Sure as the most certain sure....plumb in the uprights, well entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery here we stand.

--Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass, 1855

"The complex interchange we call 'language' is rooted in the non-verbal exchange already going on between our flesh and the flesh of the world."

David Abram
The Spell of the Sensuous, 1996

  Deep Ecology Shallow ecology
Deep ecology
Personal, ecological and cultural transformation
Start living that way now!

Ecology is the study of the interdependence of the animals, plants, weather and geology of the Earth--how they all affect each other and form integrated systems. Ecology is a science that combines biology, botany, meteorology, geology and other disciplines to develop a complete and interrelated understanding of the Earth.

But ecology is understood only within the preconceptions that people bring to it. Even when scientists bring an integrated understanding, others who use ecology, even environmental organizations whose focus is on protecting the Earth, often view ecology through a human-centered paradigm, appying it in ways that center around human needs and human health, relating all other beings and parts of ecosystems only to people.

Shallow ecology

Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher and linguist, coined the term "shallow ecology" in the early 1970s for this human-centered or "anthropocentric" way of viewing the world. With shallow ecology, people start from an assumption, often unexamined, that human beings are the central species in the Earth's ecosystem, and that other beings and parts of systems are of less importance or value. In its extreme manifestations, shallow ecology views other beings and features of the Earth as resources for human use, and fails to see their intrinsic value or their value to each other.

Naess was of the opinion that the environmental movement was also approaching its efforts to protect the Earth from a shallow standpoint, focusing mostly on human health and well-being rather than seeing the environment as a seamless whole with inherent value throughout.

Deep ecology

Naess also coined the term "deep ecology" to describe an ecology that goes deeper by placing humans within ecosystems, different but not better or more valuable than other species or other "beings" such as rivers and rocks and clouds. This may seem self-evident, and to an ecologist it may seem fundamental to the entire science of ecology; but this removing of humans from the center actually challenges ways of thinking that have been taught so long they seem like "the way things are."

With deep ecology, all beings have inherent value, apart from their usefulness or interest to humans, and people do not have a right to kill other creatures wantonly, destroy their habitats or cause pollution of the air, land or water on the basis that human need and human want is more important and powerful than any other creature's right to exist.

This view is called "ecocentric," because it is centered on the entire Earth and sees human beings as being within the Earth, an integral part, rather than at the center or on top.

Deep ecology is more than science, however. It also involves a spiritual approach to life, since respect for all beings entails, at a minimum, recognition of their intrinsic value. A deep approach to ecology also involves an understanding of the connection of all beings with each other and with the Earth, the matrix of all life. The deeper one goes into awareness of this connection, the more it takes on a spiritual dimension.

Naess calls this awareness of connection the "ecological self," a concept of self that extends beyond the boundaries of one's own body to encompass the Earth as a whole. This consciousness makes possible an awareness of the unity of all life and a profound appreciation of the integrity of the whole. This ecological self is natural to the human being, but most of us learn not to have this awareness as very young children.

But ecological consciousness, awareness of our connection with all life, is within the genetic heritage of human beings. It can be developed through an inner transformation of the mind and heart that leads the person to care about all beings and to live within that consciousness. I believe this one of the changes that is most critically needed now, as we enter the 21st century and face the very real possibility of foreclosing our own future on Earth. For some suggested reading on the topic of deep ecology, see the book list.

Personal, ecological and cultural transformation

When people gain awareness of their interconnection and the entire biosphere's inherent value, they may be drawn to one or more of the movements that give concrete expression to these values.

  • Voluntary simplicity offers many ideas for doing this reducing your ecological impact by lowering your level of consumption, resisting consumer culture and the global economy, and paring down your possessions, your schedule, and even your inner level of activity. Growing numbers of people and resources are becoming identified with this movement. There are many reasons why people seek to simplify, and concern about the Earth is increasingly the reason many cite.
  • The bioregional movement is working to envision and build a society that is based on locally-focused economies and learning to "live in place." Ecological restoration, strengthening local businesses and purchasing as much food as possible from nearby sources are characteristics of a bioregional culture.
  • If you would like to continue your own transformation and get your friends, family and co-workers into a place where they might experience a paradigm shift, the Great River Earth Institute, its source the Northwest Earth Institute and a number of other Earth Institutes that are sprouting around the U.S. offer study circles on Earth-related topics, as a way to encourage examination of personal values and habits and learning from each other to gain inspiration and commitment for caring for the Earth.

Start living that way now!

These are all places to "plug in" to the cultural transformation that is already happening beneath the notice of the mass media, the politicians and the corporate CEOs. The potential for change is great, especially as we approach the new millennium and everyone feels the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. As Mahatma Gandhi said (and I paraphrase), "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Taken from:Great River Earth Institute