The Gift Economy, Anarchism and Strategies for Change
Terry Leahy's website
The New Environmentalism and its Critics
The Perils of Consumption and the Gift Economy as the Solution Daniel Miller’s ‘Consumption and Its Consequences’
Anarchist and Hybrid Strategies
Ruling Class Men: Money, Sex, Power
Options for a Sustainable Future - Four Models of Utopia
Exploitation, Surplus and the Community Economy - 2013
What is the Difference between Anarchism and Socialism anyway?
Checkmate: Why Capitalism Cannot Survive Global Warming
The Social Meaning of the Climate Crisis
Indigenous Sustainability and Collapsing Empires
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 1)
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 2)
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 3)
Sociological Utopias and Social Transformation: Permaculture and the Gift Economy
On the Edge of Utopia: A Letter to the Green Parties (Part A)
On the Edge of Utopia: A Letter to the Green Parties (Part B)
Sustainable Agriculture: A Marketing Opportunity or Impossible in the Global Capitalist Economy?
Food, Society and the Environment - 2003
Apocalypse Most Likely: Agency and Environmental Risk in the Hunter Region
Second Wave Feminism - The Opening Debates
Second Wave Feminism - Since the Mid-Seventies
Ecofeminism Part One: Different positions within Ecofeminism
Lecture: Deep Ecology
Lecture: Deep Ecology

Devall and Sessions provide a good introduction to the ideas of the "Deep Ecology" framework for environmentalism. Deep Ecology has come to stand for a strand of activism and analysis within environmentalism. It tends to be concerned with ethical issues and consequently, elements of the ethical position of Deep Ecology can be grafted onto different kinds of structural analysis of the causes of environmental problems - for example Plumwood shares some ethical ideas with Deep Ecologists, but her analysis of the causes of environmental problems tends to be based in feminism and marxism; McLaughlin shares some ethical ideas with Deep Ecologists but tends to have a marxist analysis of environmental problems. By contrast, other writers from a marxist or feminist background will emphasize ways in which they think Deep Ecology conflicts with their marxist or feminist beliefs - e.g. Seager, Bradford.

The most basic position of Deep Ecology and that which differentiates it from other ethical positions is that "all living things have intrinsic value" (Devall & Sessions). This is referred to Dobson as the "biocentric" ethical position, meaning that life (bio) has ethical value regardless of how we humans look at it. He constrasts this with a more common view in the present day which he calls "anthropocentric" or human centred. In this view only humans have ethical value and other things have ethical value if we humans give it to them. For example, gum trees might be regarded as beautiful if we think they are or as useful etc. but that is a human evaluation. He calls this more common view "anthropocentric" or human-centred.

Summarizing Devall & Sessions’ position in more detail (pp 66-70).

The Deep Ecology position is that we regard ourselves as part of an organic whole. We arrive at this understanding through active deep questioning, meditation and our way of life. It is part of our spiritual growth to identify with other humans. This is commonly acknowledged. We can go beyond this to include the nonhuman world. The implication of this view is that if we harm nature we are harming ourselves, since we have come to see ourselves as part of this organic whole and to identify with the rest of it.

Deep Ecologists believe that there is a biocentric equality, in the sense that all tliving things have equal intrinsic worth. All things in the biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom within a larger self realization.

[ It is worth noting that this is a pretty extreme position from the standpoint of an anthropocentric value system. For example, it would mean that small pox and humans have an equal right to flourish. I will not discuss the above points here as what I have to say about the basic principles covers these areas as well.]

The Basic Principles of Deep Ecology according to Devall and Sessions:

[These principles have become widely accepted as a key statement of the deep ecology position. I will summarize those that I take to be central]

1. All living things have intrinsic value - i.e. value in themselves, regardless of the use humans may make of them.

2. Biodiversity contributes to these values and is itself a value.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

[4 to 7 specify various measures which need to be carried out to reach these goals - e.g. reduction of the human population.]

8. Those who subscribe to the principles listed above "have an obligation" to implement the necessary changes - i.e. to look after other living creatures.


Terry's Comments on the Basic Principles:

1. All living things have intrinsic value - i.e. value in themselves, regardless of the use humans may make of them.

I accept this in the following sense. Living things have directions, purposes or aims, even if these are not conscious. We regard them as animated by directional drives. The most basic is that they aim to live but we quite happily see them as having other aims, particular to their species. We have a sense of the biological nature of each species and with that goes an idea of what it is for a member of the species to flourish - by realizing the aims natural to its species. This is all totally common sense in that we talk about plants having "diseases" or a tree "doing well" and is even more obvious in connection with conscious life where we use terms like "pain", "avoid", "seek" etc. quite freely.

How does this kind of language relate to values? With regard to every species "the good" is that which realizes most the aims which are given to that species as part of its biological nature. This relates to a particular theory of ethics in regard to humans in which the good is that which best suits the nature of humans as a species (e.g. Aristotle, Hobbes, Marx etc.). Clearly a version of this is readily applied to non-human species. So we can say what is good for a member of a particular species or not good for it. We do this quite un-self-consciously - it is not good for cats to drink cows' milk; plants from Western Australia do not like too much humidity etc.

What is not clear about all this is the sense in which Devall and Sessions are using the term "value" [see my comments on (8)]. What I have done is to suggest a way in which this fundamental premise of Deep Ecology can make sense.

A Replacement for 8 (following Plumwood).

I am going to suggest that we could replace (8) to get a statement that might provide humans with a reason to look after other species in a context where we recognise (1), (2) and (3) as pointing to the fact that other species have ethical interests that are instrinsic to them and may differ from the interests of humans, viz:

It is a capacity of humans as part of their nature to feel empathy and love for other species on the planet and to desire their well being,

or in other words:

Humans can serve their own interests by expressing their love for other creatures and for life in general.

In doing this we humans recognize the intrinsic values of other species and act to enhance the lives of other species out of our own self interested benevolence. If you like, what this idea claims is that it is a kind of "spiritual growth" for humans to recognize their kinship with other species and to act to look after them. There are real emotional rewards and a sense of fulfilment for humans in doing this.

As Plumwood points out, this kind of ethical position is akin to that which is socially constructed as appropriate for women in their relationships with family members. In other words it is considered to be emotionally rewarding to work to help other family members, especially one's children, even in situations where you do not get any immediate narrowly selfish reward out of this action. These actions are not inspired by some kind of abstract moral principle that says that women are obliged to behave in this way because children and family members have "intrinsic value". Instead, these actions are thought to arise from love and empathy for particular individuals.

Similarly, it is suggested that humans can come to act in a caring way for the natural world by developing particularistic feelings of sympathy for other animals or liking and understanding of plants. In this ethical position it is not inappropriate that wild life documentaries concentrate on the cute and cuddly animals in ways that stress their similarities, as well as some of their differences, from humans. Or similarly it is not inappropriate that gardening shows and wildlife calendars emphasize the beauty and life pursuits of plants. Senses of awe, wonder, love, reverence etc are the foundation of a deep ecology perspective in action.

Roszak puts forward a similar analysis on these issues and claims moreover that humans have actually evolved so as to see other species as being like ourselves, as having intentions, needs, desires and so on. This has helped us to survive on the planet because it accords with the reality of life on the planet. We have evolved, he maintains, to have a deep rooted though sometimes unconscious knowledge that we depend on the flourishing of other species and their well being. It is this that gets expressed in many of the religious beliefs of indigenous people. He argues that empathy for other species is part of our deep nature, our inbuilt unconscious that is actually repressed in a society like this where nature is treated as a mere resource to be used by humans.


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