ecology - environment - nature - habitat - gaia - permaculture

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Deep Ecology

Introduction To Deep Ecology

E-mail Print PDF

Introduction To Deep Ecology

Deep ecology is a new way to think about
our relationship to the Earth - and thinking is a prelude to action

An Interview with Michael E. Zimmerman, by Alan AtKisson

One of the articles in Global Climate Change (IC#22)
Summer 1989, Page 24

Michael E. ZimmermanA philosophy is, among other things, a system of thought that governs conduct. But in the original Greek it meant "love of wisdom" - and we need all the wisdom we can get to face the implications of global climate change. Several new philosophies have developed in response to the worsening environmental crisis, and among the most interesting is something called "deep ecology." It calls for nothing less than a complete overhaul of the way humans live on the Earth.

Deep ecology is not without its critics, nor its competitors. And like any radically new way of thinking, it raises more questions than it answers. But since every major change of direction in humanity's recent history has been supported - or ignited - by a new philosophy, its appearance is a very hopeful sign.

Michael E. Zimmerman is Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University, New Orleans, and was recently named to the Chair of his department. He has written widely on technology and the environment and recently completed a second book on the work of Martin Heidegger. In our issue on militarism (IC #20), he wrote on the distorted mythologies that drive the arms race and the new mythologies we must develop to achieve "something other than war."

Recently Michael was in Seattle to deliver a lecture on deep ecology to philosophy students at Seattle University. We took the opportunity to speak with him about deep ecology, its relationship to ecofeminism, the mystery of postmodernism, and how a philosophy might change the world.

Alan: What is "deep ecology?"

Michael: Deep ecology is an environmental movement initiated by a Norwegian philosopher, Arnie Naess, in 1972. He wasn't the first to dream up the idea of a radical change in humanity's relationship to nature, but he coined the term "deep ecology" and helped to give it a theoretical foundation. Deep ecology portrays itself as "deep" because it asks deeper questions about the place of human life, who we are.


Ecofascism: Deep Ecology and Right-Wing Co-optation

E-mail Print PDF

Ecofascism: Deep Ecology
and Right-Wing Co-optation
by Kev Smith, Greenpepper  

Alongside the rise of environmental activism in the last few decades, nationalist and even fascist ideas are gaining an increasingly high profile in Europe. With social tensions exacerbated, neo-fascist groups of various kinds are winning electoral representation and committing acts of violence against foreigners.

To a casual observer, there would seem to be a vast gulf in ideology and outlook between the new right and environmental activism. But these movements are invoking ecological themes to update their ideology and now speak the new language of ecology. In ways that are similar to the beliefs of progressive-minded ecologists, fascist groups emphasize the supremacy of the Earth over people and evoke "feelings" and intuition at the expense of reason.

This is an extremely sensitive issue among activists. To accuse an individual or a philosophy of racist tendencies is always going to cause offense. Much-needed debate has been poisoned by wild mud-slinging and sensationalist accusations of eco-fascism. In this article, I don't want to point the condemnatory finger at groups or individuals and ignite a McCarthyist witch-hunt. Rather, I want to illustrate how the nature and content of certain belief structures within the environmental movement make it easier for new-right groups to reach a wider audience. I will discuss this in the context of Deep Ecology as it has been one of the most widely debated and has parallels with 1930s Germany.

…many environmental groups …still rate population growth over the systematic over-consumption of the industrialized world.



E-mail Print PDF

Ecosophy, and ecophilosophy, are neologisms formed by contracting the phrase ecological philosophy.

Confusion as to the meaning (suggesting that such a meaning should be singular and exact) of ecosophy is primarily the consequence of it being used to designate different and often contradictory (though conceptually related) concepts by the Norwegian father of Deep Ecology, Arne Næss, and French post-Marxist philosopher and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari

Naess's definition of ecosophy

While a professor at University of Oslo in 1972, Arne Naess, introduced the terms "deep ecology movement" and "ecosophy" into environmental literature. Naess based his article on a talk he gave in Bucharest in 1972 at the Third World Future Research Conference. As Drengson notes in Ecophilosophy, Ecosophy and the Deep Ecology Movement: An Overview, "In his talk Naess discussed the longer-range background of the ecology movement and its connection with respect for Nature and the inherent worth of other beings." Naess's construction of a Nature which sits outside the human sphere of culture, and furthermore his preference for 'natural' values over cultural (particularly Western) values demarcates him as a dualist - which sharply contrasts with the alternative construction of ecosophy outlined by Guattari.

Naess defined ecosophy in the following way:

By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities.
—A. Drengson and Y. Inoue, 1995, page 8


E-mail Print PDF

In Praise of Wildness and In Search of Harmony With Everything That Moves

by John McClellan

Boulder, Colorado 

Introduction and Summary

Nondual Ecology

Liberal thinkers today admit most animals and plants, even microbes to the select company of sentient beings. Even rocks & clouds are beginning to be accepted too as part of the "natural living world", i.e. that world that existed before mankind brought civilization out of his brain and spread it across the landscape. But recognizing this prized quality of aliveness in technology, in human-machine social behaviors, and in the activity of abstract symbolic systems is something else again. Buddhanature, in nuclear bombs? in the computer systems of our urban networks? in the workings of pure mathematics? No one in the environmental world seems willing to go that far-only cyberpunks and techno-futurists have such thoughts, and they are generally dismissed as frivolous by us serious, 'nature' loving deep ecologists. Us Buddhists, and Muirists, and Thoreauists.

Today's Deep Ecology seems to regard technology as an evil force, something alien to the natural world, loosed almost by divine mistake on this planet. These new energies are not regarded as legitimate expressions of sentience, universal lifeforce, or granted the respect we accord to "natural processes", but rather as something wrong, something to be controlled and repressed. Deep ecologists seem to have the same fear and loathing toward today's out of control technology as humans have had until just recently toward uncontrolled Nature, with her savage, untamed wastelands. They call technology inhuman, cruel, and heartless, using the same words we once used to describe cruele wildernesse-and like humans of the 19th century waging war on wild nature, environmentalists today long only to conquer technology, to subdue and control it, as we have nature herself.


Ecophilosophy, Ecosophy and the Deep Ecology Movement: An Overview

E-mail Print PDF

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, Vol 14, No. 3, Summer 1997, pages 110-111, entitled “An Ecophilosophy Approach, the Deep Ecology Movement, and Diverse Ecosophies” Thanks to Arne Naess and Ted Mosquin for their suggestions.

During the last thirty years philosophers in the West have critiqued the underlying assumptions of Modern philosophy in relation to the natural world. This development has been part of an ongoing expansion of philosophical work involving cross cultural studies of world views or ultimate philosophies. Since philosophical studies in the West have often ignored the natural world, and since most studies in ethics have focused on human values, those approaches which emphasize ecocentric values have been referred to as ecophilosophy. Just as the aim of traditional philosophy is sophia or wisdom, so the aim of ecophilosophy is ecosophy or ecological wisdom. The Practice of ecophilosophy is an ongoing, comprehensive, deep inquiry into values, the nature of the world and the self.

The mission of ecophilosophy is to explore a diversity of perspectives on human-Nature contexts and interrelationships. It fosters deeper and more harmonious relationships between place, self, community and the natural world. This aim is furthered by comparing the diversity of ecosophies from which people support the platform principles of the global, long range, deep ecology movement.

Here is Arne Naess’s original definition of ecosophy:  “By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities.” (See A. Drengson and Y. Inoue, 1995, page 8.)


Deep Ecology

E-mail Print PDF

Ecological and Psychological Study

Deep Ecology is defined as:

  • a philosophy based on our sacred relationship with Earth and all beings
  • an international movement for a viable future
  • a path for self realisation
  • a compass for daily action

Deep Ecology Supports:

  • continuing inquiry into the appropriate human roles on our planet
  • root cause analysis of unsustainable practices
  • reduction of human consumption
  • conservation and restoration of ecosystems
  • a life of committed action for Earth

Arne Naess’s original definition of ecosophy is:

"By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities."


Deep Ecology

E-mail Print PDF


Nature is the first ethical teacher of man.

-- Peter Kropotkin


Unless ye believe ye shall not understand. -- St Augustine


I was born a thousand years ago, born in the culture of bows and arrows ... born in an age when people loved the things of nature and spoke to it as though it had a soul. -- Chief Dan George

The woods were formerly temples of the deities, and even now simple country folk dedicate a tall tree to a God with the ritual of olden times; and we adore sacred groves and the very silence that reigns in them no less devoutly than images that gleam in gold and ivory. -- Pliny

In the stillness of the mighty woods, man is made aware of the divine. -- Richard St Barbe Baker

There is no better way to please the Buddha than to please all sentient beings. -- Ladakhi saying

Ecology and spirituality are fundamentally connected, because deep ecological awareness, ultimately, is spiritual awareness. -- Fritjof Capra

Every social transformation ... has rested on a new metaphysical and ideological base; or rather, upon deeper stirrings and intuitions whose rationalised expression takes the form of a new picture of the cosmos and the nature of man. -- Lewis Mumford

... there is reason to hope that the ecology-based revitalist movements of the future will seek to achieve their ends in the true Gandhian tradition. It could be that Deep Ecology, with its ethical and metaphysical preoccupations, might well develop into such a movement. -- Edward Goldsmith

The main hope for changing humanity's present course may lie ... in the development of a world view drawn partly from ecological principles - in the so-called deep ecology movement. -- Paul Ehrlich

The religious behaviour of man contributes to maintaining the sanctity of the world. -- Mircea Eliade

The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess coined the phrase deep ecology to describe deep ecological awareness. Deep ecology is the foundation of a branch of philosophy known as ecophilosophy, Arne Naess prefers the term ecosophy, that deals with the ethics of Gaia.

Fritjof Capra defined deep ecology by contrasting it with shallow ecology and showing that it is a network concept:

Shallow ecology in anthropocentric, or human-centred. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or 'use', value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans - or anything else - from the natural environment. It does see the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views human beings as just one particular strand in the web of life.

Arne Naess formally defined deep ecology as Ecosophy T (N - norm, H - hypothesis).

  • N1: Self-realization!
  • H1: The higher the Self-realization attained by anyone, the broader and deeper the identification with others.
  • H2: The higher the level of Self-realization attained by anyone, the more its further increase depends upon the Self-realization of others.
  • H3: Complete Self-realization of anyone depends on that of all.
  • N2: Self-realization for all living beings!
  • H4: Diversity of life increases Self-realization potentials.
  • N3: Diversity of life!
  • H5: Complexity of life increases Self-realization potentials.
  • N4: Complexity!
  • H6: Life resources of the Earth are limited.
  • H7: Symbiosis maximises Self-realization potentials under conditions of limited resources.
  • N5: Symbiosis!

Arne Naess was strongly influenced by Baruch Spinoza and Mahatma Gandhi. Self-realisation is in the sense used by Gandhi.


Arne Naess

E-mail Print PDF

Arne NaessArne Dekke Eide Næss
(27 January 1912 – 12 January 2009) was the founder of deep ecology.[2] He was the youngest person to be appointed full professor at the University of Oslo.

Næss cited Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring as being a key influence in his vision of deep ecology. Næss combined his ecological vision with Gandhian nonviolence and on several occasions participated in direct action. In 1970, together with a large number of demonstrators, he chained himself to rocks in front of Mardalsfossen, a waterfall in a Norwegian fjord, and refused to descend until plans to build a dam were dropped. Though the demonstrators were carried away by police and the dam was eventually built, the demonstration launched a more activist phase of Norwegian environmentalism[3]. In 1958, Arne Næss founded the interdiciplinary journal of philosophy Inquiry.

Næss had been a minor political candidate for the Norwegian Green Party.[4]

Næss was a noted mountaineer, who in 1950 led the expedition that made the first ascent of Tirich Mir (7,708 m). The Tvergastein hut in the Hallingskarvet massif played an important role in Næss' life.


Arne Næss' main philosophical work from the 1950s was entitled "Interpretation and Preciseness". This was an application of set theory to the problems of language interpretation, extending the work of such logicians as Leonhard Euler, and semanticists such as Charles Kay Ogden in The Meaning of Meaning. A simple way of explaining it is that any given utterance (word, phrase, or sentence) can be considered as having different potential interpretations, depending on prevailing language norms, the characteristics of particular persons or groups of users, and the language situation in which the utterance occurred. These differing interpretations are to be formulated in more precise language represented as subsets of the original utterance. Each subset can, in its turn, have further subsets (theoretically ad infinitum). The advantages of this conceptualisation of interpretation are various. It enables systematic demonstration of possible interpretation, making possible evaluation of which are the more and less "reasonable interpretations". It is a logical instrument for demonstrating language vagueness, undue generalisation, conflation, pseudo-agreement and effective communication.

Næss developed a simplified, practical textbook embodying these advantages, entitled Communication and Argument, which became a valued introduction to this pragmatics or "language logic", and was used over many decades as a sine qua non for the preparatory examination at the University of Oslo, later known as "Examen Philosophicum" ("Exphil").

  • «
  •  Start 
  •  Prev 
  •  1 
  •  2 
  •  Next 
  •  End 
  • »

Page 1 of 2

Choose Language