Arne Næss coined the phrase Deep Ecology in 1973. Deep Ecology is a philosophy of ecology and green living. In Næss’s opinion, the science of ecology is a separate entity from the philosophy of ecology. While the science of ecology concerns itself with facts and figures regarding the environment, Deep Ecology examines the philosophical underpinnings of learning to live with nature. The goal of Deep Ecology is to formulate an ethical basis for living that is environmentally sound.
Næss didn’t think that organisms could be ranked in terms of their importance. He believed that humankind saw itself as the pinnacle of evolution only because it is humans who do the ranking. While we think that we are the height of civilization and intelligence, could it possibly be that other organisms are ahead of us in this regard? Most organisms eventually find a state of equilibrium with their environment, living in harmony with their respective biospheres, but the human race tends to overwhelm and destroy the environment in which it lives.
Our religious underpinnings define humans as superior to other beings because we have souls; however, who is to say that animals don’t? Even the word animal comes from the Latin word for soul.
We also tend to think that we are the only beings who have consciousness and self-awareness, but we’re the ones who define what those phrases mean. A lot of recent research, especially work by scientists like Jane Goodall and Franz de Waal, would seem to indicate that some of the higher primates have a measure of self-awareness and consciousness.
Author and humorist Douglas Adams said that humans feel themselves superior to dolphins because all dolphins do all day is swim and play in the ocean, and dolphins feel themselves superior to humans for exactly the same reason. Næss said that, “the right of all forms [of life] to live is a universal right which cannot be quantified. No single species of living being has more of this particular right to live and unfold than any other species.”
What this means is that humankind is not separate from nature, and our personal philosophies should not reflect the idea that we are somehow “above” nature or superior to it.
Taking this broader view of the world around us, we can see that sustainable living is more than just the things we do. It is a philosophy of life. If we learn to respect nature, maybe even to hold all living things as sacred in some way, then our lives and our actions will automatically fall in line with deeper ecological principles.
Deep Ecology is about making a paradigm shift towards a way of life that is in harmony with nature. If we view ourselves as somehow separate from nature, then green living seems to be just another task to accomplish in our list of daily activities, but if we see ourselves as a part of nature, then it becomes apparent that what we do to nature, we are ultimately doing to ourselves as well.
Green living is more than just a sound principle. It should be a way of life. Deep Ecology is the philosophy that, if adopted, will allow us as a society to make the paradigm shift necessary to live in harmony with nature.
Towards this end, the Deep Ecology Platform was drafted by Arne Næss and George Sessions in 1984. Its principles are as follows:
The Deep Ecology Platform
1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth, intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
4. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
5. 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.
6. Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.
The principles of Deep Ecology are reflected in the First Sacred Pillar of the Order of the Morrigan: Reverence for life and all living things. In this chapter we will explore how Deep Ecology relates to the path of the Druid.