Arne Naess

Deep ecology

A schoolasignment by Cicci Johansson Komvux 1997

Arne Naess first coined the term deep ecology in a 1973 article.[1] Deep Ecology refers to a deep, fundamental questioning of views and attitudes of nature, particularly those held by the Western societies. [2]

The two ”ultimate norms” that Naess believes will lead to the deep ecology perspective are self-realization and biocentric eqality.

”Self-realization is the realization of the potentialities of life. Organisms that differ from each other in three ways give us less diversity than organisms that differ from each other in one hundred ways. Threrefore, the self-realization we experience when we identify with the universe is heightened by an increase in the number of ways in which individuals, societies, and even species and life forms realize themselves. The greater the diversity, then, the greater the self-realization…Most people in deep ecology have had the feeling – usually, but not always, in nature – that they are connected with something greater than their ego, greater than their name, their family, their special attributes as an individual…without that identification, one is not easily drawn to become involved in deep ecology…”[2]

Biocentric equality: all natural things – ecosystems, life and landscape – have an intrinsic right to exist. However, ”The presence of inherent value in a natural object is independent of any awareness, interest, or appreciation of it by a conscious being.”[3] Living a simple life, a human will effect the earth minimally: ”Simple in means, rich in ends.”[4] Naess believes there are too many humans on the planet: ”I think we must have no more than 100 million people if we are to have the variety of cultures we had one hundred years ago.”[2] The pressure of the human population is making it impossible for us to co-exist with the rest of nature. In his viewpoint, one species killing another species for survival is a fact of life, yet humankind is killing/using nature much more than is needed for it’s basic survival. ”Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.”

To deep ecologists, the mainstream environmental groups’ viewpoint of working to protect only those parcels of nature that are useful/necessary to humans is ”shallow ecology”.

The environmental group Earth First! has been called deep ecology’s activist wing. ”These radicals…choose…to defend the natural world by direct action, civil disobedience, and the kind of ecosabotage romanticized by the novelist Edward Abbey.” [5]

David Foreman, a co-founder of the group:

”Too many environmentalists have grown to resemble bureaucrats – pale from too much indoor light; weak from sitting too long behind desks; co-opted by too many politicians… By playing a ‘professional’ role in the economic rational game, we, too, acquiesce in the destruction of the Earth. Instead, we must redefine the battle. We must stop playing the games of political compromise the industrial power brokers have designed for us…The time has come to translate the non-violent methods of Ghandi and Martin Luther King to the environmental movement. We must place our bodies between the bulldozers and the rain-forest; stand as part of the wilderness in defense of herself; clog the gears of the polluting machine, and with courage, oppose the destruction of life.”[6]

Dominant Worldview Deep Ecology
Dominance over Nature Harmony with Nature
Natural Environment as resource for humans All nature has intrinsic
worth/biospecies equality
Material/economic growth for
growing human population
Elegantly simple material needs
(material goals serving the
larger goal of self-realization)
Belief in ample resource
Earth ”supplies” limited
High Technological progress
and solutions
Appropriate technology;
nondominating science
Consumerism Doing with enough/recycling
Minority tradition/bioregion


”… in Deep Ecology, we ask wheather the present society fulfulls basic human needs like love and security and access to nature. And, in so doing, we question our society’s underlying assumptions.” [2]

”Ecological consciousness and deep ecology are in sharp contrast with the dominant worldview of technocratic-industrial societies which regards humans as isolated and fundamentally separate from the rest of nature, as superior to, and in charge of, the rest of creation. But the view of humans as separate and superior to the rest of Nature is only part of larger cultural patterns. For thousands of years, Western culture has become increasingly obsessed with the idea of dominance: with dominance of humans over nonhuman Nature, masculine over the feminine, wealthy and powerful over the poor, with the dominance of the West over non-Western cultures. Deep ecological consciousness allows us to see through these erroneous and dangerous illusions.” [2]

”…Insofar as these deep feelings are religious, deep ecology has a religious component, and those people who have done the most to make societies aware of the destructive way in which we live in relation to natural settings have had such religious feelings.”[2]


[1] Naess, Arne. ”The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary,” Inquiry 16 (Oslo, 1973), pp. 95-100.

[2] Devall, Bill and Sessions, George. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered . Layton, UT: Peregrine Smith Books, 1985.

[3] Regan, Tom. ”The Nature and Possibility of an Environmental Ethic,” Environmental Ethics 3 (1981)

[4] Naess, Arne. ”Deep Ecology and Ultimate Premises,” The Ecologist , Vol. 18, Nos. 4/5 (1988), P. 130.

[5] Shabecoff, Philip. A Fierce Green Fire . New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

[6] Foreman, David. ”It’s Time to Return to Our Wilderness Roots,”Environmental Action, Vol. 15, No.5 (December-January 1984)


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