6/13/11: Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology: A Challenge for the Ecology Movement

This article was written in the mid eighties by a staunch opponent of Deep Ecology. The author spends 80% of his page space denouncing what he understands to be the fundamental tenets of Deep Ecology. One of his biggest concerns stem from his belief that the Deep Ecology movement provides justification for struggling groups of humans to be ignored and left helpless under the guise that “nature knows best,” even if that means people starving to death en mass. And to his credit he rightfully asks, “what does it mean for nature to ‘seek its own balance’ in East Africa, where agribusiness, colonialism, and exploitation have ravaged a once culturally ad ecologically stable area.” To offer another quote, the author boils Deep Ecology down to: “a ‘biocentrism’ that essentially denies or degrades the uniqueness of human beings, human subjectivity, rationality, aesthetic sensibility, and the ethical potentiality of this extraordinary species.” The way in which he structured the argument made Deep Ecology out to be a dangerous ideology, but through my exploration of the subject thus far I find it much more innocent.

Throughout his article the author draws out some valid and valuable points, but the majority of his criticism is latent with his strong emotional bias and shows as inaccurate analysis. I don’t have time nor the desire to offer any support for my opinions here, and that’s not the point of this journal exercise, but I offer them as a reflection nonetheless. From the author’s point of view it appears that his bias against Deep Ecology is so strong that it will not allow him to see much of anything of value in Deep Ecology, resulting in an unfair survey of the field. Nonetheless, I appreciated reading his ranting argument because behind all the anger he raised some valid and noteworthy points about the importance and relevance of the values of social ecology. Further, I feel more inclined to notice how social ecology and deep ecology compliment one another and are useful together.

I feel my heart resonates with his values of supporting a more decentralized society with stronger communities and regional support-systems. Ultimately, I agree with him that, “The primary question ecology faces today is whether an ecologically oriented society can be created out of the present anti-ecological one.” To this end he says, “…these human traits—intellectual, communicative, and social—…can also be placed at the service of natural evolution to consciously increase biotic diversity, diminish suffering, foster the further evolution of new and ecologically valuable life forms, and reduce the impact of disastrous accidents or the harsh effects of mere change.”  Thus, here I agree that a strong focus on the human social dimensions of ecology is critical in our development as a species. However, I’d rather not throw the baby out with the bath water and encourage Deep Ecology to continue asking the questions that are necessary in our meaning-making and decision-making processes.


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