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Is all life created equal? In memorial to two Deep Ecology Movement leaders

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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posted July 30, 2009 at 11:13 am

What you’ve written about sounds similar to traditional Native American philosophy.
As for
“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)?”
I think people want to but they would rather give away the excess of what they have but not what they think they need for themselves. That’s where we get stuck.
Sometimes we have to give away the things we need or think we need.
When we see the people who have given more we see them suffering. Then we see the one who has given less and we see them suffer less.
So we just assume that the one who gives less it better off.
This is what we fall for all the time. This is the power we are always drawn to.

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posted August 3, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I have read your blgo and find to be accurate and truthful.. THere are way too many people in the world and this is our numbeer one problem. All others pail in comparison to this. All of our economic, pollution, social, financial problems stem from the fact that there are just too many of us.. We should regulate having so many shildren for the sake of all life on Earth.. How far does it have to go before somone says that somjething has to be done?
I blame religious beliefs for this. Most religions put people above all other life on Earth and that mindset has to change.. We must learn that we hafve to coincide3 with all other life not dominate it.. Religion is the true scorn of the world for it causes us to be blind to what we already see.. We cannot just put it in God’s hands like so many religious followers do and wait.. We havfe to act now and pass some sort of legislation that would prohibit the having of several children at a time.. This is not a popular view but a necessary one. I hope that we all see the light before it’s too late and for that matter, I hope it isn’t already…Mike

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posted August 8, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Thank you everyone for your sincere comments. I, too, wholeheartedly agree with the Deep Ecology ethic.
What we are going through seems to be a huge shift in consciousness from egocentric thinking to community-centric, in which all sentient beings comprise our sense of “self;” from living in the mind, which is invested in separateness, to living from the heart, which is constantly connected to all that exists.
Our current societies reflect our craving for identity, placing emphasis on referential value rather than relational. In other words, “I must be worthy because I own this expensive car and have a successful career…” Whereas our true selves are completely relational, without the need to measure, compare or compete.
I consider myself a Buddhist, and yet even Buddhism, particularly Tibetan, tells us that a human life is the best kind and that animals are a lower life form. I disagree with this, though I sometimes speculate that all the noble creatures losing their lives because of human destructivess are then reborn as humans who fight to protect the environment!
What can we do but keep praying, meditating, blessing everything and hoping for the best?

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posted April 3, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Cars and houses are quite expensive and not every person can buy it. However, loan was created to support people in such kind of cases.

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