Deep Ecology
Living as if nature mattered
Bill Devall and George Sessions
Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, Utah (USA), 1985 (1985)
267 pages, including appendixes and bibliography

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:

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)

This is obviously the old problem with reformist strategies that also had to be debated by the socialist movement a long time ago. 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 flavor):

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 direct action. 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:

  1. Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.
  2. How many days until the moon is full (plus or minus a couple of days)?
  3. Describe the soil around your home.
  4. What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture(s) that lived in your area before you?
  5. Name five native edible plants in your bioregion and their season(s) of availability.
  6. From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?
  7. Where does your garbage go?
  8. How long is the growing season where you live?
  9. On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?
  10. Name five trees in your area. Are any of them native? If you can't name names, describe them.
  11. Name five resident and any migratory birds in your area.
  12. What is the land use history by humans in your bioregion during the past century?
  13. What primary ecological event/process influenced the land from where you live?
  14. What species have become extinct in your area?
  15. What are the major plant associations in your region?
  16. From where you are reading this, point north.
  17. What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?
  18. What kinds of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?
  19. Were the stars out last night?
  20. Name some beings (nonhuman) which share your place.
  21. Do you celebrate the turning of the summer and winter solstice? If so, how do you celebrate?
  22. How many people live next door to you? What are their names?
  23. How much gasoline do you use a week, on the average?
  24. What energy costs you the most money? What kind of energy is it?
  25. What developed and potential energy resources are in your area?
  26. What plans are there for massive development of energy or mineral resources in your bioregion?
  27. 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:

  1. Does what I own or buy promote activity, self-reliance, and involvement, or does it induce passivity and dependence?
  2. Are my consumption patterns basically satisfying or do I buy much that servess no real need?
  3. How tied is my present job and lifestyle to installment payments, maintenance and repair costs, and the expectations of others?
  4. 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 system:

  1. Does this technological device serve vital needs?
  2. Is this device or system of the sort that can be immediately understood by nonexperts?
  3. Does it have a high degree of flexibility and mutability or does it impose a permanent, rigid, irreversible imprint on the lives of citizens?
  4. Does this technological device or system foster greater autonomy of local communities or greater dependency on some centralized "authority"?
  5. Is this device or system ecologically destructive or conducive to a deep ecology way of life?
  6. Does this device or system enhance the individuality of persons or does it lead to bureaucratic hierarchies?
  7. Does this device or system encourage people to behave and think like machines?

(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 follows:

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 unequivocal regress.

(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 cyberpunk 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 environmental problems:

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 interrelatedness.

(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:

  1. 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 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. 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.
  5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 traditions, Robinson 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 Aldo Leopold:

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 fundamental contribution:

  1. Everything is connected to everything else.
  2. Everything must go somewhere.
  3. Nature knows best.
  4. There is no such thing as a free lunch, or everything has to go somewhere.

(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 systems theory, 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 West.

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 thinking.

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 natural processes.

(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 economic reasons:

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:

Berry demonstrates 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 cybernetics systems theory which is an attempt to apply a machine model to natural organic processes.

(Bill Devall and George Sessions: Deep Ecology, p. 151)

So, the authors warn us about an excessively pragmatic approach to nature conservation:

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 futures.

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 (San Francisco) 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 visions.

Chapter 10 discusses character and culture, including education, cultural beliefs, etc.

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 separate pieces.

Paul Shepard, 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 equality.

(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 Naess' list of norms for nonviolent action, inspired in turn by Gandhi:

  1. Announce your case and the goal of your campaign explicitly and clearly, distinguishing essentials from nonessentials.
  2. Seek personal contact with your opponent and be available to him. Bring conflicting groups into personal contact.
  3. Turn your opponent into a believer in and supporter of your case, but do not coerce or exploit him.
  4. You provoke your opponent if you deliberately or carelessly destroy his property.

(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