Deep Ecology, American Roots: Part 4

Here are some final thoughts following my discussion of the relationship between deep ecology and certain American figures:

Just as deep ecologists at heart may need to stay closeted to keep their public shallow ecology jobs, shallow ecology groups such as The Group of Ten must retain their traditional views in order to maintain government support and continue to receive public donations from massive bases.  In the early 1980s alone, Sierra Club membership grew by 90%; as the mainstream groups grow, it makes sense that more radical splinters will form.  Unlike traditional environmental groups, however, the fringe splinters are fairly flexible to fundamental changes in ideology.  David Foreman eventually left Earth First!, thinking it had become too concerned with social justice issues when the group opened alliances with labor unions; he believed wilderness preservation had lost priority as the group’s mission.  But was this shift in Earth First!’s goals one from deep to shallow ecology?  This query presents issues inherent in social justice, which are far too vast to discuss here; the simplest answer, it seems, would depend greatly on whom the group was serving, and to what ends.

A more germane question is what to do with deep ecology, if its American roots are as sturdy as I have argued.  Again, the answer is not very clear, and depends on what purpose we wish ecology to serve.  In the introductory chapter to Man and Nature, George Perkins Marsh noted that the destruction of pines all over North Carolina by a new insect might have been the result of humans overhunting birds.  This observation was located in the section “Stability of Nature,” just before “Restoration of Disturbed Harmonies.”  From the implications in his section titles, Marsh seems just short of delving into a description of the land pyramid that Aldo Leopold would explore decades later, of a “tangle of chains so complex as to seem disorderly, yet the stability of the system proves it to be a highly organized structure.”  To Leopold, every species is a chain link added by evolution, a moving piece that can affect the stability of the pyramid.  And Leopold recognizes these pieces as diverse—according to Arne Naess, such diversity “enhances the potentialities of survival, the chances of new modes of life, the richness of forms.”

Marsh’s conclusion regarding the relationship between the forests, birds and insects in North Carolina was simple. “Man,” he wrote, “is waging a treacherous warfare on his natural allies.”  Marsh published this in 1864; a full century later, Rachel Carson said, “Through our technology we are waging war against the natural world.”  Does man continue this war because his ecology is shallow, or because his ethical ecology has not yet developed?  Does he not have enough of a precedent in his history to adopt an ecosophy?  Marsh’s harmony is Leopold’s pyramid is Naess’ “biospherical net” made up of organism-knots.  The three are the exact same ecology for over a hundred and fifty years.  Whether man is in nature or apart, the complex interconnectedness of organisms and their environment remains visible; whether the underlying philosophy is shallow or deep, the ecology itself must be recognized.

6 thoughts on “Deep Ecology, American Roots: Part 4

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