Deep Ecology is a long term movement that was coined by Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess in 1972. The term was first introduced in his article entitled, "The shallow and the deep, long-range ecology movement" (Naess, 1973). It is a holistic, non-anthropocentric approach that traces our present environmental crisis and disconnectedness from the earth to deep philosophical causes. It is the belief that today's environmental degradation is symptomatic of deeper societal uncertainty which requires efforts to understand and answer the fundamental problems. For instance, should we be developing more fuel efficient cars? Or, should we be assessing our need to be so dependent on these machines at all?
Deep Ecology is the name of a new philosophy of nature that recognizes natural and social communities as a web of inter-connectedness, with humans no longer at the hierarchical peak. There is a great recognition of community and a distinct unity of humans, plants and animals to the earth. It is indisputable that local communities exist in a harmonious and self-regulating relationship with their surroundings. The ideal is of an Ecotopia; a community that seeks harmony with, rather than dominance over nature. The movement seeks to develop and to articulate an alternative philosophy that requires a fundamental transformation in our philosophical and world-view outlook. It is considered a radical shift from mainstream Western European thought and is often placed on the fringe of environmental philosophy.
Deep Ecology does not refer to one specific and systematic philosophy. It is very diverse in nature and boasts many passive and activist approaches to ecological issues that share fundamental assumptions. For instance, strategies to meet challenges encompass a heavy reliance on poetry, Buddhism, spiritualism, political activism, acts of civil disobedience and eco-sabotage. The movement is accompanied by such key slogans as Earth First! Simple in means, rich in ends! and Mother Earth has no use for modern war! (Reed, 1993). Their frame of reference and inspirations span from such sources as Taoism, Gandhi, Native American cultures, Thomas Jefferson, Thoreau, and Woody Guthrie. The overwhelming diversity of this philosophy fosters many forums to study and explore related fields, such as Social Ecology, Eco-Feminism, Eco-Psychology, Ecology, Eco-Philosophy, and Ecosophy (Naess, 1973). It is evident that the movement encompasses both philosophical and activist sides which all reinforce our roots in nature and in humankind.
The ethics of Deep Ecology focus on two ultimate norms; self realization and biocentric equality (Des Jardins, 1993). Self realization is the process through which people come to understand themselves as existing in an inter-connectedness with the rest of nature. Moreover, biocentric equality is the recognition that all organisms and beings are equally members of an interrelated whole and therefore have intrinsic worth. Such an ethical system places value upon other species and nature, independent of human need. Deep Ecology aims to give non-human life independent ethical status, recognizing that all life has intrinsic value of its own (Wall, 1994). There is the seeking to discover links between species and the investigation of the interdependence of life. It is important to understand this ecology as it offers new insights and evaluations acknowledging an ethical reliance on ecology. Deep Ecology depicts a chain, with each link being vital for the integrity of the whole.
Deep Ecology is known as a fourth world movement that spans the Gaian ecology, and social communitarian ecology. There is the fostering of a deep sense of community, and attitudes of "living lightly upon the earth" through the appreciation of webs and interconnected relationships that link all species, including humanity. It is important to recognize that we are inseparable from nature as well as inseparable from each other. Deep Ecology encourages an overcoming of alienation, asserting the naturalness of humans by "living in harmony with the environment sufficiently, by admitting the power which natural laws (i.e. carrying capacity) have over us - living lightly on the earth, and not transforming it" (Pepper, 1993). Nature is the source of worth, and we must follow its rules to prevent its endangerment. It is important to acknowledge our "one-ness" with the earth and each other, through restraining activities that are encroaching or violating (Pepper, 1993). Deep Ecology sees the individual as "embedded in society; society as embedded in nature, all being dependent on cosmic forces" (Pepper, 1993). Nature is to be nurtured, rather than intervening destructively in it. It is to be revered and preserved, enhancing our connectedness and interdependency of both natural and social communities.
Communalism is a theme of Deep Ecology, often referred to as social ecology. The idea of such natural and social communities emerge from the people; their locality and shared existence. Communalism not only emphasizes economic relationships but also intimate social relationships through feelings of belonging, sharing, caring and surviving. Often, the association of a lifeboat provides for an example of strong community, with kinship defining social function and ensuring cooperation. This notion of community has its roots in sociological theory with terms such as Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. The former referring to social relationships founded on "solidarity between individuals based on affection, kinship or membership to a community," and the latter referring to "social relations between isolated individuals, consulting their own self interest" (Pepper, 1993). Consequently, through Gemeinschaft people develop a sense of community which amounts to more than just the sum of the individual identities. There is a strong belief in the society as being organic, with unalienated face-to-face relationships. To be fully human, is to live with others and to be concerned for them as on one is for one's self. Therefore to be separated from this community aspect of Self, through individualism, is to be alienated. Environmental health and success requires this strong kinship between people as it breeds a strong local identity. This kinship between "the living, dead, and unborn" (Pepper, 1993), generates a strong sense of community, for both present and future generations.
Political structure forms the basis for decision making and is an excellent platform for organizing society. Politics is also a major part of community life providing the forum for organizing society and making decisions.
Throughout history there have been hundreds of different political ideas and structures. One of the most common political and economic ideas practiced by societies is capitalism. Although it is a form of economic structure, many relate it to the political ideals of a society. People who believe strongly in working towards sustainability blame the fall of modern society on capitalism. Society has had a narrowing of values, becoming focused on a materialistic and profit-oriented way of life. People no longer care about helping their neighbour, but rather care only about improving their own life. In this respect the loss of community can also be blamed on capitalism. There has been a concentration of power since industrialization; the decision-makers are the people with the most money. People no longer want to work with others to reach the best possible decision, but become competitive with their friends. Decisions are made in the best interest of the individual rather than the collective. When there is no cooperation or caring and understanding of others, a community can not exist. If everyone is working toward material gains, the society will never be sustainable.
As individuals have become aware of the importance of sustainability in order to protect the future, many societies have been adopting new political ideas that reinforce the concepts behind sustainability. These include Communitarianism, Green Politics, and Strong Democracy. All of these political structures are based on sustainability and believe strongly in the role of community. Sustainability is an ecological way of living and the community provides a context and a home. (Coleman, 118). Four common characteristics of community include caring, responsibility, respect and knowledge. The characteristics of community are the foundations of the political structures that encourage sustainability. It is a political movement that is more in touch with people and encourages participation by everyone.
The following section will outline a few of the new political movements that are focused on ecological sensitivity and sustainability. It will also discuss the important role community plays in incorporating these ideas into society.
Communitarianism is a socialist political theory based solely on community. Participation of the citizen in every aspect of public life is an essential part of communitarianism. Communitarianists believe that individualism led to the moral fall of society. Therefore, the only way to understand human behaviour is to refer to individuals in their social, cultural and historical context (Avineri, p2). Community supplies the context for examining the individual. This is because the community represents only the characteristics of its constituent parts, or represents the needs of all individuals in one collective idea.
Communitarianism is based on cooperation, aiming to become the politics of the common good. Those who subscribe to this way of thinking also believe individuals can be transformed, through their participation in common seeing and common work, into citizens (Barber, 232). The conversion of the individual into a citizen takes place within a community where cooperation and participation are a part of everyday life. In many ways communitarianism is an idealistic philosophy, where all work together in harmony and anyone who participates becomes interested only in the common good. This is an unrealistic and unfair expectation. The individual and their ideas are an important part of community and breed diversity. A community should accept people as they are and welcome their ideas.
There are many positive ideas in communitarianism. This ideal believes community should be the centre of society where cooperation and respect for others governs all actions. Respect for other human beings and the surroundings is then translated into a respect for the earth. With a respect for our neighbour and the earth, we will strive for sustainability.
The Green Political movement first began in Europe in the seventies, and was beginning its foundations in the United States by the early eighties . This ecological political movement focused its attention on environmental awareness and sustainability. The Green parties have a list of "ten key values" by which they base all their political strategies. These include: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics, feminism, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility and sustainability (Coleman, 98). Community plays an important role in all ten of these values.
Another political structure that is based on sustainability and ecological living is Strong Democracy. Strong Democracy believes in the common sense wisdom and competence of citizens in a community. Society must build a foundation of democratic culture that is instilled in all social activities and institutions. The three key elements that dictate Strong Democracy are anchored in community. The first element is participation in deliberation, agenda setting and information exchange. This element is based on the idea that members of the community have the best knowledge of their surroundings and should be active in the information exchange.
Participation in determining policy and the exercise of public judgment is the second element. Again, community provides the scale for this kind of participatory democracy.
The last element encourages common works, community action and citizen services to implement policy decisions. This element actively encourages cooperative work between people in the community. The cooperation between people, and the consolidation of their knowledge and power gives the community the strength to make and implement the decisions that are in the interest of the common good
To continue on with IV Understanding Community, click here.
To return to the Table of Contents,