Deep Ecology: The Philosophy That Puts Nature First

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It is quite late in the day that we have realized that we need to focus our attention on the realities and the wonders of our universe and not on ourselves. That would have provided the impetus needed to move away from the destructive nature of our actions towards the environment. We have always viewed ourselves as the center of the universe, the primary, and even the only upholders of moral standing. And deep ecology seeks to set right that flawed viewpoint.

The existing philosophy of ‘shallow ecology’ rests on the premise that all values are human-centered, and all other beings are means to human ends. But this anthropocentric viewpoint has been proven to be ethically flawed and has been at the root of the ecological crisis.

Humans have held that a shallow approach to environmentalism would suffice to repair the inherent anomalies. We believe that technological fixes will be enough. Words like recycling, fuel-efficiency reveal a utilitarian attitude to nature, fixated on consumerism and materialism.

There is a fallacious belief that a technological solution, rather than a change in human values and attitudes, is the solution to the mess we have made of the environment. For instance, recycling waste is given prominence, overriding the need for preventing waste in the first place.

Nature and its bounty have always been regarded as a commodity that was created for and owned solely by man. Every other object and living being were held as being incidental to the primary being.

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But when we realize that humans are an integral part of the planet and all its riches, we begin to use it with respect and love. That can only come about if we can free ourselves and widen our sphere of compassion to include and embrace every living creature, and the whole of nature.

Every action and object has to be judged whether it tends to preserve the beauty, integrity, and stability of the biotic community.

Arne Næss: The Proponent Of ‘Deep Ecology’ And The Inherent Worth Of All Things

Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer gave birth to the phrase ‘deep ecology’ and brought it to the heart of environmental literature. The 1960s had seen the emergence of a popular grassroots political movement that stressed preservation and conservation. The detrimental effects of the modern industrial economy on the environment have begun to be felt.

‘Deep ecology’ was an ecology movement based on a concern for the ethos that respected nature and the inherent worth of every living being on earth. The word ‘deep’ speaks to the level of the inquisitiveness of our purposes and ideals when engaging in environmental issues.

The ‘shallow ecology’ approach stops at merely promoting technological fixes. We are familiar with recycling, organic products, efficient engines, that are fixated on consumption-focused values and methods aligned with the industrial economy. But the ‘deep ecology’ approach stressed realigning the whole system. It is based on methods and values that truly preserve the ecological and traditional diversity of natural systems.

It was Arne Næss’s love for the mountains that led him to combine philosophy and ecology that culminated in his philosophy of ‘deep ecology.’ He had spent years up in the mountains of southern Norway. The Hallingskarvet range awed him, its power and vastness led him to envision the intricate systems of our planet.

On his many expeditions to the Himalayas, he witnessed how irresponsible mountain tourism was in undermining the ecology of the mountains. The debasement he witnessed was his breakthrough moment. It was when he realized that shallow concepts would not help and if the planet had to be saved, it needed to adhere to ‘deep ecology,’ or what Næss also referred to as ‘ecosophy.’

The philosophy of John Muir, Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold is evident in Næss’s works. The work of these environmental advocates who advocated social and environmental responsibility, the efficient use of its resources, and simple living have even more relevance now.

That is what ‘deep ecology’ is about; if we are to live a good life, the wild must be preserved intact. It espouses being less reliance on the material thing that adds to the pollution and devastation of our natural world. 

But his deepest inspiration was Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring,’ which emphasized an immediate, transformation to stop and roll back planetary destruction.

Her book was an impetus for a contemporary brand of environmentalism that advised putting a limit to the relentless devastation of the planet’s resources through ever-escalating industrial technologies and intensive agriculture.

Her work found an intense harmony between the health of the total ecosystem, and the wellbeing of human beings. And it inspired Arne Næss and his theory of ‘deep ecology.’

Næss was concerned at the predominance of the ‘shallow’ ecological movement. While on the surface it was concerned with escalating pollution levels and depleting resources, its hidden objective was the affluence and health of the citizens of only the developing nations.

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‘Shallow ecology’ was limited to petty, quick-fix technological solutions. These were short-term solutions and did not go into the deeper issue of the damage already done by the industrial systems in place. It looked at issues in human-centric terms.

It was only through ‘deep ecology,’ by going into the core of the issues that had led to the mess in the first place, could we have any chance of reversing it.

It could only come about by intensely questioning the systems in place, and going for a radical alteration in human interaction with our natural world. That was our only hope of protecting the ecological system.

Deep Ecology As A Philosophical Movement

At the core of the ‘deep ecology’ philosophy is the assertion that all living things, including humans, are mere parts of a whole. Næss emphasized that people and communities should apply the philosophy of ‘deep ecology’ as it best suits their environment.

deep ecology

That was the only way to ensure that the philosophy had its appeal and relevance to different cultural, sociological, and religious backgrounds. They could adhere to the broad principles of deep ecology and its path of action.

But it was this looseness of approach that had its critics. While its inclusive approach made it easy to adhere to the principles of ‘deep ecology,’ there has been criticism for a lack of strategic approach that stood in the way, preventing it from being transformed into a cohesive movement. This led to a multiplicity of approaches that included extremist views that went against its core philosophy.

Commentators have also branded it as western-centric, particularly the American interpretation of it. They argued that it did not take into consideration its impact on developing countries whose people are directly dependent on the environment.

But ‘deep ecology’ remains relevant for its questioning of the existing beliefs and points out that humanity faces an unprecedented consequence of the reckless exploitation of resources. It remains relevant for its call to humanity to reorient its relationship with other beings and systems. 

Read: UN Climate Change Report Warns Of The Consequences Of Rising Temperatures

‘Deep ecology’ has led to a greater understanding of what it truly means to respect all forms of life and achieve an all-inclusive solution to the crisis currently facing the environment.

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