am inviting you today to take up one of the paths to deep ecology, that is,
to take up the path of putting the Earth First, - not Self First, or
People First, or a Job or Business First. Deep ecology has become
enormously influential, and bitterly attacked, in a relatively short
period of time (since the early 70's) for a new philosophy. If we can
agree, with Hegel, that philosophy is "capturing one's time in
thought," then deep ecology, I believe, has captured what should be
our relationship to the Natural world. This is its importance for all of
If we do not fundamentally reorient, it will be the end of the world
as we know it.
Deep ecology sees the necessity for a new philosophy and set of
- how we will relate to the natural world; and
- how we will organize human societies.
And as well, deep ecology says we need to defend what is left of the
natural world and become personally involved.
Most of the people I work with did not come to their positions based
on reading deep ecology books, or listening to university lectures, or
having worked out some philosophical position which is perfectly logical
Basically deep ecology supporters:
- identify with the Natural world
and all its creatures;
- see that this world is being destroyed
and want to do something about
- measure our own human concerns as important,
insignificant in comparison.
The first formulation of some of the basic ideas in the philosophy of
deep ecology was sketched out in the 1973 article, "The Shallow
and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary" by the
Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who is now about 90 years old.
"Shallow" here means thinking that the major ecological
problems can be resolved within and with the continuation of industrial
"Deep" means to ask deeper questions and not stay on the
surface in discussions. This deep orientation understands that
industrial capitalist society has caused the Earth-threatening
Deep ecology says that voluntary population stabilization and
reduction must be a priority for us to live in any long-term
relationship with our planet. For the so-called developed countries,
reducing consumption is also very important. Deep ecology also says that
all of us must be involved at some level in changing the existing
New spiritual relationship
to the Earth
In general, deep ecology is not just about ideas, it is also about
feelings and emotions, and it is about a new spiritual relationship to
the Earth for humankind - and I do not mean some form of organized
religion. The model would be some form of indigenous animism without the
position of the "shaman." We need to re-sacralize
Nature; there is a necessity for a spiritual transformation.
"All cultures think of their own interests first and only a
spiritual education dedicated to a sharing of identities with other
peoples, other animals, and nature as a whole can diminish the
environmental destruction we face. It can be diminished by our being
educated to share our identity with the natural world and thus
understand it as a part of ourselves."
(from Animals and Nature, by Rod Preece, p.230)
Deep ecology accepts the primacy of the natural world. This is
considered an "intuition" by Arne Naess, the founder of deep
ecology, and is not logically or philosophically derived. Naess makes it
clear in his writings that the deep ecology movement existed long before
he gave it a name. Deep ecology can seem all things to all people, so
there can seem to be a certain "mushiness" to it. It is not
anti-science, but it is concerned about the values which guide the
scientific enterprise. Naess maintains that precision AND ambiguity are
needed by the philosopher. This seems to be in part so that the follower
of deep ecology has herself or himself an interpretative role to play.
One of the slogans in the movement is "the front is long,"
meaning that everyone can make a contribution.
Naess says this about the main characteristic of the deep ecology
"The main driving force of the Deep Ecology movement, as
compared with the rest of the ecological movement, is that of
identification and solidarity with all life."
Deep ecology is not just about "understanding", or some
form of heightened "awareness". It is also about fighting back
against those forces which are destroying the Natural world - we call
those forces the Earth Destroyers.
We are "Earthlings." The Earth owns us, we are its
creatures. One species, humans, cannot "own" Nature, that is,
the Earth and all its living creatures. Radical deep ecologists, then,
do not believe in "private property," but see it as a
human-derived social convention. They believe it is the height of human
arrogance to talk about "owning" other species or the Land
itself. I think there has to evolve new conceptions of so-called
property rights, which must serve two ends: to protect Nature and all
the non-human living creatures, and to protect social justice within a
Humans have no special status; we are just one member of a Community
of All Beings. Humanity is part of a biological community and should not
have any privileged status. This is called an ecocentric, as opposed to
an anthropocentric (or human-centered), perspective. Remember,
human-centeredness can cover a vast range of behaviours, from complete
destruction to taking a seventh-generation perspective. The everyday
language we use takes for granted the worldview of a human-centered
universe, where humans are at the pinnacle of some evolutionary process.
Deep ecology challenges this. I truly believe that I am not
"better" than any other life form. I value other life forms
equally. I do not believe in any hierarchy of organisms.
Council of All Beings
One of the forms of interaction that has evolved within deep ecology
to challenge human-centeredness, and to try to reach out to this
identification and solidarity with all life that Naess speaks of, is the
Council of All Beings. The people gathering in the Council try to be a
voice for other life forms, such as plants and animals, and for the
wind, rivers, mountains, etc. Each person speaks before the other
members of the Council, of how humankind has impacted upon him or her.
Drums, flutes or other musical instruments can be used to call the
Council together, or used after each Council member speaks.