One City

The Deep Ecology movement has suffered two big losses this year with the passing of Arne Næss in January and Bill Devall at the end of June. It led me to delve more into the writings and the history of the movement. I was interested to find out that a majority of founders were Zen Buddhists.

As a quick overview, Arne Næss’s wrote a short paper in 1973 which contrasted “shallow ecology” with a “deep, long-range ecology movement” which served as a catalyst to reject what was viewed as an anthropocentric, or human focused, environmentalism. They felt that human beings should not be viewed as superior or more valuable than other life. A camping trip involving Næss and George Sessions gave birth to the following platform for deep ecology:

  • 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.
  • 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.

The Deep Ecology movement has continued to be controversial in contrast to “mainstream environmentalism,” particularly in their call to reduce human overpopulation and stance against economic development. In his recent writings, Devall criticizes the notion of “sustainability,” stating:

“However, many critics argue that the political agendas and manipulations of Progressives, feminists, and social justice movements have so polluted and conflicted the idea of sustainability that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to rescue it for meaningful discussion. At the very least, three difficult questions must be asked before any discussion of sustainability is undertaken in any group. What is being sustained? How long is it being sustained? In who ís interest is what being sustained?”

Much of the reading I did on deep ecology made me left feeling like all humans are symbolized by the greedy boy in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree – we will just use up all of the earth’s resources until they are all gone, and then ask for more. In his 2001 Ethics and the Environment review article, Devall wrote,  “The magnitude of human impacts on ecosystems is escalating. One-third of global land cover will be transformed in the next hundred years. In twenty years world demand for rice, wheat, and maize will rise by 40%. Demands for water and wood will double over the next half-century… how the planet as an interdependent ecosystem, subject to increasing and generally negative human interventions will fare in the 21st century remains an open question.”

Is it possible to balance the needs of our growing human population with the rest of the planet? Can a majority of people adopt the view that other beings’ lives and survival are as important as their own (without only thinking of their own personal benefit)?

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