant’s behavior—for instance, self-preservation being considered an expression of a will to live. Deep ecologists claim to identify with non-human nature, and in doing so, deny those who claim that non-human (or non-sentient) lifeforms’ needs or interests are nonexistent or unknowable. The criticism is that the interests that a deep ecologist attributes to non-human organisms such as survival, reproduction, growth, and prosperity are really human interests. This is sometimes construed as a pathetic fallacy or anthropomorphism, in which “the earth is endowed with ‘wisdom’, wilderness equates with ‘freedom’, and life forms are said to emit ‘moral’ qualities.”

Deep ecology is criticised for its claim to being deeper than alternative theories, which by implication are shallow. When Arne Næss coined the term deep ecology, he compared it favourably with shallow environmentalism which he criticized for its utilitarian and anthropocentric attitude to nature and for its materialist and consumer-oriented outlook. Against this is Arne Næss’s own view that the “depth” of deep ecology resides in the persistence of its penetrative questioning, particularly in asking “Why?” when faced with initial answers.

Bookchin’s criticisms
Some critics, particularly social ecologist Murray Bookchin, have interpreted deep ecology as being hateful toward humanity, due in part to the characterization of humanity by some deep ecologists, such as David Foreman of Earth First!, as a pathological infestation on the Earth. Bookchin therefore asserts that “deep ecology, formulated largely by privileged male white academics, has managed to bring sincere naturalists like Paul Shepard into the same company as patently antihumanist and macho mountain men like David Foreman who preach a gospel that humanity is some kind of cancer in the world of life.” Bookchin mentions that some, like Foreman, defend seemingly anti-human measures, such as severe population control and the claim regarding the Third World that “the best thing would be to just let nature seek its own balance, to let the people there just starve”. However, Bookchin himself later admitted that “statements made by Earth First! activists are not to be confused with those made by deep ecology theorists”. Ecophilosopher Warwick Fox similarly “warns critics not to commit the fallacy of ‘misplaced misanthropy.’ That is, just because deep ecology criticizes an arrogant anthropocentrism does not mean that deep ecology is misanthropic.” Likewise, The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology attempts to clarify that “deep ecologists have been the strongest critics of anthropocentrism, so much so that they have often been accused of a mean-spirited misanthropy”; however, “deep ecology is actually vitally concerned with humans realizing their best potential” and “is explicit in offering a vision of an alternative way of living that is joyous and enlivening.”

Some writers have misunderstood Næss, taking his ecosophy T, with its self-realization norm, as something meant to characterize the whole deep ecology movement as part of a single philosophy called “deep ecology”. Næss was not doing either of these. He emphasized that movements cannot be precisely defined, but only roughly characterized by very general statements. They are often united internationally by means of such principles as found in the United Nations (UN) Earth Charter (1980), and in UN documents about basic human rights. Næss was doing something more subtle than many thought. He was not putting forth a single worldview and philosophy of life that everyone should adhere to in support of the international ecology movement. Instead, he was making an empirical claim based on overwhelming evidence that global social movements, from the grass roots up, consist of people with very diverse religious, philosophical, cultural, and personal orientations. Nonetheless, they can agree on certain courses of action and certain broad principles, especially at the international level. As supporters of a given movement, they can treat one another with mutual respect. Because of these misunderstandings Næss introduced an apron diagram to clearly illustrate his subtle distinctions.

Ecofeminist response
Ecofeminism and deep ecology have been in dialogue for some time now, and while the debate between them has been very fruitful over the years, the exploration of their relationship remains important. As valuable as our individually reconnecting with the natural world may be, and as much as such experiences should be encouraged, some have questioned whether this approach is sufficient, given the magnitude of the threat that human encroachment poses to the nonhuman world. With this in mind, the call has been made for a broader challenge to the dominant culture than deep ecological experience may offer. This call has come most forcefully from another school of environmental ethics: ecofeminism. While sharing with deep ecologists a general concern for biocentrism and an appreciation for personal interaction with nonhuman reality, ecofeminists have also offered some harsh criticism of Leopold, Callicott, and advocates of the deep ecological approach, as well as extensionists like Singer and Regan. Like deep ecology, ecofeminism is not a singular theory, and covers a broad range of thought; in rough terms, its criticism of other forms of nature ethics is grounded in an attempt to synthesize the insights of environmental ethics and animal advocacy with a feminist analysis of Western ethics and culture. The resulting attempt to rethink our relationship to the animal and nature casts speciesism and anthropocentrism as symptoms of a deeper patriarchy in the Western tradition that needs to be deconstructed before a successful animal ethic can be produced. As Josephine Donovan details, there is evidence to suggest a strong emotional and philosophical affinity among Anglo-American antivivisectionists and suffragettes, who viewed their causes as common responses to Enlightenment rationalism and scientism, and jointly sought a “feminizing” of culture that would liberate human and animal alike. Ecological feminism began as a critique and rejection of the western cultural worldview with its overemphasis on rationality, and linearity. It argued against a Cartesian science which elevated the material and objective above the spiritual and the subjective as appropriate ways of knowing the world. Like deep ecology, ecological feminism stresses the importance of experience, and personal experience at that. However, the ecofeminists seem to be talking about experience in a sense more related to bioregionalism than deep ecology.

Both ecofeminism 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. Similarly, some ecofeminists place more emphasis on the problem of androcentrism rather than anthropocentrism. To others, like Karen J. Warren, the domination of women is tethered conceptually and historically to the domination of nature. Ecofeminism denies abstract individualism and embraces the interconnectedness of the living world; relationships, including our relationship with non-human nature, are not extrinsic to our identity and are essential in defining what it means to be human. Warren argues that hierarchical classifications in general, such as racism or speciesism, are all forms of discrimination and are no different from sexism. Thus, anthropocentrism is simply another form of discrimination as a result of our flawed value structure and should be abolished.

Experiential deep ecologist Joanna Macy has attempted to avoid these conflicts and criticisms through her Work that Reconnects. By focussing deep ecology on the experience of the consciousness of personal depth within the participant, she speaks of “the greening of the self”, which is part of the epochal journey of our times from an egoic or egotistical self to an ecological self.

Links with other philosophies
Parallels have been drawn between deep ecology and other philosophies, in particular those of the animal rights movement, Earth First!, Deep Green Resistance, and anarcho-primitivism.

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 be to save an area of old growth forest, the habitat of a snail or an owl, even individual trees. 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 chained himself to rocks in front of Mardalsfossen, a waterfall in a Norwegian fjord, in a successful protest against the building of a dam.

There are also anarchist currents in the movement, especially in the United Kingdom. For example, Robert Hart, pioneer of forest gardening in temperate climates, wrote the essay “Can Life Survive?” in Deep Ecology & Anarchism.

Source from Wikipedia