Exploring Deep Ecology

Posted on October 29, 2012 by


It is through Deep Ecology’s view of humans as being inextricably linked to the natural world that certifies its importance in resolving environmental problems. As a movement, Deep Ecologists seek to challenge the dominant assumptions humans have of the environment in order to reform ethics of the planet (Devall 1994, p. 125). This transition and development of a new eco-philosophy can be traced to the works of Arne Naess and his concept of “biological egalitarianism” which sees individuals as both equal and an integral part of nature (Devall 1994, p. 133). In this essay, an understanding of the ecological assumptions of Deep Ecology will firstly be achieved through a more profound definition of biological egalitarianism. This will then be followed by an investigation into how

Arne Næss

Deep Ecologists are influenced and connect with spirituality in their approach to the environment along with how current economic relations need to become subservient to the ecological-ethical dilemma.


Deep Ecologists have previously and continue to cite particular spiritual traditions in order to reconfigure the predominantly Western perception of Man versus Nature. This new psychology is associated with the concept of bioregionalism, whereby social and political boundaries become re-aligned with the practice of “living in a space” (Davidson 2007, p. 319). Practically, bioregionalism is favoured by Deep Ecologists as it leads to the creation of autonomous communities that are able to serve initial and immediate interests without relying on markets or environmentally degrading practices. To develop bioregionalism, Deep Ecologists have increasingly given particular attention to Perennial Philosophy and Mysticism that draws on a combination of religious and spiritual affiliations from the Far East as well as Jewish, Muslim and Christian beliefs that explore interactions with nature (Taylor 2001, p. 180). For Naess himself, whilst affirming that individuals can arrive at their own convictions and beliefs of Deep Ecology apart from a particular religious influence, he has notably confirmed the power of mysticism through his experiences in the Norwegian mountains following the death of his father. Drawing on the interactions Naess had with the environment and ecosystem, he then came to realise an incident of self-identification that was absent from the artifices of city and industrial life (Taylor 2001, p. 181). This is referred to by Naess in his environmental philosophy “ecosophy” that emphasises how humans connect and identify themselves with the natural environment. However, according to Barnhill and Gottlieb (2001, p. 4) the practices of “ecosophy” also resonate largely with Buddhism, as the development of meditative awareness encourages the individual to be “at one” with the natural environment. It is by identifying easily with nature such as what is achieved in Buddhist teachings that Deep Ecologists seek to encourage individuals to observe ecological rules not as a matter of duty, but rather as an integrated response that is natural to life. Deep Ecologists encourage this result further through challenging dominant Western economic thought and practice.


For Deep Ecologists, it is the economy and the creation of markets that is responsible for filtering the relationship humans have with their natural environment. Since the advent of industrialisation and mass commercialisation, individual lifestyles have increasingly become distanced from the natural ecosystem causing a series of dualisms over how to best treat the environment (Devall 1994, p. 134). In order to bridge this divide, Naess (1973, p. 95) observes how the Deep Ecology movement seeks to overcome the “thing-in-millieu” concept, eventually creating a “total-field” image of society for all living entities. This image is in response to problems around economics as Deep Ecology asserts the need for individuals and collectives to undertake ideological change. This change seeks to appreciate life quality as something that is dependent on the natural world rather than the increased consumption of goods (Maskit 2000, p. 217). In addition, defying consumerism in this manner also demonstrates how Deep Ecology works to overcome the ways dominant capitalist economics work to privilege largely minority populations in the developed world. To successfully overcome these iniquitous and exploitative acts, Deep Ecology again supports the development of bioregions to create new regional boundaries that reflect the conditions of the natural world rather than being imposed for economic gain. By introducing this new social structure to societies across the planet, the rise of decentralised government will result in new political boundaries that ‘…reflect the natural contours of differing ecosystem types’ (Taylor 2000, p. 273). These systems will then, according to Deep Ecology, lead to the reconfiguration of the anthropocentric view humans have of their ecosystem, ensuring that political and social decisions are made on a platform that avoids significant environmental degradation and inequality.


Overall, Deep Ecology’s effort to demonstrate that humans are inextricably linked to the natural world makes this movement effective in resolving environmental problems. Whilst deemed by many as a “radical” approach to overcoming degradation and exploitation of the ecosystem, Deep Ecology’s underlying philosophy promotes a reformation of the dominant anthropocentric Man versus Nature view of the environment. This paper has explored this effort through firstly investigating the ideas behind biological egalitarianism, adopting the perception that the “self” is part of a wider biosphere on which it depends for survival. In addition, analysing the importance of bioregions for Deep Ecologists incurred an examination of how the movement adopts a variety of different as well as unorthodox spiritual teachings and lessons to promote individual awareness of the natural ecosystem. However, it has been through understanding Deep Ecology’s discernment of the economy and commercialism which highlights the fact that the movement’s success is dependent on establishing new ideologies that counter dominant Western economic thought.



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Martin Dickens is a third year Bachelor of Arts student studying at La Trobe University’s Albury Wodonga Campus. He is currently a member of the student-run People’s Action Club (PAC), is a founding member of the Albury-Wodonga chapter of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), and holds a strong interest in both Australian politics and international affairs.  He has served as an acting delegate for the United Nations Regional Youth Summits and was recently awarded the Deans Prize First Year for the most outstanding student in the Bachelor of Arts.  Martin is also interested in education policy and regional development in terms of infrastructure and service delivery.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.