What is deep ecology

It would be tempting to describe deep ecology as another political ecology. However, at any rate in the view of its chief proponents, deep ecology is not least a movement of ecosocial activism. Prevalent as a theoretical movement in the USA, Canada and Australia, its chief practical contribution has been in the United States where it has been associated with the creative and influential Earth First! environmental movement. Formed in 1980 by five American conservationists, of whom Dave Foreman is the best known, Earth First! was convinced that the conservation of the environment could not be achieved by the usual political means. Its protests, known as 'monkey-wrenching', after the 1975 Edward Abbey novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, have included damaging contractors' plant used in developments that encroach on wilderness and taking action in protection of non-human nature (for example, tree-spiking).

Earth First! in the States has had its internal conflicts. Martha Lee has pointed out the tension between apocalyptic and millennial forms of en-vironmentalism in the movement. A tension can be detected, she argues, in radical environmental ideologies: on the one hand, there is the affirmation of the equality of nature with humanity; on the other, there is the strong ethical stress on human action in the present. On her interpretation, this tension in environmentalist ideologies emerged in the Earth First! movement in the form of a split. One group stressed ecocentrism -that human beings are not to be understood as enjoying greater value than non-human nature and therefore enjoy no consequent superiority - and thereby posited an apocalypse of nature in which it was not clear whether human beings would or should survive. A second group stressed instead millenarian aspects: the importance of ecological education towards the avoidance of apocalypse and the continuation of the human race.10

9. David Pepper, Eco-socialism:From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 34.

10. Martha F. Lee, 'Environmental Apocalypse: The Millennial Ideology of "Earth First!"', in Thomas Robbins and Susan J. Palmer (eds.), Millennium, Messiahs andMayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements (New York and London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 119-37. Cf. Martha F. Lee, Earth First! Environmental Apocalypse (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995).

We may note the paradox: immersion in nature can issue in a voluntarism. Such immersion issues in a form of transcendence in which the reconstruction of the human place-in-nature is required and action is thereby demanded. Deep ecology is, we might say, a profoundly moral movement. Whether or not these deep ecology commitments continue to permeate the Earth First! movement is doubtful, although Dave Foreman was strongly attracted to such views early in the movement's history. There is some evidence that the British variant of Earth First! was also initially influenced by deep ecology but there has been little sustained theoretical engagement in Britain.11 The leading deep ecologists are American, Canadian and Australian, including George Sessions and Warwick Fox. None the less, the founder of the philosophical movement is usually taken to be Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess, whose book, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle (an indirect translation from the Norwegian of 0kologi, samfunn og livsstil, 1976), is regarded as an important statement of the philosophical basis of deep ecology.12 Deep ecology has attracted the fiercest criticism: it has been charged with misanthropy and racism, not least by leading social ecologist, Murray Bookchin, whose work is the subject of chapter 5. Arguably, the environmental movement in the USA has been damaged by these choleric, testosterone-fuelled disagreements.13

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