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deep ecology

  A radical form of environmentalism which argues that nature has inherent rights to existence which are as, if not more, important than those of humans. Deep ecology is both a philosophy and a practice associated with the western environmental movement. It emerged in the early 1970s when ecologist Arne Naess (1973) made a distinction between \'shallow\' and \'deep ecology\', although it draws upon much older traditions of thought. For Naess the outpouring of government, business and government concern over the environment in the late 1960s and early 1970s amounted to a shallow ecology, or what Luke (1988, p. 66) calls \'reform environmentalism\'. Reform environmentalism was fundamentally technocentric — it sought managerial solutions to environmental problems within existing socio-economic frameworks — and also anthropocentric — in that it both saw human values as the source of all values and saw nature and environment as but means to human ends. Against this, deep ecology is ecocentric and also advocates dismantling the dominant socio-economic systems through which humans appropriate nature. As Naess (1973, p. 100, italics added) put it, deep ecology calls for a post-anthropocentric \'biospherical egalitarianism\' to create \'an awareness of the equal right (of all things) to live and blossom\'. Subsequently, Bill Devall and George Sessions (1985) laid out the philosophical tenets of deep ecology in much more detail.

Contemporary deep ecology is not a singular body of thought but rather a plurality of interrelated perspectives. Philosophically, these perspectives draw upon everything from eastern religions (e.g. Taoism, Buddhism), western process philosophy (e.g. Baruch Spinoza and Alfred North Whitehead) and European literary romanticism (e.g. Blake, Goethe, Wordsworth) to Indian American culture, American preservationism (e.g. John Muir, Walt Whitman) and \'beat philosophy\' (e.g. Ginsberg and Kerouac). Practically, deep ecology finds expression in environmental organizations of a more or less broad and a more or less radical kind. For instance, a single-issue based and very radical deep ecology organization is the British Animal Liberation Front, dedicated to animal welfare through violence and other means; by contrast, a broad-based and less radical deep ecology organization was the early Greenpeace of the 1970s. However, notwithstanding these different philosophical and organizational strands, deep ecologists share a number of common characteristics. First, they reject the dualistic worldview of technocentrists and anthropocentrists to argue instead that humanity is a part of nature. Second, they argue that all parts of nature — humans and non-humans — have an equal right to existence. Finally, they argue that natural systems — again, including humans and nonhumans — have limits and thresholds which must be respected if life is to continue on a sustainable basis.

Deep ecology has come in for considerable criticism. First, some doubt that non-human parts of nature have intrinsic value (Harvey, 1996, ch. 7): the argument here is that it is not possible to value nature other than through human judgements and assumptions. Second, some worry that deep ecology\'s ecocentrism shades into anti-humanism in which humans\' rights are subordinated (Luke, 1988). Third, some argue that deep ecology is sociologically naive. This has two dimensions. First, it is claimed that deep ecology lacks a coherent theory of the existing socio-economic systems — particularly capitalism — through which nature is exploited (Pepper, 1993). Second, it is also claimed that by blaming an undifferentiated \'humanity\' for the despoliation of nature, deep ecology also fails to discriminate between the different relations to nature and environment of the rich and the poor, men and women, and of different ethnic groups (Bradford, 1989: cf. ecofeminism). Finally, some suggest that deep ecology is also politically naive because it lacks a realistic appreciation of the structural difficulties of moving towards a future state of \'harmony\' with nature. However, these criticisms aside, deep ecology has undoubtedly been important in encouraging a wider appreciation of the value of nature and of modern humanity\'s often destructive relations with it. (NC)

References Bradford, G. 1989: How deep is deep ecology? Haley, MA: Times Change Press. Devall, B. and Sessions, G. 1985: Deep ecology. Layton, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books. Harvey, D. 1996: Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Oxford: Blackwell. Luke, T. 1988: The dreams of deep ecology. Telos 76: 65-92. Naess, A. 1973: The shallow and the deep long-range ecology movement: a summary. Inquiry 16: 95-100. Pepper, D. 1993: Ecosocialism. London: Routledge.



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