Deep Ecology


by Bernie Zaleha, Sierra Club Vice President (2004-2006), Sierra Club Board of Directors, SCA Alumnus

I’ve been a deep ecologist since I first heard the term and its definition. I forget exactly when that was, but I know it was before my summer of volunteer service in 1982 to the SCA in the BLM’s office in Fairbanks, Alaska. Another way of defining deep ecology is as a philosophy that recognizes the intrinsic worth of all of creation, not just the human part. Two months ago, I was asked to speak to Yale Political Union addressing the question, Should the government protect the environment for it’s intrinsic value? The YPU is a raucous bunch. The various factions pound their desks if they like what you are saying, and hiss if they dislike what you are saying, during your speech. I was hissed and pounded simultaneously. After my speech, the YPU passed a resolution that yes, the government should protect the environment for its intrinsic value, instead of merely for its anthropocentric benefits.

So what more is there to deep ecology?

Proponents of deep ecology believe that the world does not exist as a resource to be freely exploited by humans. They most deep ecologists accept the following eight principles:

1) The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: 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 human 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.

The ice caps are melting and polar bears are drowning. We’re in the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. Perhaps the wisdom behind the eight points of deep ecology will now become more widely appreciated.