Thursday, August 7, 2008

shallow and deep ecology

Remarks on, Naess, A., The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary (1973).

The Shallow Ecology movement:

Fight against pollution and resource depletion. Central objective: the health and affluence of people in the developed countries.

The Deep Ecology movement:
  1. Reject the idea of "human (or any thing) in environment". Humans (and other things too) are part of a wide range of inter-connected systems that define us and the systems of which we form a part. It is not helpful to draw boundaries that delineate us from everything else.
  2. Biospherical egalitarianism. All living things (including all humans) have a fundamental right to "live and blossom".
  3. Diversity and symbiosis are better guiding principles than a naive "survival of the fittest" approach.
  4. Anti-class (human)... I am not sure I understand the reasoning given to support this point although the principle itself makes perfect sense to me.
  5. Fight against pollution and resource depletion - but not without also considering the other principles. I.e. it is not acceptable to place burdens on developing nations to offset the pollution of the West.
  6. Distinguish between Complexity and Complication. Appreciate the complexity of this planet and its ecosystems. Never over-estimate our level of understanding and ability to forecast the impact of our behaviour.
  7. Favour local autonomy and de-centralisation. We can tread more softly in this way (the Earth's ecosystems are not homogeneous) and we can consider local concerns without crushing them under "one-size fits all" solutions.
Overall this is a comprehensive set of principles. The Idealist in me would love to see them widely held. There are some practical hurdles to be overcome though. For instance, billions currently scrape out a meagre living with de-centralised agricultural practice. How can people living on low grade land, with little natural resource (e.g. fertile soil, water) support themselves without importing food? Of course it is not acceptable to let them die (see Diamond J., Collapse for a number of telling tales). Why not allow for global trade powered by renewable and clean resources so that they can support themselves with food they cannot grow themselves? Or should all peoples somehow move in together into regions where they can farm happily? Do we destroy our existing large cities?

If we are to maintain this planet in the long term there are going to be some hard decisions to make. Who will make them? "Live and let live" is a great policy. How do we put it into practice whilst observing the other principles also? How do we overcome the current structures' momentum in time?

These are deep and vexing questions.


  1. My research partner came across this book while looking at sustainability scenarios with a client:

    Gregory Clark (2007) A Farewell to Alms - A Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton University Press

    It offers a different (and intentionally provocative) point of view to the issue of people supporting themselves in areas with few natural resources: that the standard of living of the people as a whole with continue to decline if some of them don't die.

  2. Inevitable I suppose... unless trade with other communities occurs. In Australia for instance the long-term prospects for sustainable argriculture seem slim to me, especially if (like some dills) you attempt to grow rice!

    On further reading of Naess I see that the idea of Deep Ecology as a movement was to operate at the grassroots level. Hence, the "hard decisions" somehow need to be made by individuals. I can't see how this can supplant our reliance on global trade though. If I can only trade locally with the guy next door, he can probably only grow food with a similar degree of success to me. (Where would my coffee beans come from!? ;-)

    Thanks for the book ref. I shall investigate!