Deep and Shallow Ecology

Shallow Ecology and Deep Ecology represented in two different diagrams that explain the differences in the way that they value organisms

Shallow Ecology and Deep Ecology represented in two different diagrams that explain the differences in the way that they value organisms

Two positions that underlie many philosophical positions that we have examined are Deep and Shallow Ecology. The depth of both positions indicates the depth of spirituality that both have, or have a lack thereof. Deep Ecology, advocated by thinkers such as Arne Næss, is a secular position that claims to be supported by both science and philosophy. It has a strong spiritual orientation and draws on an array of world religions. In contrast with this position is so-called Shallow Ecology, supported by the philosopher Anthony Weston, among others. This non-secular, pragmatic position has a focus on pure policy and technology as well as the actions taken by humanity in order to become less anthropocentric. They both have recognize and examine the anthropogenic problems with the environment, albeit in different ways.

Arne Naess advocates for Deep Ecology and believes that there can be no other option for a basis of environmental ethic

Arne Naess advocates for Deep Ecology and believes that there can be no other option for a basis of environmental ethic.

Arne Næss, a Norwegian philosopher, coined the term deep ecology and collected several different schools of thought in order to solidify its points. Some influences of Deep Ecology are the work “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson and also Gandhi’s ideas about nonviolence. For Næss, policy and public awareness of environmental problems are not as important as instilling a different attitude than the one that modern Western developed societies had adopted up until that time. Abolitionism, therefore, is not what he advocates for but instead a sense of strong reformism. There is also a sense of mistrust of anthropocentrism within Deep Ecology, since it is a worldview that has caused the many problems that plague the earth.

Also explored in Deep Ecology is what Næss calls self-realization and self-love in the Greater Self of Nature. Borrowing heavily from the atman principles of the self, he maintains that humans need to craft their selves as inside a greater Self, or else there simply exists no will to actually solve the environmental problems that legal policies set out to rectify. If humans can recognize that their moral community is not just themselves but also all biotic and abiotic members of the Earth’s ecosystem, then there that will to right wrongs eventually is going to be found.

An excerpt of the Rig Veda: the text that introduces the idea of the self, or the atman

An excerpt of the Rig Veda: the text that introduces the idea of the self, or the atman

Næss also does not think highly of the Shallow Ecology movement, believing it to be, evidently, shallow in its pursuits. He outlines seven principles for Deep Ecology and one for Shallow Ecology and highlights the idea that Deep Ecology is, in fact, an ecosophy (a combination of ecology and philosophy) while Shallow Ecology is most certainly not.

Shallow Ecology, as supported by Anthony Weston, an American philosopher and scholar of the work of Aldo Leopold, is far more pragmatic but also less spiritual than the Deep Ecology advocated by Næss. Weston, in his explanation of the so-called Shallow Ecology in “Enabling Environmental Practice,” disagrees that rights need to be given to trees and other organisms in order to treat them right, or that there must exist an environmental ethic at all for the preservation of the planet. He argues for a pragmatic approach for the improvement of the environment for future generations.

Anthony Weston  is one philosopher who

Anthony Weston is one philosopher who advocates for Shallow Ecology, and thinks that Deep Ecology is excessive and not ready to be revealed to the public

Weston compares the attempt to form an environmental ethic to past ventures to create moral standing for certain demographics of humans such as people of different ethnicities, or women. In this comparison he mentions that the formation of an ethic simply cannot be visualized yet because we have not physically prepared society for a modern life with the interaction of nature and humans. For Weston, the priority for the coming decades is to create that interactive sphere of places where, perhaps planes are prohibited from flying overhead or communities are more adapted to the climes that they inhabit. Only after we have established these mechanisms of interaction can we then begin to think of forming an environmental ethic.

Designing a green neighborhood is one way in which humans can create an ethic through practice

Designing a green neighborhood is one way in which humans can create an ethic through practice

I think that the Shallow Ecology means of thinking is far more reasonable than Deep Ecology. Weston, who does not discount humans in his non-anthropocentric point of view, is pragmatic in his approach to ethics, which is something that I admire. Although Deep Ecology does seem to have deep-seated spirituality involved in its implementation, the idea of a non-secular ecological movement never quite appealed to me. It is important to take a stance on the ethics that people are now creating, which are based on nothing more than fundamentalists teachings, something that Shallow Ecology does not choose to confront, but in the long term I feel that practice will make the ethic rather than vice versa.

The struggle for an environmental ethic is real in this day and age, but perhaps viable solutions are what is needed for future generations to look back and acknowledge our forward thinking, rather than trying to create theoretical moral policies that may not hold up to the passage of time. It is in human nature to create a reasoning behind why societies have certain practices, so perhaps a hidden truth will become self-evident in the construction of sustainable homes or while composting table scraps. Only time will tell.

Perhaps the work put into at-home composting will one day reveal an environmental ethic to those who practice it

Perhaps the work put into at-home composting will one day reveal an environmental ethic to those who practice it