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Deep ecology is a recent branch of ecological philosophy (ecosophy) that considers humankind as an integral part of its environment. It places more value on other species, ecosystems and processes in nature than is allowed by established environmental and green movements, and therefore leads to a new system of environmental ethics. The core principle of deep ecology as originally developed is Naess's doctrine of biospheric egalitarianism — the claim that all living things have the same right to live and flourish — a principle which, after criticism, has been substantially qualified (see Naess 1989). Deep ecology describes itself as "deep" because it is concerned with fundamental philosophical questions about the role of human life as one part of the ecosphere, rather than with a narrow view of ecology as a branch of biological science, and aims to avoid merely utilitarian environmentalism.


The phrase deep ecology was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss in 1973,[1] and he helped give it a theoretical foundation. "For Arne Naess, ecological science, concerned with facts and logic alone, cannot answer ethical questions about how we should live. For this we need ecological wisdom. Deep ecology seeks to develop this by focusing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. These constitute an interconnected system. Each gives rise to and supports the other, whilst the entire system is, what Naess would call, an ecosophy: an evolving but consistent philosophy of being, thinking and acting in the world, that embodies ecological wisdom and harmony."[2] Næss rejected the idea that beings can be ranked according to their relative value. For example, judgements on whether an animal has an eternal soul, whether it uses reason or whether it has consciousness have all been used to justify the ranking of the human animal over other animals. Næss states that "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 we 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 not a superior species with the right to manage and control the rest of nature, but rather 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."

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 external 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".[3] 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. Deep ecologists hope to influence social and political change through their philosophy.


Deep ecology finds scientific underpinnings in the fields of ecology and system dynamics. Næss and Fox do not use logic or induction to derive the philosophy directly from scientific ecology[How to reference and link to summary or text], but rather hold that scientific ecology directly implies the metaphysics of deep ecology, including its ideas about the self.

In their 1985 book Deep Ecology,[4] Devall and 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, including a perspective beyond the strictly human viewpoint. Among the scientists they mention particularly 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, and instead providing a view of Nature in constant flux with the idea that observers are separate an illusion. 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.

The scientific version of the Gaia hypothesis was also an influence on the development of deep ecology.


The central spiritual tenet of deep ecology is that the human species is a part of the Earth and not separate from it. A process of 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 realise ourselves. Transpersonal psychology has been used by Warwick Fox to support this idea.

Other traditions which have influenced deep ecology include Taoism and Zen Buddhism, primarily because they have a non-dualistic approach to subject and object. 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."[5] This theme had been expounded in Lynn Townsend White, Jr.'s 1967 article "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis",[6] 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.


Drawing upon the Buddhist tradition is the work of Joanna Macy. Macy, working as an anti-nuclear activist in USA, found that one of the major impediments confronting the activists' cause was the presence of unresolved emotions of despair, grief, sorrow, anger and rage. The denial of these emotions led to apathy and disempowerment.

We may have intellectual understanding of our interconnectedness, but our culture, experiential deep ecologists like John Seed argue, robs us of emotional and visceral experience of that interconnectedness which we had as small children, but which has been socialised out of us by a highly anthropocentric alienating culture.

Through "Despair and Empowerment Work" and more recently "The Work that Reconnects", Macy and others have been taking Experiential Deep Ecology into many countries including especially the USA, Europe (particularly Britain and Germany), Russia and Australia.


Proponents of deep ecology believe that the world does not exist as a resource to be freely exploited by humans. The ethics of deep ecology holds that a whole system is superior to any of its parts. They offer an eight-tier platform to elucidate their claims:[7]

  1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: 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 human needs.
  4. 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.
  5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.


In practice, deep ecologists support decentralization, the creation of ecoregions, the breakdown of industrialism in its current form, and an end to authoritarianism.

Deep ecology is not normally considered a distinct movement, but as part of the green movement. The deep ecological movement could be defined as those within the green movement who hold deep ecological views. Deep ecologists welcome the labels "Gaian" and "Green" (including the broader political implications of this term, e.g. commitment to peace). Deep ecology has had a broad general influence on the green movement by providing an independent ethical platform for Green parties, political ecologists and environmentalists.

The philosophy of deep ecology helped differentiate the modern ecology movement by pointing out the anthropocentric bias of the term "environment", and rejecting the idea of humans as authoritarian guardians of the environment.


The notion of intrinsic value

"Shallow" ecologists criticize[How to reference and link to summary or text] the notion that the intrinsic value of ecological systems exists independently of humanity's recognition of it. An example of this approach is that one might say that a work of art is only valuable insofar as humans perceive it to be worthwhile. Shallow ecologists feel that the ecosystem's value does not reach beyond our appreciation of it. Intrinsic value is a philosophical concept which some do not accept.[8] However, intrinsic value defined as value existing separate from human thought may in this case be conflated with intrinsic value defined as natural worth existing independent of modification or application of a substance or entity, clouding the argument.[How to reference and link to summary or text] This entire argument, however, assumes both the primacy and uniqueness of the ability of humans to create value, as opposed to a collection of sentient beings dependent on a perfectly ordered system for life or even a natural system devoid of sentient life being incapable of possessing inherent value.

Interests in nature

For something to require rights and protection intrinsically, it must have interests.[9] Deep ecology is criticised for presuming that plants, for example, have their own interests. Deep ecologists claim to identify with the environment, and in doing so, to understand what the environment's interests are. The criticism is that the interests that a deep ecologist purports to give to nature, such as growth, individuality, balance and fairness, are really human interests. "The earth is endowed with 'wisdom', wilderness equates with 'freedom', and life forms are said to emit 'moral' qualities."[10] On the other hand, it has also been argued that species and ecosystems themselves have rights.[11] However, this argument assumes that humans, in governing their own affairs, are somehow immune from this same assumption; i.e. how can governing humans truly "speak" for the rest of humanity. While the deep ecologist critic would answer that the logical application of language and social mores would provide this justification, the deep ecologist would note that their response is dependent solely on the logical application of known facts of an entity's presumed interests, which is the same standard used by deep ecologists to create their standard of protection.


Deep ecology is criticised for its claim to be deeper than alternative theories, which by implication are shallow. The use of evaluatively loaded descriptors like deep and shallow is unfortunate and does nothing to foster scholarly debate. However despite repeated complaints about use of the term it still enjoys wide currency; deep evidently has an attractive resonance for many who seek to establish a new ethical framework for guiding human action with respect to the natural world. It may be presumptuous to assert that one's thinking is deeper than others'. When Arne Næss coined the term deep ecology he compared it unfavourably with shallow environmentalism which he criticized for its utilitarian and anthropocentric attitude to nature and for its materialist and consumer-oriented outlook.[12][13]

Ecofeminist response

Both ecofeminism and deep ecology put forward a new conceptualization of the self. Some ecofeminists, such as Marti Kheel,[14] argue that self-realization and identification with all nature places too much emphasis on the whole, at the expense of the independent being. Ecofeminists contend that their concept of the self (as a dynamic process consisting of relations) is superior. Ecofeminists would also place more emphasis on the problem of androcentrism rather than anthropocentrism.

Misunderstanding scientific information

Daniel Botkin[15] has compared deep ecology unfavourably with its antithesis, the wise use movement, when he says that they both "misunderstand scientific information and then arrive at conclusions based on their misunderstanding, which are in turn used as justification for their ideologies. Both begin with an ideology and are political and social in focus." Elsewhere though, he asserts that deep ecology must be taken seriously in the debate about society and ecology as it challenges the fundamental assumptions of western philosophy.

Deep ecology as not "deep" enough

Social ecologists such as Murray Bookchin[16] claim that deep ecology fails to link environmental crises with authoritarianism and hierarchy. Social ecologists believe that environmental problems are firmly rooted in the manner of human social interaction, and protest that an ecologically sustainable society could still be socially exploitative. Deep ecologists reject the argument that ecological behavior is rooted in the social paradigm (according to their view, that is an anthropocentric fallacy), and they maintain that the converse of the social ecologists' objection is also true in that it is equally possible for a socially egalitarian society to continue to exploit the Earth.

Socially biased

Some criticize deep ecologists as bourgeois in that they advocate a way of living that is easier for people who are more affluent.[How to reference and link to summary or text] That is to say, it is often difficult for certain groups of people, namely Native American tribes such as the Makah to have healthy diets in exclusion of animals. Additionally, in the case of the Makah, whaling is an integral part of the culture, and as such, critics may ascribe any move to stop it as ethnocentric or imperialistic.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Those who criticize deep ecology for its misanthropy would likely argue that this proves how the movement is destructive to the human race.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Some deep ecologists would likely retort that whaling in the case of the Makah is acceptable, since it does not endanger the environment on the whole as industrialism does, and in many ways recognizes whales as equal, but still part of the food chain. At this point, their practices are little different from animals who diet on other animals to stay alive.[How to reference and link to summary or text]/ Other Deep Ecologists would respond that any utility whaling may once have had is no longer applicable, as it is certainly not currently necessary to their survival. They would further note that the prohibition of such actions is no more ethnocentric than the prohibition of any act significant to one culture which has negative applications to the world at large, such as racial, religious, or sexual oppression.

Links with other movements

Parallels have been drawn between deep ecology and other movements, in particular the animal rights movement and Earth First!.

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. 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.[17] The links with animal rights are perhaps the strongest, as "proponents of such ideas argue that 'All life has intrinsic value'".[18]

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.[19][20] Judi Bari is another prominent Earth Firster who espouses deep ecology. Many Earth First! actions have a distinct deep ecological theme; often these actions will ostensibly be to save an area of old growth forest, the habitat of a snail or an owl, even individual trees. It should however be noted that, especially in the United Kingdom, there are also strong anti-capitalist and anarchist currents in the movement, and 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 tied himself to a Norwegian fjord in a successful protest against the building of a dam.[21]

Early Influences

Notable advocates of deep ecology

  • Judi Bari | Thomas Berry | Wendell Berry
  • Leonardo Boff | Fritjof Capra
  • Michael Dowd | Neil Evernden | David Foreman
  • Warwick Fox | Martin Heidegger (controversial: see Development above)
  • Derrick Jensen | Dolores LaChapelle
  • Pentti Linkola (controversial) | Joanna Macy
  • Jerry Mander | Freya Mathews
  • Terence McKenna | Arne Næss
  • Oberon Zell-Ravenheart | Theodore Roszak
  • John Seed | George Sessions
  • Paul Shepard | Gary Snyder
  • Richard Sylvan | Douglas Tompkins

See also


  1. Naess, Arne (1973) 'The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement.' Inquiry 16: 95-100
  2. Harding, Stephan (2002), "What is Deep Ecology"
  3. Botkin, Daniel B. (1990). Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-First Century. Oxford Univ. Press, NY, NY. ISBN 0-19-507469-6.
  4. Devall, Bill; Sessions, George (1985). Deep Ecology, Gibbs M. Smith. ISBN 0-87905-247-3. pp. 85-88
  5. Næss, Arne. (1989). Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy. p. 187. ISBN 0-521-34873-0
  6. White, Jr, Lynn Townsend (March 1967). The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis. Science 155 (3767): 1203-1207. (HTML copy, PDF copy).
  7. Devall and Sessions, op. cit., p. 70.
  8. Zimmerman, Michael J. "Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value: 3. Is There Such a Thing As Intrinsic Value At All?" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed).
  9. Feinberg, Joel The Rights of Animals and Future Generations. URL accessed on 2006-04-25.
  10. Joff (2000). The Possibility of an Anti-Humanist Anarchism. URL accessed on 2006-04-25.
  11. Pister, E. Phil (1995). The Rights of Species and Ecosystems. Fisheries 20 (4).
  12. Great River Earth Institute. Deep Ecology: Environmentalism as if all beings mattered. URL accessed on 2006-04-25.
  13. Panaman, Ben Animal Ethics Encyclopedia: Deep Ecology. URL accessed on 2006-04-25.
  14. Kheel, Marti. (1990): Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology; reflections on identity and difference from: Diamond, Irene. Orenstein. Gloria (editors), Reweaving the World; The emergence of ecofeminism. Sierra Club Books. San Francisco. pp 128-137. ISBN 0-87156-623-0
  15. Botkin, Daniel B. (2000). No Man's Garden: Thoreau and a New Vision for Civilization and Nature, pp. 42, 39, Shearwater Books. ISBN 1-55963-465-0.
  16. Bookchin, Murray (1987). Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology: A Challenge for the Ecology Movement. Green Perspectives/Anarchy Archives.
  17. Alan AtKisson. Introduction To Deep Ecology, an interview with Michael E. Zimmerman. In Context (22).
  18. Wall, Derek (1994). Green History, Routledge. ISBN 0-415-07925-X.
  19. (1991) David Levine Defending the Earth: a dialogue between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman.
  20. Bookchin, Murray; Graham Purchace, Brian Morris, Rodney Aitchtey, Robert Hart, Chris Wilbert (1993). Deep Ecology and Anarchism, Freedom Press. ISBN 0-900384-67-0.
  21. J. Seed, J. Macy, P. Flemming, A. Naess, Thinking like a mountain: towards a council of all beings, Heritic Books (1988), ISBN 0-946097-26-7, ISBN 0-86571-133-X.


in chronological order /// to expand !!!

  • Devall, W. and G. Sessions. 1985. Deep Ecology: Living As if Nature Mattered Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, Inc.
  • Drengson, Alan. 1995. The Deep Ecology Movement
  • Katz, E., A. Light, et al. 2000. Beneath the Surface: Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Deep Ecology Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Naess, A. 1989. Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy Translated by D. Rothenberg. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Passmore, J. 1974. Man’s Responsibility for Nature London: Duckworth.
  • Sessions, G. (ed) 1995. Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century Boston: Shambhala.

Further reading

  • Jozef Keulartz, Struggle for nature : a critique of radical ecology, London [etc.] : Routledge, 1998
  • Michael Tobias ed, Deep Ecology, Avant Books (1984, 1988) ISBN 0-932238-13-0.
  • Harold Glasser (ed), The Selected Works of Arne Naess, Volumes 1-10. Springer, (2005), ISBN 1-4020-3727-9. (review)

External links

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