Deep Ecology exists as a response and perhaps a maturation of what deep ecologists often call shallow ecology. Shallow ecology focuses on constituent parts of the ecosystem, often addressing symptoms of ecological degradation, and is primarily concerned with impacts on humanity. Deep Ecology, however, strives to take a more holistic and egalitarian view of the human/nature relationship, and seeks to address the root cause of the present environmental crisis. Arne Naess (1990), the founder of Deep Ecology, highlights one of the fundamental distinctions between shallow and Deep Ecology as he writes, “[Deep Ecology] concerns a willingness to question and to appreciate the importance of questioning…” (p. 205). Thus, Deep Ecologists stress the importance of deeper questioning.
One of the ways this deeper questioning is implemented is to pose a question and to respond to each answer by repeatedly asking “why?” until the point is reached where no more “why’s” can be asked. It is thought then, that only when we’ve exhausted our ability to ask “why?” has our questioning gone deep enough. At this point, we arrive at an answer, although it is more likely that we arrive at a deeper question to ask. For example, if we were to pose the question “what is the cause of the environmental crisis?” in the Deep Ecology perspective, we would eventually arrive at anthropocentricity—the human-centered worldview which fails to acknowledge any value in nature beyond its utility and ability to fulfill human needs and desires.
The issue of the dominant anthropocentric worldview is central to the Deep Ecology platform, and Deep Ecology advocates that “… the human community must move from its present anthropocentric norm to a geocentric norm of reality and value” (Berry, 1987, p. 8) a transformation in worldviews which Deep Ecologists claim is essential to addressing the ecological crisis. A geocentric worldview greatly broadens the considerations of humanity to include the health, vitality, and insured continuation of the entire biosphere. Put practically into action, this geocentric worldview would mean that “Humans only inhabit the lands, using resources to satisfy vital needs. And if their non-vital needs come in conflict with the vital needs of nonhumans, then humans should defer to the later” (Naess, 1986, p. 69). This shift in worldviews is rooted in the first of the eight points of Deep Ecology, which states that all life (human and non-human) has intrinsic value independent of its usefulness to human purposes (Naess, 1986, p. 68).
However, this fundamental assertion of anthropocentricity as the cause of the ecological crisis within the Deep Ecology movement has also become a source of much contention among other ecological approaches and philosophies. Social Ecologists claim that the issue is not human-centeredness, but the blight of oppression, which first took hold among humans and was then extended to the natural world. Eco-feminists claim the cause is to be found in the violent and control obsesses patriarchy. Still more, Integral Ecologists tell us that all these approaches are too limited in their scope and should be synthesized and expanded to fully address the ecological crisis. Needless to say, the debates on this topic are no doubt extensive, if not exhaustive.
Admittedly, my familiarity with each of these ecological approaches is limited. While reading the varying arguments and differing approaches there where many points made within the framework of each which I felt were important. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling, that in some way everyone was missing the point. I’ve come to find that I see the ecological crisis—in fact every problem that humanity faces, be it social, environmental, or economic—as symptoms of a deeper spiritual disconnect. When I look deeply into these issues, what exists at the end of my “why’s”, is the cosmology of separation. In some form or another, each of these ecological approaches touches on an aspect of separation, yet they never explicitly address the issue. Perhaps it is for this reason that I have found all the contention around philosophical points to be so frustrating.
To be clear, healthy discourse is essential to movements like this, and by no means do I think that I have the answer that somehow eluded these authorities in their respective fields. Talking openly and honestly about major issues is imperative to creating consciousness and awareness, that is, as long as we don’t approach our discourse from a place of trying to prove our superior correctness. Too often does the discourse devolve into a tug-of-war, or an attempt to establish who is “right” and who is “wrong.” This form of debate seems to paralyze us, distract us, and ultimately helps to create yet another schism. In a sense, we then only perpetuate the very same consciousness which ruthlessly razes the planet and marginalizes other human beings.
We have to find a way to engage in healthy discourse while maintaining, even affirming, our connection with each other—with all life. In ecological terms, I think every ecologist could agree that diversity is not only essential in the web of life, it’s a tremendous asset. Why then, do we have such difficulty accepting this principle when it comes to the world of ideas?
In my view, separation is the major hurdle we have to overcome—separation of humanity from nature and separation of humans from other humans. I believe it’s this fundamental ontological error that enables us to treat the earth and the many forms of life we share it with, with such disregard and callousness. Though I don’t require anyone to adopt this viewpoint, I would at least like to see it be considered among those of us of good will who sincerely wish to create a more just and sustainable world. For I think Sean Esbj ¨Orn-Hargens (2005) put it well as he writes,
The solutions to our environmental crisis are largely to be found in our increasing capacity to see through and beyond our ideological, class, cultural, racial, and gender differences. Ecologists, activists, and environmental leaders need to increase their capacity to inhabit various worldviews and coordinate between them. (p. 6)
Essentially, Orn-Hargens is describing a process of dissolving divisions and moving beyond separation. We differ in our views however, in that where Orn-Hargens advocates seeing through our differences, I would say that we only needn’t be distracted by them. That’s not to say that we ignore them or pretend that everyone agrees, rather it’s an invitation to cultivate the internal skillsets that allow us to make differences and diversity a powerful asset rather than the stumbling block it unfortunately often becomes. In Orn-Hargens’ (2005) own words, “…the more of reality you acknowledge and factor into a project the more it will be able to be responsive to the complexity of reality” (p. 34). Thus, it is by embracing the diversity of approaches, perspectives, methodologies, and peoples that we can effectively approach what is the most complex and serious issue humanity has yet faced.
What I have posited thus far should not be confused with the Integral Ecology approach, for even an approach that attempts to tie all the other ecological philosophies together under a single banner falls prey to divisiveness by its very nature. Rather, I feel that each of these ecological perspectives is needed and valuable in their own right, they have inherent value and they don’t need to be tossed into an integral blender and pureed into something that gives the appearance of coherence and cohesion. Though I feel strongly that it is our sense of separateness from the web of creation, our disconnection from the experience of the sacred, that is behind the ecological crisis—we need not agree to those terms, we need not create yet another “ism” and another way to draw lines.
However, I do think we need to learn how to approach these issues from a more pluralistic place, we need to be able to settle into the discomfort of conflicting ideas and allow them to co-exist, with no need to convert, convince, or berate with “superior” logic and argumentation. Put another way, “We have to find a way to build a multicultural self that is in harmony with an ecological self” (Clark, 1995, p. 270) and I would add, in harmony with a multi-perspectival self.
All of these views—Social Ecology, Eco-Feminism, Integral Ecology, and Ecopsychology—have served to broaden, deepen, enrich and diversify my perspective and outlook on the ecological crisis. I think what stands out clearer to me now, is that all of the issues that each of these philosophies respectively seek to address—oppression, patriarchy, the wounding we experience being disconnected from nature, etc.—are just as intimately woven together as we are to each other and to the earth. We cannot separate social and economic issues from ecological issues. It appears then that everything is in constant dynamic relationship with everything else and thus a narrow, tunnel-vision view or approach cannot possibly be successful to the degree that we drastically need.
I have taken this idea of relationship to heart in recent months, especially as I relate to the natural world. The skill that I have chosen to take up for this time has been to make flower essences. To my surprise, I learned that there is actually very little of the physical plant involved in the making of an essence. It is primarily a practice of listening to the being that is the plant and being open to what it has to offer and then energetically imbuing some water with the imprint or essence of that being.
For example, the first essence I made was of the Sycamore tree on the Naropa green. For about half an hour I simply sat beneath the tree, and offered it my relaxed attention. Derrick Jensen (2000) expresses much of what came up for me in this experience, as he writes,
There’s certainly nothing wrong with fabricating metaphors from the things we find around us, or from the experience of others—human or otherwise—but in both of those situations the other remains a case study onto which we project whatever we need to learn. That’s an entirely different circumstance that listening to the other as it has its say, reveals its intents, expresses its experience, and does all this on its own terms.” (pg. 26)
As I sat with the sycamore, I was careful to not superimpose my thoughts onto it, or to “fabricate metaphors.” Rather, I wanted to be in relationship with the being that is the tree, to open myself to its intelligence and experience, as I would to a dear friend or lover. Of course, it’s hard to say if I was successful in this, but I don’t think success or failure is at issue. Rather, it’s the intention and the immersion into a completely new way of being with the world—listening and in relationship with all life. I think this is a step for me toward living more genuinely from a place that acknowledges being part of a grand and wondrous whole.
It is experiences and insights like what I have just described that inspire us and compel us to begin to act more responsibly with concern to our ecological impact. For me, understanding that I am not separate from the landfill, the water coming out of my sink or the food on my plate has radically transformed how I live my life. I have constructed a new, wider lens through which I interact with reality with a set of questions that take into account my impact in the web of life for nearly everything I do. An example of this, and most notably in recent months, I have almost completely stopped driving to the point that I have not spent a dime on gas this whole semester. I have rearranged my life somewhat to ensure that anything I need to do, I can do by walking.
In closing, I find that, as Ecopsychology tells us, “…the healing of the self and the healing of the planet go together” (Anthony, 1995, pg. 264). Implicitly within this statement is the understanding that we are inextricably linked to the earth. Everything we do then has an impact and ripples throughout the greater web of life, our healing is not just our own, and neither is our suffering. I have taken this insight to heart, and it has dramatically reoriented my worldview. Yet, it is profoundly difficult to be and act in the world from this recognition. In many ways, it seems that learning to live and act in the world as interconnected beings is such a new and radicle way of being that we have yet to even establish a framework to be able to think as an interconnected being. This is why people of good will, people who wish to create change—social and environmental activists, Deep Ecologists and Eco-Feminists—so easily fall into divisiveness and an “us/them” mentality. Truly, this is lamentable, as it seems to me that these are the people that most need to be working together. I cannot fully rectify this fact, but I do know as a member of the community of life, as someone who is striving to live interconnectivity, I can trust that my journey impacts others. I can share my insights, and model this pluralism in my work in the world for the benefit of all beings.