As it should be clear, Deep Ecology has had a profound impact on my views regarding the environment, ecology, economics, philosophy, and policy decisions. In order to explore this a little deeper, I’ve decided to write a few posts going over the eight main tenets of Deep Ecology as expressed by Arne Naess. Let’s start with number 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.
There is a reason that this is the first tenet. It is certainly the most important. The underlying basis for Deep Ecology is that our value system is skewed in a direction that is completely unsustainable, is in dis-harmony with our environment, and will lead to ours and our planet’s destruction. While this was developed in the 70’s and 80’s, we’ve now become what I like to refer to as a “throw-away” culture. We value things less because they generally have less value. We’ve invented plastic eating utensils and paper plates that we just throw away in a landfill somewhere. Nothing is repairable anymore. Furniture doesn’t last and often is unable to be repaired for most consumers. Electronics and (especially) children’s toys are generally single-use items, made to be thrown away once they’ve become damaged or broken. Everything just gets thrown away and replaced from our big-box retailers.
Unfortunately, this “throw-away” mentality has permeated nearly every aspect of our lives and become a great economic achievement in the eyes of many. What this has led to is the devaluation of the entirety of nature in the minds of consumers. It isn’t easy to place that blame squarely on the shoulders of consumers though. Everything in our lives has become externalized. I’m not just talking about economic costs (which I will be posting about soon enough) but the whole process of consuming. Everything comes to us in neat, plastic-wrapped brand name packaging on nice clean shelves. Our meat is dyed a certain color so that it looks more attractive in our grocery stores. Death happens away in a hospital; birth behind a closed door in a hospital room. Our energy is produced in some far away plant, and our garbage goes away in a truck, never to be seen again. We lack value because we lack the experience associated with our consumption and our culture.
Deep ecology then, asks us to experience these things for ourselves. It asks us to be dependent upon local sources of materials and energy. It asks us to be engaged in the communities we live in. It asks us to value nature the same way we do the homes we live in. It is primarily a shift in values that will bring about the change that deep ecology seeks. It begs us to ask questions like “Do I need this?” “What happens when this thing will break or my children outgrow it?” “Where was this food grown and how far has it traveled” “Who made this, and how was it made and brought to me?” “Is it sensible to fill up a recreational swimming pool when I live close to rivers, streams, lakes and the ocean?”
Asking such questions is just the first step. Shifting your world view is the goal here, and asking the tough, deep questions will help get you there. Where “there” is, is when we can come to view our forests, top soil, coral reefs, and rainforests as being at least (but likely more) valuable than television, urban sprawl, cheap plastic everything. Trees are valuable because they are trees. Not just because they give us oxygen or because they are a source of building material. Here in the Pacific Northwest, trees form their own tiny ecosystems. Ferns grow on branches where a sort of tree-soil has formed with moss. In the Redwoods, this is even more developed as there can be inches of soil on top of branches, which provides a tiny ecosystem for small plants, bugs and critters. Trees keep soil intact and prevent erosion. When they die and fall over, they actually are home to more life/pound than they were once alive. They become “nurse logs” which are home to an amazing array of life. Current Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has said that he doesn’t know what wilderness areas are for, or how they are valuable other than the oil/gas/timer deposits they have there. Mr. Romney, wild areas are valuable because they are wild. They have value in and of themselves, not to mention that large wilderness areas are the only hope for speciation and evolution to continue to work, along with the only possible way to preserve biodiversity. Humans are valuable because they are humans. Not because of their economic output, or their place in society.
I’ve written more than intended here, so I’ll pick up with some of the other tenets soon. Cheers.