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. Continue reading

Deep Ecology, American Roots: Part 3

I left off my Part 2 post with the claim that environmental groups adopted a shallower ecology as they became more mainstream. I will continue to discuss this below, and focus on a more radical fringe environmental group.

With wider supporter bases, the largest and most influential organizations—The Group of Ten—tended toward demureness while working with the US government, which in many cases meant acceding to the demands of corporations; none of the Ten showed up to protest the controversial dumping of toxic PCBs in Afton, North Carolina.  When The Group of Ten began to cooperate with (or behave more pragmatically towards) extractive industries, generally the more lucrative variety, many activists found themselves looking for more adversarial policies, and abandoned their positions for more “active” ones.  Many of these people may have considered themselves liberal members of the environmental groups before, but given the dynamics of mainstream discourse, the splinter groups became much more radical.  Here are some examples of frustrated people leaving mainstream groups: David Brower was fired from the Sierra Club and ended up forming Friends of the Earth and two other grassroots organizations; David Foreman quit his job at the Wilderness Society and co-founded Earth First!; Rick Sutherland declared the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund independent of the Sierra Club to litigate more freely in the name of the environment.

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Deep Ecology, American Roots: Part 2

My Part 1 post a couple days ago focused on George Perkins Marsh’s writings, and how they related to Arne Naess’ deep ecology. I closed with Marsh’s concluding comments in Man and Nature, which I’m including here:

In his final essay, “Nothing Small in Nature,” Marsh cautions that humans are never justified in assuming that their actions have no significant consequences just because they see no effects.  His advice—implicit in that the book ends after this point, with no structured summary or conclusion—is that people must look for, and then react properly (responsibly) to, the deleterious influence they can have on their environment.

But is this deep ecology?  Naess emphasizes the “equal right to live and blossom” of all organisms, allowing that in practice this principle of ecological egalitarianism cannot be fully carried out.  Marsh, when asked by his publisher whether or not man was a “part of nature,” replied that his beliefs could not be further from the idea that “man is a ‘part of nature’ or that his action is controlled by the laws of nature; in fact a leading spirit of the book is to enforce the opposite opinion, and to illustrate the fact that man… is a free moral agent working independently of nature.”   Continue reading

Deep Ecology, American Roots: Part 1

Part 1: George Perkins Marsh

In 1973, the Norwegian scholar and philosopher Arne Naess published the article “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement. A Summary” in Inquiry, an interdisciplinary journal he established to promote discourse in the social sciences and humanities.  This brief article contained the base for what Naess termed the ‘deep ecology’ philosophy, which has since grown into a powerful—albeit fringe—branch of environmentalism with influence around the world.  The radical ideology that Naess sparked has an especially large following in the United States, where several environmental groups have been inspired by the proposed ‘ecosophy,’ or philosophy of ecological equilibrium surpassing shallow goals.

The relative popularity of deep ecology may have a foundation in United States environmental literature, where the writings of George Perkins Marsh and Aldo Leopold, among others, have distinct similarities to Naess’ claims and proposals.

What, exactly, was ‘deep ecology’ when Naess first wrote of it?  In his original seven-point survey, he described it as a belief in ecologically responsible practices that include such varied principles as complexity, diversity, and egalitarianism; a normative priority system—a life-style—that supports an ethical and humble view toward the environment.   Continue reading