Deep ecology gives us an extra perspective on animal rights because it is concerned with fundamental philosophical, practical and personal questions about the way humans relate to their environment. It relates to animals because of course animals are part of our environment.
Deep ecology is a philosophical and practical guide pitted against the destruction of nature by materialism and consumerism and appeals for a change in the way we think about the world. It asserts that humans are not isolated objects but are part of Nature and predicts that if we do not shift our basic values and customs then we will destroy the diversity and beauty of the world's life and its ability to support humanity.
Deep ecology is primarily associated with Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912 - 2009) and its ideas stem from the nascent environmentalism of the 1960's. The 'Deep' in deep ecology refers to a fundamental or wise questioning of attitudes to Nature. Deep ecology calls for a more enlightened approach for humanity to live within the bounds of Nature rather than be dependent on technological fixes as remedies for our exploitation and ensuing destruction of nature.
Arne Naess. He coined the term 'Deep Ecology'.
Naess coined the term deep ecology in contrast to shallow ecology, typical of societies worldwide today. Shallow ecology focuses on using the world's natural resources for unlimited human growth and comes up with technological solutions to offset environmental problems thus made. For instance, shallow ecology promotes recycling of commercial and industrial waste instead of emphasising the prevention of waste. Shallow ecology supports increasing demands on the land to produce more food instead of stressing human birth control to reduce human numbers.
Naess and colleagues proposed eight tenets to form the basis of deep ecology thought. Their intention was for these points to be agreeable to people from any philosophical, political and religious background. The following table paraphrases the eight tenets of deep ecology and contrasts them with views about shallow ecology.
The Tenets of Deep Ecology vs Shallow Ecology
The Eight Tenets of Deep Ecology
The 'Eight Tenets' of Shallow Ecology
1. All creatures on Earth have intrinsic value.
1. All creatures on Earth have value only for their usefulness to humans.
2. The whole diversity of living beings, simple as well as complex, contributes to life's richness.
2. Complex creatures (ie humans) are more important than simpler ones.
3. Humans should use other beings only to satisfy their basic needs.
3. Humans should always use all resources for their material and economic advantage.
4. The health of non-humans depends on decreasing the number of humans.
4. The human population can increase without restraint or limit.
5. Human interference with the world is excessive and worsening.
5. Technological progress will solve all problems.
6. Human policy (economics, technology and ideology) must change radically.
6. Materialism and consumerism should govern human society.
7. Quality of life is more important than standard of living.
7. The standard of living should keep rising.
8. Every human who believes in these points must work for change.
8. Leave environmental problems for the experts to solve.
A couple of criticisms of deep ecology are:
Even if we used the occasional animal solely 'to satisfy our basic needs' (Tenet 3), then the billions of humans in the world would use up untold huge numbers of animals.
Governments of every country spurn deep ecology for shallow ecology, which they probably see as more workable and profitable. Therefore deep ecology at the level of large organisations is a failed philosophy (or...just perhaps...one that is still in waiting).