The authors start chapter 1 of the book with an overall view of the
different families within the environmentalist movement, which is seen as a clear
expression of the awareness by many people that there is something
intrinsecally wrong with our lifestyle, which is seen as out of balance.
The first current they discuss is reform environmentalism:
This is obviously the old problem with reformist strategies that also had to be debated by the
socialist movement a long
However, environmentalism in this scenario tends to be very technical and
oriented only to short-term public policy issues of resource allocation.
Attempts are made to reform only some of the worst land use practices without
challenging, questioning or changing the basic assumptions of economic growth
and development. Environmentalists who follow this scenario will easily
be labeled as "just another special issues group." In order to play the game
of politics, they will be required to compromise on every piece of
legislation in which they are interested.
Generally, this business-as-usual scenario builds on legislative achievements
such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act in the
United States, and reform legislation on pollution and other environmental
issues enacted in most industrialized nations.
This work is valuable. The building of proposed dams, for example, can
be stopped by using economic arguments to show their economic liabilities.
However, this approach has certain costs. One perceptive critic of this
approach, Peter Berg, directs an organization seeking decentralist, local
approaches to environmental problems. He says this approach "is like
running a battlefield aid station in a war against a killing machine that
operates beyond reach and that shifts its ground after each seeming
defeat." Reformist activists often feel trapped in the very political
system they criticize. If they don't use the language of resource
economists —language which converts ecology into "input-output models,"
forests into "commodity production systems," and which uses the metaphor of
human economy in referring to Nature— then they are labeled as
sentimental, irrational, or unrealistic.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 2-3)
. The arguments are exactly the same on both sides, the reformist
or pragmatic, and the revolutionary or essentialist. We will not rehash that
debate over here again. There is plenty of literature that can be consulted.
Other factions that the authors identify within the environmentalist movement
are: the New Right (the
book was written in the mid-1980s), identified with the more mainstream
environmental groups (the Sierra Club, the Friends of the Earth and others) which try to enter the political process
by financing their own lobbies (one fails to realize how this faction is any
different from the reformist group mentioned above); the New Age followers, who still see the Earth as
"primarily a resource for human use" (I am not sure that is a correct
assessment, to be honest); and the revised libertarian, which groups
all those people who think that it is possible to preserve natural areas by
purchasing their property and keeping them from economic exploitation (once
again, I fail to realize how this group is distinctly different from the
reformists or the New Right). So, to be clear, the book starts with
an extremely faulty classification of the different factions within the
environmentalist movement (in reality, within the American
environmentalist movement) that only serve one purpose: to introduce the
concept of deep ecology as the authors' preferred faction:
Deep ecology is emerging as a way of developing a new balance and harmony
between individuals, communities and all of Nature. It can potentially
satisfy our deepest yearnings: faith and trust in our most basic intuitions;
courage to take direct action; joyous confidence to dance with the sensuous
harmonies discovered through spontaneous, playful intercourse with the
rhythms of flowing water, changes in the weather and seasons, and the overall
processes of life on Earth.
We invite you to explore the vision that deep ecology offers.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 7)
If you ask me, it all sounds still too vague, perhaps even new-ageish
I suppose that would be fine for a speech that tries to speak to certain
peoples' hearts or share a highly poetic vision of a new movement, but I
do not think any of this can be of any use to analyze the social and political
reality out there. Nevertheless, we are still in the first few pages. Let
us give the authors the benefit of the doubt, and let us hope that they do
explain the concept more in depth in subsequent pages.
Further into the same chapter, the authors share a warning that, once again,
should remind us of the previous experiences of the socialist movement
(especially its anarchist
Cultivating ecological consciousness in contemporary societies, however, is
a two-edged sword. We must not be misled by our zeal for change so that
we are concerned only with the narrow self or ego. If we seek only personal
redemption we could become solitary ecological saints among the masses of
those we might classify as "sinners" who continue to pollute. Change in
persons requires a change in culture and vice versa. We cannot ignore
the personal arena nor the social, for our project is to enhance harmony with
each other, the planet and ourselves.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 14)
Lofty objective indeed. Yet, it does not look as if these warnings calls
were ever heeded. Even today, most American environmentalists (or, to be more
precise, regular folks with an environmental conscience) tend to concentrate
only on the most superficial changes limited to the sphere of personal life
(e.g., eating organic food, driving a hybrid car, etc.)
. That is not bad
at all, of course. But, as the authors explain, none of that changes the
culture, not to speak of the actual foundations of the whole system that is
bringing us closer and closer to a total collapse. It almost seems as if
Americans, after the high tide of political activism of the 1960s, are
allergic to defend any meaningful political and social change, especially if
it involves a move towards a different system. Any attempt at improving
things is limited to add some touches to the current system
The second chapter discusses the so-called minority tradition and
Pretty soon into the chapter, we see a "self-scoring test on basic
environmental perception of place", since the authors defend the concept of
the bioregion as
something central to the idea of deep ecology:
- Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.
- How many days until the moon is full (plus or minus a couple of
- Describe the soil around your home.
- What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture(s) that
lived in your area before you?
- Name five native edible plants in your bioregion and their season(s)
- From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?
- Where does your garbage go?
- How long is the growing season where you live?
- On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?
- Name five trees in your area. Are any of them native? If you can't
name names, describe them.
- Name five resident and any migratory birds in your area.
- What is the land use history by humans in your bioregion during the
- What primary ecological event/process influenced the land from where
- What species have become extinct in your area?
- What are the major plant associations in your region?
- From where you are reading this, point north.
- What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where
- What kinds of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?
- Were the stars out last night?
- Name some beings (nonhuman) which share your place.
- Do you celebrate the turning of the summer and winter solstice? If so,
how do you celebrate?
- How many people live next door to you? What are their names?
- How much gasoline do you use a week, on the average?
- What energy costs you the most money? What kind of energy is it?
- What developed and potential energy resources are in your area?
- What plans are there for massive development of energy or mineral
resources in your bioregion?
- What is the largest wilderness area in your bioregion?
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 22-23)
As a direct way to effect a positive change on our environmental impact, the
authors propose to organize societies according to the concept of bioregion, as well as other ideas, such
as a personal life more in balance with nature or the idea of voluntary simplicity, more
centered on real, vital needs. Following the lead of Duane Elgin's Voluntary Simplicity
(commented here), they
list a few criteria for a more balanced consumption:
- Does what I own or buy promote activity, self-reliance, and involvement,
or does it induce passivity and dependence?
- Are my consumption patterns basically satisfying or do I buy much that
servess no real need?
- How tied is my present job and lifestyle to installment payments,
maintenance and repair costs, and the expectations of others?
- Do I consider the impact of my consumption patterns on other people
and on the Earth?
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 29)
As a more politically-centered direct action, they propose things like
reform legislation, forming coalitions, organizing protests, adopting the
values of the women's
movement, working on the Christian tradition, getting involved in green politics, always considering global actions
and questioning technology. When it comes to this last issue, they propose
the following questions that should be asked of any technological device or
- Does this technological device serve vital needs?
- Is this device or system of the sort that can be immediately understood
- Does it have a high degree of flexibility and mutability or does it
impose a permanent, rigid, irreversible imprint on the lives of
- Does this technological device or system foster greater autonomy of
local communities or greater dependency on some centralized
- Is this device or system ecologically destructive or conducive to a
deep ecology way of life?
- Does this device or system enhance the individuality of persons or
does it lead to bureaucratic hierarchies?
- Does this device or system encourage people to behave and think like
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 35)
Chapter 3 turns to the dominant modern worldview and it also lists some of
the criticisms aimed at it, although in just a few pages (too few, in my
opinion, for such a vast topic). Our current social paradigm is described as
In this worldview, the Earth is seen primarily, if not exclusively, as a
collection of natural resources. Some of these resources are infinite; for
those which are limited, substitutes can be created by technological society.
There is an overriding faith that human civilization will survive. Humans will continue to dominate
Nature because humans are
above, superior to or outside the rest of Nature. All of Nature is seen from
a human-centered perspective, or anthropocentrism.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 43)
This last characteristic is, by far, its most defininng feature. Modern societies
are nothing if not
human-centered. There is no doubt that anthropocentrism started a long
time ago, way before the modern idea. As a matter of fact, some people think
it goes back to the Neolithic and the agricultural revolution, for it was back then when our great monotheistic tradition was born. It is also at
that point in History when we start viewing ourselves as something separate
from Nature, distinct from it and, indeed, called to dominate it
. It is
no accident that our great religious traditions send precisely that message:
God spoke to us —and only
us—, gave us the world and told
us that we could use it as we pleased.
Paradoxically, we have been finding out that this mentality does not only
lead to the utter destruction of the environment, but also to the destruction
of what makes us human:
Technological society not only alienates humans from the rest of Nature
but also alienates humans from themselves and from each other. It
necessarily promotes destructive values and goals which often destroy the
basis for stable viable human communities interacting with the natural
world. The technological worldview has as its ultimate vision the total
conquest and domination of Nature and spontaneous natural processes —a
vision of a "totally artificial environment" remodeled to human specifications
and managed by humans for humans. Contemporary Christian theologian
Harvey Cox spoke for
this vision when he looked with approval on the dominance of the city in the
future ("the most distinct expression of man's separation from nature") and
in which "nature in any untrammeled form will exist in sparse lots and only
because man allows it." The ultimate value judgment upon which technological
society rests —progress conceived as the further development and expansion of
the artificial environment necessarily at the expense of the natural
world— must be looked upon from the ecological perspective as
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 48)
Cox's vision is pretty much the one we see in Blade Runner
, or the one we read about in the
novels. It is
a dystopic future where Nature has disappeared, everything is artificial and
we can only survive inside a bubble that protects us from our own destruction.
The next chapter, chapter 4, discusses the reformist response to our current
In these reformist philosophical positions, progress is understood along
the lines of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers as the cultural
development of humans from the primitiveness of gathering/hunting,
superstitious religious man, through philosophy and metaphysics, to the
scientific-technocratic society considered the zenith of human culture.
Philosophy in its traditional Socratic role as a critique of society is no longer thought necessary for
the scientific society. There is little awareness of the need for a
shift in worldview based upon a metaphysics consistent with ecological
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 52)
In other words, what we have is the monopoly of a single mentality that takes
over our societies, in spite of the fact that we like to think of our own
world as enormously diverse and plural. The reality is that the set of
choices that we are given are, for the most part, limited to a given
worldview, the dominant one. We are all free to choose, so long as we make
the right choice and remain within the box. Those are the
limits of our tolerance and our diversity
. There is a
plurality of products
, all of them subject to the same pattern of
consumption. A choice of lifestyle is confused with a choice of the
products associated with a particular ready-made consumption pattern
We do not define ourselves by the way we live —since, for the most
part, we all live the same way and do the same things—, but rather by
what we dress, what we eat, what we watch... in other words, what we consume.
We all consume. That is the minimum common denominator. As long as we
consume, we are free to choose how we do it. We are just not free to live
without pervasive consumption
The authors argue that certain elements of the reformist approach can still
be salvaged, but a new vision is needed:
While accepting the best of reformist environmentalism, many people have
sensed that something is missing. They are asking deeper questions. They
understand that the environmental/ecology movement needs an articulate
philosophical approach grounded upon assumptions which are different from
those of the dominant worldview.
They realize that a perspective is needed that will place the best of the
reformist response into a coherent philosophical perspective —a
philosophy based on biocentric rather than anthropocentric assumptions.
This philosophy should be able to draw on the science of ecology, but should
not be constrained by scientism, and by the definition of Nature as just a
collection of bits of data to be manipulated by humans.
This philosophy should be both rational and spiritual. It should focus on
ways of cultivating ecological consciousness and on principles for public
environmental policy. It should be a philosophy that draws from the Earth
wisdom of Native
Americans and other primal cultures and that makes these approaches to
wisdom relevant to contemporary, technocratic-industrial societies.
In 1972, Arne Naess
began discussing such a philosophy which he called deep ecology. A formal statement of the
insights, ultimate norms and principles of deep ecology are presented
in the next chapter.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 61)
And thus we make it chapter 5, where the authors discuss the philosophy of
deep ecology. The chapter starts with a great poem by Robinson Jeffers:
Then what is the answer? —Not to the deluded by dreams,
To know that great civilizations have broken down into
violence, and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; the evils are essential.
To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will
not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing, and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history... for contemplation or in fact...
Often appears atrociusly ugly. Integrity is wholeness,
the great beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine
beauty of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful
confusions, or drown in despair when his days darken.
—Robinson Jefers, "The Answer" from Selected Poetry (1938)
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 63-64)
The basic principles of deep ecology are dfined as follows:
- The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman. Life on Earth
have value in themselves (synonym: intrinsic value, inherent value). These
values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human
- Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of
these values and are also values in themselves.
- Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to
satisfy vital needs.
- 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.
- Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and
the situation is rapidly worsening.
- Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic
economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state
of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
- The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life
quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering
to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound
awareness of the difference between big and great.
- Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation
directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 70)
Then, in chapter 6, we are told about some of the sources of the deep ecology
perspective: the perennial philosophy, the literary tradition of naturalism and pastoralism
in America, the science of ecology, the New Physics, certain strands of Christianity, feminism, the primal peoples, Martin Heidegger, the Easter spiritual process
Jeffers, John Muir,
and David Brower.
Along the way, the authors emphasize this or that figure within each one of
the traditions they discuss. Thus, in the case of the science of ecology they emphasize the figure of
Leopold was one of the first to formulate an egalitarian ecosystem ethic:
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and
beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
Leopold's ideas are truly subversive and constitute a landmark in the
development of the biocentric position. Conservationists have paid lip service to Leopold's
outlook, but until recently, only a few other ecologists seem to have grasped
the full impact of the radical nature of Leopold's ecological conscience.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 86)
Later, the authors also transcribe Barry Commoner's major laws of ecology, which they consider a
- Everything is connected to everything else.
- Everything must go somewhere.
- Nature knows best.
- There is no such thing as a free lunch, or everything has to go
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 87)
When discussing the New Physics they make an interesting point about
the New Age that is worth
taking into account:
Morris Berman, author
of The Reenchantment of the World (1981), sees some serious pitfalls
to certain versions of the interconnected view of reality, especially as
interpreted by New Age thinkers and proponents of the new physics, such as
David Bohm. Berman
claims that the process metaphysics which they expound, based on cybernetics
threatens to be disembodied. The sensuousness of the natural world is left
out of their purely formal, computerized or mathematical abstractions. Much
of scientific ecological theory is based on cybernetics systems theory
—a continuation of the Cartesian seventeenth-century view of the universe as a machine—
and should be held suspect for that reason. Similarly, attempts to model
ecosystems by the use of computers inevitably distort the living reality.
As the saying goes, "The map is not the territory." We believe the Earth is
a living organism and should be treated and understood accordinglt. There
are no technological shortcuts to direct organic experiencing. But most
dangerous of all, in Berman's estimation, is that the New Age consciousness
threatens to be "computer consciousness," just another abstract machine
view of reality.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 89-90)
I am not sure I share those criticisms, to be honest. I suppose it may be
due to the fact that the book was written in 1985, when the New Age movement
was still in full swing. By now, I would say it is patently obvious that
the New Age was little more than a fad. Perhaps it was somehow connected
to cybernetics at the very beginning, as Berman states. But that must have
been in its beginnings, when it was being formulated by people who were more
or less knowledgeable. By the time I heard about it, though, it had already
become a fashionable stance that mixed mysticism, superstitious verbiage
and superficial concepts of science
. In general, I think the authors of
this book give it far more importance than it truly had, although perhaps
that was not so clear back when they wrote these pages.
I must say that the inclusion of Martin Heidegger on the list of sources of the deep ecology
movement was a bit of a surprise to me. I can see the connection, to be sure.
However, his name definitely stands out on a list full of American names.
Perhaps this was also a direct consequence of the times when the book was
written? After all, postmodernism was spreading like wildfire in the early 1980s. In any case, they
justify Heidegger's presence on the list as follows:
Martin Heidegger made three contributions to the deep, long-range ecology
literature. First, he provided a major critique and indictment of the
development of Western philosophy since Plato.
He concluded that this anthropocentric development paved the way for the
technocratic mentality which espouses domination over Nature. Being, a key ontological concept for Heidegger, was constrained into narrow
Christian paths or into secular, humanistic, technological philosophy in the
Second, Heidegger called his readers to the "dangerous field of thinking".
Thinking, for Heidegger, was closer to the Taoist process of contemplation than to Western analytical
Third, Heidegger called us to dwell authentically on this Earth, parallel
to our call to dwell in our bioregion and to dwell with alertness to the
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 98)
Chapter 7 calls for experiencing the wilderness:
Experiencing the wilderness of the wildness of a place, from a deep
ecology perspective, is a process of 1) developing a sense of place,
2) redefining the heroic person from conquerer of the land to the person
fully experiencing the natural place, 3) cultivating the virtues of modesty
and humility and 4) realizing how the mountains and rivers, fish and bears
are continuing their own actualizing processes. The prototypical
outcome of the active engagement between the mind and wilderness is seen
in John Muir's
encounter with the Sierra.
In the early 1870s, after spending several seasons in the high country, Muir
was more fully realizing the supreme lesson that Nature is one living, pulsing
organism. Theoretically he had believed in this unity before. Now he was
experiencing it. He wrote at this time, "The whole wilderness is unity and
interrelation, is alive and familiar... the very stones are talkative,
sympathetic, brotherly... No particle is ever wasted or worn out by
externally flowing from use to use."
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 110)
Obviously, this way to experience the wilderness has little in common with
the more common forms of dealing with it, which are described in the rest
of the chapter. For the most part, they actually involve managing it as an
economic resource, rather than experiencing a communion with it. They still
view humans as a steward in charge of nature. Chapter 8 explores the
different models of natural resource conservation.
Chapter 8 discusses the different concepts of natural resource conservation
(abbreviated as RCD throughout the chapter), centering on the criticism that
it remains an anthropocentric activity that, in reality, under the disguise
of protecting the environment, is mainly interested in exploiting it for
Within the assumptions of the dominant worldview, the basic challenge of
the forester, water resource manager, range manager, fisheries manager, etc.,
is to produce more and more commodities in shorter and shorter periods of time.
Nature and its processes are too slow and inefficient in terms of the
economizing model. Indeed, "efficiency of production," virtually without
regard for the larger ecological context, is the major slogan of managers
who take a homocentric rather than biocentric position.
For example, the rotation cycle, the number of years between cutting a stand
of timber and its recutting after regrowth, has been progressively reduced
from perhaps 120 years to eighty, sixty, or forty. One official of a major
corporation in the western United States asked his scientific managers and
technologists to develop and plant "genetically enhanced" trees which could
be "harvested" in twenty years. "Trees are just a crop, like corn," say
many commercial foresters.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 136-137)
This view stands in sharp contrast with that of deep ecology:
Muir saw the national
forests as places where the flow of wild Nature would be protected against the
ravages of expanding industrial civilization. When he saw Pinchot's plans being implemented for
the exploitation of the national forests as commodities for economic growth and
development, he turned to the concept of national parks as places where wilderness would
predominate. It is perhaps ironic that now in the United States nearly
every national park is also being threatened by encroaching industrial
civilization. And as ecologists such as Paul Ehrlich call for vast unmanaged wilderness ecosystems
as essential for human survival, the Forest Service has launched a publicity
campaign through its pamphlets and other means to condition the public to
accept "tree farms" in place of natural forests. "Is Nature Always Right?"
one pamphlet asks. "Nature often works in slow, ponderous rhythms which are
not always efficient" and "natural growth results in a crowded haphazard
mix." The forester can give Nature a helping hand to provide forest products
for growing human needs.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 146)
What is failing here, according to those who support the views of deep
ecology, is the underpinnings of our whole worldview:
that older, more intuitive ways of interacting with the land are being swept
away and labeled "superstitious" when in actuality they contain a great deal
of ecological understanding. Modern technocratic societies have pinned their hopes for increased
production and efficiency on technologies based on partial, and in many cases,
inadequate theoretical scientific models. There is no reason to believe that
scientific theories and models will ever capture the full intricacy of
natural ecosystem functioning.
The adequacy of technologyis only as good as the theoretical models upon
which it is based. The idea of Gaia treated as a scientific theory rather than a myth is an
example of a theoretical model and its limitations. Myth is encompassing,
intuitive, comforting, involving. The model is limited, cold, manipulative,
distant from reality.
The science of ecology
as defined narrowly in academia with its thermodynamic studies of energy
flows modeled on our current understanding of the laws of physics, the
economically modeled conccepts of producers and consumers, and quantitative
analyses of predator-prey relationships, is itself replete with theoretical
concepts and models. The very concept of an ecosystem is based upon
theory which is an attempt to apply a machine model to natural organic
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 151)
So, the authors warn us about an excessively pragmatic approach to nature
We are caught in a series of complex dilemmas. We have argued that
contemporary RCD [Resource Conservation and Development] ideology is
generally hands-on management, and that the overall manipulation of Nature
is both ecologically disastrous and ethically unacceptable. It violates
the integrity of Nature, and further, as Heidegger and others have argued, to pervert living
beings by mechanizing and genetically altering them. Environmental disaster
is the end result of the unrestrained freedom of societies to exploit Nature.
We believe that genuine freedom for humans and nonhumans lies in deep ecology
It is crucial that interim management plans do not include practices that
are ecologically harmful or questionable, thus foreclosing the possibilities
for deep ecology futures. Many forms of hands-on management —taking
wild animals from their natural habitats to serve as breeding stock in zoos,
or being lulled into complacency by setting up genetic sperm banks of wild
stock— may be examples of such practices.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 157-158)
Chapter 9 discusses different visions of ecotopia. They start pointing
out how these utopian visions are useful:
Creating ecotopian futures has practical value. It helps us articulate
our goals and presents an ideal which may never be completely realized but
which keeps us focused on the ideal. We can also compare our personal actions
and collective public decisions on specific issues with this goal. We
suggest that ecotopian visions give perspective on vain-glorious illusions of
both revolutionary leaders and the propaganda of defenders of the status
quo. Furthermore, ecotopian visions help us see the distance between what
ought to be and what is now reality in our technocratic-industrial society.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 162)
Then, they quickly move into discussing some of these visions:
Some ecotopias are very broad in scope whereas others are more specifically
bioregional. It would
be valuable to develop more ecotopias which address the problems and issues of
the differing unique bioregions. For example, Ernest Callenbach's novels, Ecotopia (1975) and Ecotopia Emerging (1981),
provide specific visions for America's Pacific Northwest region. The city of Saint Francis
becomes an ecological model for future urban areas. Callenbach discusses
appropriate technology, emphasizing local grassroots politics, consensus
decision-making, and the importance of providing opportunities for women to
be major political leaders. There are discussions of ecological education
for children, and ecological rituals. The basic philosophy of the Ecotopians
tends to be patterned after the American Indian.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 163)
From there, they go on to discuss authors like Loren Eiseley, Baker Brownell, Aldous Huxley, Gary Snyder and Paul
Shepard, before closing the chapter with a short critique of the ecotopian
Chapter 10 discusses character and culture, including education, cultural
We cannot conclude that contemporary education is ignoring values.
Education is surely teaching values both explicitly and implicitly; it is
teaching the worldview and values of the scientific/technological society.
It is teaching by precept and example that values (and maybe facts as well)
are all subjective and relative, that it is "rational" to compromise on all
issues, and that Nature exists as but a commodity to be enjoyed and consumed
by humans. It teaches that there is a technological solution to all
problems. Education is preparing young people for careers in the highly
exploitive, ecologically disastrous technological society.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 182-183)
In other words, education does what it has always done: ensure that
younger generations are trained in the dominant worldview to perpetuate
the system. That is how it always worked. No surprises there.
Education is but one more component of a system and, as such, it reproduces
the system. Now, when said system finds its own limits, runs against a
wall and collapses, it is then replaced with a new system that, invariably,
will also bring about a new type of education, as well as a new type of
lifestyle, a new type of overall mentality, a new type of workplace, etc.
It is just how things work, at the social as well as the natural level.
Everything around us is a system, no matter how hard we try to see things as
inspired by Erich Fromm
and others, puts forward the idea that some cultures foster a closer
relation to nature than others. That may be true, but it certainly is not
the objective of our own technological society:
Our present urban-techno-industrial lifestyles tend to preclude such
processes of intimate relationship with nonhuman Nature, restricting our
experiences primarily to the fabricated environment, massive in scale and
unprecendented in history. According to Shepard, this failure to
properly relate to wild Nature and thus to develop into more fully mature
humans may be one of the root causes of vandalism, destructive behavior and excessive intervention by
humans into natural processes.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 183-184)
There are multiple ways to encourage a mature approach to nature, and the
authors themselves suggest a few:
Some of the activities which are especially useful, in our estimation, if
done with the proper attitude, include fishing, hunting, surfing, sun bathing,
kayaking, canoeing, sailing, mountain climbing, hang gliding, skiing,
bicycling and birdwatching. There is a very large body of literature coming
from people who have participated in some of these activities, especially
mountain climbing and fishing, which attest to possibilities for developing
a sense of place and intuitive understanding of the connections between
humans and nonhumans together with a respect for the principle of biocentric
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 188)
The final chapter of the book, chapter 11, discusses ecological resistance:
We suggest there is an interplay between outward direct action and inward
direct action, between acting on one's self and acting in the world, with
the result of further and deeper maturity in the deep ecological sense of
identification with all life. There is no sharp break between inward and
outward. People take direct action from deep ecological principles
and they become more mature through direct action. The label we use for the
type of direct action in its outward form is ecological resisting.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 194)
But how do they define this type of ecological resisting?
Ecological resisters do not accept that there are only narrow technical
solutions to narrowly defined social problems (such as air pollution). These
problems are seen only as symptoms of the larger issues.
There are three main dangers to technocratic solutions. First is the danger
in believing there is a complete or acceptable solution using modern dominating
ideologies and technology. The second danger is the presentation of an
impression that someething is being done when in fact the real problem
continues. Tinkering distracts from the "real work." Finally, there is the
danger of assuming there will be new experts —such as profesional
ecologists— who will provide the solution but who may in fact be
constrained to be public relations spokespersons for the agenda of profit or
power of some corporation or agency.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, pp. 195-196)
In the end, what they are proposing is nonviolence:
Ecological resisting could be defined as keeping the peace of the
neighborhood. Rarely are vandals or violent neighbors welcome in the
neighborhood. When the neighbors include rivers and mountains, seashores
and prairies, then the integrity of the ecosystem is maintained.
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 199)
And they use Arne
' list of norms for nonviolent action, inspired in turn by Gandhi
- Announce your case and the goal of your campaign explicitly and
clearly, distinguishing essentials from nonessentials.
- Seek personal contact with your opponent and be available to him.
Bring conflicting groups into personal contact.
- Turn your opponent into a believer in and supporter of your case,
but do not coerce or exploit him.
- You provoke your opponent if you deliberately or carelessly destroy
(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 200)
The book ends with an appendix that includes a few short pieces on topics
related to the concept of deep ecology, such as an article by Arne Naess on the concept of ecosophy, considertaions about the
connection between feminism and ecology by Carolyn Merchant, a few pages written by Robert Aitkin Roshi
connecting Gandhi and Dogen
to deep ecology, a slightly longer (and more dense) piece by George Sessions
(one of the co-authors of the book) on the so-called "Western process
metaphysics" (Heraclitus, Spinoza, Whitehead), John Seed on the
idea of anthropocentrism, Dolores
LaChapelle on the importancia of the concept of ritual and, finally, Gary Snyder on Buddhism and the idea of a planetary culture. A postscript written by
George Sessions in 1984 closes the book.
Altogether, Deep Ecology is a good introduction to the philosophy of
deep ecology. However, it should not be taken as anyting else but a mere
introduction, a platform that will allow anyone interested in the field to
jump onto bigger (and deeper) things. It clearly shows its age when it
discusses the German
Green Party as a hopeful breath of fresh air. It may have been such a
thing back then (actually, it was), but by now it has become just one
more political party in the German party system, with its own set of
contradictions, defections and betrayals. It also becomes clear that the
book has aged a bit when it pays more attention than it should to the New Age movement, which ended up
being nothing more than a fad in the 1980s. But what to say about the idea of deep ecology? Does it
matter much these days? It is difficult to tell. On the one hand, the
ecological problems have definitely gained in importance and are discussed
even by mainstream media on a regular basis. It is also clear in many people's
minds that our lifestyle is destroying the environment. And yet, one would
say that deep ecology has gained little traction. What we see far more of is
a business as usual approach sold as green pragmatism that,
some hope, will build a new form of green capitalism. Whether or not
it succeeds remains to be seen. I have my doubts. Nevertheless, what
appears more or less clear is that deep ecology is not on the center stage
yet, and it is far from clear if it it will ever be.
Entertainment Factor: 6/10
Intellectual Factor: 6/10