Genesis of Eden

Genesis Home

Sessions, George (ed) 1995 Deep Ecology for the 21st Century,
Shambhala, Boston ISBN 1-57062-049-0

NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.


In the last few hundred years, industrial society has encircled the earth and, in requiring massive disruptions of ecological processes for its ordinary functioning, threatens all forms of life on this planet. Both capitalist and socialist variants of expansionary industrialism routinely require the destruction of species and ecosystems. Industrialism now threatens to disrupt atmospheric conditions fundamental to the whole biosphere. If ecological problems have roots in industrialism, then a perspective which takes industrialism itself as part of the problem is needed.'

The transformation of industrialism will, I believe, involve a multifaceted struggle over several generations. The changes required are of the magnitude of the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Deep Ecology is one perspective which beckons us in the right direction. In just two decades, Deep Ecology as a theory-as distinct from Deep Ecology as a social movement-has become a benchmark in defining varieties of environmental philosophies.' In the course of its relatively short history, there has been considerable controversy surrounding Deep Ecology, but most of it has been misdirected. One reason for this has been the failure of critics to notice that the "logic" of Deep Ecology differs fundamentally in form from many other philosophical positions.

The heart of Deep Ecology is its platform, which consists of a number of inter-related factual and normative claims about humans and their relations with the rest of nature. The platform was intended as a description of a Deep Ecology social movement and as a basis for a larger unity among all those who accept the importance of nonanthropocentrism and understand that this entails radical social change.

The platform, articulated by Arne Naess and George Sessions while they were camping in Death Valley in i984, is a nontechnical statement of principles around which, it is hoped, people with differing ultimate understandings of themselves, society, and nonhuman nature, could unite. Thus, from the start, the platform was meant to be a terrain of commonality which allowed, recognized, and even encouraged differences in more logically ultimate philosophies.


The platform itself consists of eight points.

1. The well-being andflourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are i.ndependent of the usefulness of the nonhuman worldfor human purposes. Essentially, this is a rejection of anthropocentrism. It is an assertion that human and nonhuman life should flourish. "Life," in this context, is understood broadly to include, for example, rivers, landscapes, and ecosystems. Accepting the idea that humans are not the only valuable part of nature is the watershed perception from which Deep Ecology flows. This plank should not be taken as implying a commitment to any philosophically precise theory about intrinsic or inherent value. When Deep Ecologists use the language of moral discourse they are not usually trying to construct a formal ethical theory. If one wishes to speak outside the academy, one must use language which communicates in popular contexts. That Ianguage right now uses concepts of intrinsic or inherent value and rights. To take Devall and Sessions literally, when they ascribe an "equal right" to all things and claim they are "equal in intrinsic worth," is interpreting them out of context.' In the passage in which those phrases appear, they are writing with the intent of having practical effect within the environmental movement. They are not writing with philosophical precision, and for them to do so would counter their main purpose.

Perhaps the search for some sort of value 1'n nonhuman nature, be it inherent, intrinsic, or some other sort of nonanthropocentric value seems necessary because we cannot now fully imagine an adequate environmental ethic. Often an ethic is supposed to constrain people from doing what they otherwise would do. As both Warwick Fox and Val Plumwood point out, many ethical theorists implicitly assume that we would care about nonhuman nature "for itself " only If it has intrinsic value.' This assumption motivates the search for the elusive intrinsic value, but it may be overly constraining in the search for an environmental ethic. Simply put, we can care for the rest of nature for reasons which have nothing to do with whether or not it has intrinsic, inherent, or whatever sort of value. Such a caring can spring, for example, from a felt sense of relatedness to the rest of nature or a love of existence.

2. Richness and diversity of lifeforms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

This, along with the first point, is intended to counter the often-held image of evolution as resulting in "higher" forms of life. It involves a re-visioning of life and evolution, changing from understanding evolution as "progress" from "lower" to "higher" forms to understanding evolution as a magnificent expression of a multitude of forms of life. Cherishing diversity appreciates differences and re'ects any single standard of excellence.

Valuing diversity means freeing large areas of the earth from domination by industrial economy and culture. Expand wilderness! But in interpreting this in'lunction, it should be remembered that "wilderness" is an outsider's construct. Most of what appears to industrial peoples as wilderness has been steadily occupied or traversed by indigenous peoples for eons. Thus, preserving such areas from industrial regimes is not only protecting wilderness, but is, in some cases, also preserving indigenous peoples. The struggle for wilderness is both for biological and human diversity.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

The key point in this claim is the implied distinction between "vital" and other needs. This distinction is denied by the consumerism inherent in industrialism. To lose sight of it is to become trapped within an endlessly repeating cycle of deprivation and temporary satiation. Making the distinction opens to the possibility of more enduring forms of happiness and 'oy. Of course, the distinction cannot be drawn precisely, since what is a vital need in one context may be a trivial want in another. There is a real difference between an Eskimos wearing the skin of a seal and one worn for social status in an affluent society.

4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease in human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

Once recognition is given to other forms of life, then it is clear that we humans are too many already. We have already 'ostled many species out of existence and the near future promises an expansion of such extinctions. Recent projections by the United Nations indicate that current trends in population growth will involve converting about 8o percent of current nature reserves to human use." This would drastically accelerate the already alarming trends towards the extinction of myriad species of life .7

The continuing increase in human numbers also condemns many humans to a life of suffering. Parents within industrial societies easily recognize that many children means fewer life prospects for each and limit themselves to fewer children, hoping to give them each a better life. We should collectively recognize that an increase in human numbers is not in the best interest of humans, much less the rest of life. It is to the credit of the Deep Ecology movement that it clearly gives priority to human population as a problem and calls for a gradual decrease.' This does not imply misanthropy or cruelty to presently existing humans. In fact, it implies the reverse for there is considerable evidence indicating that the best way of moderating and then reversing the growth of human population is to find ways of providing a decent life for all.9 There is, of course, much more that might be said about the problem of overpopulation and the ways the human population might decline. In this regard, alliances between Deep Ecologists and Ecofeminists may be very helpful. The problem of coerced motherhood exists in all societies to some degree, but it is most acute in poorer countries where population growth is most rapid. Current evidence indicates that there has been a global increase in coerced pregnancy and motherhood and this trend must be reversed for there to be much hope in slowing population growth.'o The worldwide struggle for the rights of women to choose the number of children they will bear will help in at least slowing the growth of human populations. Such a right includes the right to choose sexual partners and manage fertility in safe ways, which includes the right to access to safe abortions. Ecofeminists have much to contribute both theoretically and practically to success in this struggle.

5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening. This directs attention to current trends and claims that current levels of interference" with the rest of nature is excessive. There are at least two sorts of such interference which need to be addressed. One sort is the destruction of existing areas of wilderness, such as old growth forests. This is irreparable within any moderate time scale and is wrong. In fact, the guiding principle should probably be the continuation of biological history, creating large enough wilderness areas to allow for the continued speciation of plants and animals. This does not involve dispossessing indigenous peoples who have found ways of living within those ecosystems without destroying them. Another sort of interference is based on particular forms of technology. Many technologies disrupt natural cycles far more than is necessary. For example, agricultural practices involving large scale monocropping create expanding needs for fertilizer and pesticides. Multicropping, integrated pest management, and a variety of organic farming techniques interfere less with natural cycles and can enhance the fertility of soils.

6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technologlical, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs tvill be deeply differentfrom the present.

The scope of the changes needed is great. However, significant work is being done in trying to create adequate models for change. Although the concept remains obscure and controversial, "sustainability" is becoming a siogan in thinking about how economies should be restructured, even among those who remain within an anthropocentric perspective. We need to be clear about precisely "what" is to be sustained. For Deep Ecology, at least, we need to sustain the very conditions for the diversity of the myriad forms of life, including the cultural diversity of human life.

7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an 1.ncreasi.ngly hikher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

This point is especially important for industrial peoples enmeshed within an ultimately unsatisfying consumerism.' With a focus on quality, people can see that existing patterns of labor and consumption are not satisfying, but rather involve chronic dissatisfaction. Moving towards an appreciation of the quality of life, instead of quantities of things, leads to an increase in happiness, not a decrease. This is fundamental, since people are more apt to change when they experience change as improvement, rather than a grudging submission to necessity. As long as environmentalism seems to require only denial and sacrifice, its political effectiveness will be lessened. Deep Ecology seeks a more satisfactory way of living, an increase in vitality and 'OY.

8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or i.ndirectly to try to implement the necessary changes. Although this is clear in claiming that we must begin to act now, it is vague in not indicatingparticular priorities. At this point in history, priorities cannot be made more specific. No one now knows exactly what positive changes are necessary. The problems with economic growth and the emptiness of consumerism are clear enough, but they do not show 'ust what needs to be done now. People who accept the Deep Ecology platform may disagree about what is most urgent now, and there are many ways to attempt the needed changes. In the light of the value of diversity, such differences should be respected and not become occasions for sectarian squabble.



The eight-point platform is not "ultimate" or "basic" in a logical sense. That is, it is not put forward as requiring or allowing no further justification.

Rather, it is basic in being the most general view that supporters of Deep Ecology hold in common. There is no expectation nor need for wide agreement on logially more ultimate premises which might be used to render a deductive Justification of the platform. In fact, disagreement on such ultimate premises is to be expected. From a historical perspective, the platform as articulated by Naess and Sessions is unique to Deep Ecology. However, were it to become grounds for widespread unity within a movement directed toward transforming industrial society and creating a nonanthropocentric society, it might no longer be called a specifically "Deep Ecology" position. The platform is part of a program for what Robyn Eckersley calls an "ecocentric" Green political movement, a movement which will encompass many who might not identify themselves as "Deep Ecologists."' Thus, while it is now a specifically "Deep Ecology" platform, should it achieve its intended end, it might no longer be identified as a "Deep Ecology" platform. If it is successful in its intent, it might dissolve as a distinct position. If one seeks aj'ustification for the Deep Ecology platform, then discussion might proceed to more ultimate premises characteristically espoused by some deep ecologists. But other 'Justifications might depend on "ultimate premises" of some other ecocentric [email protected], such as ecofeminism or some variant of social ecology. The central point is that there is not only one possible justification for the platform. The platform is the heart of Deep Ecology, and it is this platform, not the various justifications of it, which should be the focus of argument about the value of Deep Ecology. The development of a radical ecology movement must start its collective discussion somewhere, and the Deep Ecology platform is a good beginning. People may come to adopt this platform from quite diverse directions and for differing reasons. Those who start from social concerns and come to believe that an ecological perspective must be taken very seriously may come to the Deep Ecology position through an understanding of the ecological inadequacy of more traditional social ideologies. On the other hand, those who start with a concern about nonhuman nature are likely to arrive at the Deep Ecology platform more directly by reflecting on what follows from a rejection of anthropocentrism and a recognition of the worth of the flourishing of all of nature.

Although some Deep Ecologists have emphasized the process of expanding one's sense of self towards a larger identification with all of nature to arrive at a denial of anthropocentrism, this is surely not the only path. The Ecofeminist Mart] Kheel argues persuasively that the differences in the ways men and women now typically form their identities makes any gender neutral concept of the self suspect. This means that different genders now may find different paths toward the Deep Ecology platform. Ecofeminism, in speaking to this historically conditioned difference between men and women, offers other routes to a justi 'fication of the platform. But, as Kheel argues, this unique strength of Ecofeminism does not entail any fundamental opposition between Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology.'

Even the kinds of reasons which might persuade a person to adopt a version of the platform may range from rational to nonrational to irrational. For example, acceptance might be based on philosophical reflection, religious conviction, personal experience, intuitions, mystical experience, aesthetic perception, or some other basis. Allowingfor a variety ofpaths to the same position is prtcisely the intent of the Deep Ecology platform. lt is not intended to be, nor is it, a systematic philosophical position; it proposes a common ground for defining an ecocentric movement for radical social change. Even the particular formulation of the platform is not final or the only acceptable expression. The point of these principles is to define the Deep Ecology movement, create clarity within the movement, and make clear where real disagreement might exist. 16 When the structure of Deep Ecology is understood this way, much of the controversy surrounding Deep Ecology can be seen as irrelevant. While argument directed against one, some, or all of the eight points is of great importance, criticism directed to one of the underlying philosophical positions used to 'ustify the Deep Ecology platform is far less relevant. Clearly, one could reject a particular philosophical or religious 'Justification of the platform, yet still believe that the platform is correct at this point in history. I think it has been a failure to appreciate this aspect of the structure of the Deep Ecology position which has led to much heated but fruitless controversy. Focusing on the platform may help us find the basis for unity among those who may disagree on more philosophically ultimate issues.

This approach to Deep Ecology does not make clear what is philosophically distinctive in the writings of deep ecologists. Although this question may be of great interest to theorists of Deep Ecology, it may be of less importance to movement activists. The platform is a proposal for us now, in this particular historical context. When that context changes, the platform may change. Perhaps Deep Ecology would even disappear as a distinctive position.

Without understanding the platform as the heart of Deep Ecology, attempts to justify the platform tend to create needless schisms. For example, the most exhaustive attempt to define what is distinctive about Deep Ecology is Warwick Fox's Toward a Transpersonal Ecology. He focuses on the nature of the self and explains Deep Ecology as involving an identification of self with all that is. But his specification of Deep Ecology, unless it is understood as one friction. It leaves out others who accept the platform, but do not agree with Fox's notion of identification. Richard Sylvan and Jim Cheney, for example, both accept the platform, but are critics of Fox's Transpersonal Ecology." Which is more important-finding differences or realizing unity? If Deep Ecology is understood primarily as the attempt to spark profound social change, then the question of who is and who isn't a Deep Ecologist can be settled by referring to the platform. But disputes over possible 'justifications are of pressing importance only if they lead to differences over the platform. The platform, then, is a proposal for a set of general agreements among radical ecocentrists, a common ground for those who value all nature. Deep ecologists have done a valuable service in bringing such a platform to the fore. Our urgent task is social change.


A SUMMARY Arne Naess

Originally published in Inquiry (Oslo), 16 (1973).

THE EMERGENCE OF ECOLOGISTS from their former relative obscurity marks a turning point in our scientific communities. But their message is twisted and misused. A shallow, but presently rather powerful movement, and a deep, but less influential movement, compete for our attention. I shall make an effort to characterize the two. 1. The Shallow Ecology movement: Fight against pollution and resource depletion. Central objective: the health and affluence of people in the developed countries. 11. The Deep Ecology movement: i. Reflection of the man-in-environment image a favor of the relational, total-field image. Organisms as knots in the blospherical net or field of intrinsic relations. An intrinsic relation between two things A and B is such that the relation belongs to the definitions or basic constitutions of A and B, so that without the relation, A and B are no longer the same thing. The total-field model dissolves not only the man-in-environment concept, but every compact thing-in-milieu [email protected] when talking at a superficial or preliminary level of communication.

2. Biospherical egalitarianism-in principle. The "in principle" clause is inserted because any realistic praxis necessitates some killing, exploitation, and suppression. The ecological field-worker acquires a deep-seated respect, or even veneration, for ways and forms of life. He reaches an understanding from within, a kind of understanding that others reserve for fellow men and for a narrow section of ways and forms of life. To the ecological field-worker, the equal right to live and blossom is an intuitively clear and obvious value axiom. Its restriction to humans is an anthropocentrism with detrimental effects upon the life quality of humans themselves. The quality depends in part upon the deep pleasure and satisfaction we receive from close partnership with other forms of life. The attempt to ignore our dependence and to establish a masterslave role has contributed to the alienation of man from himself. Ecological egalitarianism implies the reinterpretation of the future-research variable, "level of crowding," so thatgeneral mammalian crowding and loss of life-equality is taken seriously, not only human crowding. (Research on the high requirements of free space of certain mammals has, incidentally, suggested that theorists of human urbanism have largely underestimated human life-space requirements. Behavioral crowding symptoms, such as neuroses, aggressiveness, loss of traditions, are largely the same among mammals.)

3 Principles of diversity and ofsymbliosis. Diversity enhances the potentialities of survival, the chances of new modes of life, the richness of forms. And the so-called struggle for life, and survival of the fittest, should be interpreted in the sense of the ability to coexist and cooperate in complex relationships, rather than the ability to kill, exploit, and suppress. "Live and let live" is a more powerful ecological principle than "Either you or me." The latter tends to reduce the multiplicity of kinds of forms of life, and also to create destruction within the communities of the same species. Ecologically inspired attitudes therefore favor diversity of human ways of life, of cultures, of occupations, of economies. They support the fight against economic and cultural, as much as military, invasion and domination, and they are opposed to the annihilation of seals and whales as much as to that of human tribes and cultures.

4. Anti-class posture. Diversity of human ways of life is in part due to (intended or unintended) exploitation and suppression on the part of certain groups. The exploiter lives differently from the exploited, but both are adversely affected in their potentialities of self-realization. The principle of diversity does not cover differences due merely to certain attitudes or behaviors forcibly blocked or restrained. The principles of ecological egalitarianism and of symbiosis support the same anti-class posture. The ecological attitude favors the extension of all three principles to any group conflicts, including those of today between developing and developed nations. The three principles also favor extreme caution toward any over-all plans for the future, except those consistent with wide and widening classless diversity.

5. Fight against pollution and resource depletion. In this fight ecologists have found powerful supporters, but sometimes to the detriment of their total stand. This happens when attention is focused on pollution and resource depletion rather than on the other points, or when pro'ects are implemented which reduce pollution but increase evils of other kinds. Thus, if prices of life necessities increase because of the installation of anti-pollution devices, class differences increase too. An ethics of responsibility implies that ecologists do not serve the shallow, but the deep ecological movement. That is, not only point five, but all seven points must be considered together.

Ecologists are irreplaceable informants in any society, whatever their political color. If well organized, they have the power to re'ect 'obs 'n which they submit themselves to institutions or to planners with limited ecological ob'jectives. As it is now, ecologists sometimes serve masters who deliberately ignore the wider perspectives.

6. Complexity, not complication. The theory of ecosystems contains an important distinction between what is complicated without any Gestalt or unifying principles-we may think of finding our way through a chaotic city-and what is complex. A multiplicity of more or less lawful, interacting factors may operate together to form a unity, a system. We make a shoe or use a map or integrate a variety of activities into a workaday pattern. Organisms, ways of life, and interactions in the biosphere in general, exhibit complexity of such an astoundingly high level as to color the general outlook of ecologists. Such complexity makes thinking in terms of vast systems inevitable. It also makes for a keen, steady perception of the profound human ignorance of biospherical relationships and therefore of the effect of disturbances.

Applied to humans, the complexity-not-complication principle favors division of labor, notfragmentation of labor. It favors integrated actions in which the whole person is active, not mere reactions. It favors complex economies, an integrated variety of means of living. (Combinations of industrial and agricultural activity, of intellectual and manual work, of specialized and nonspecialized occupations, of urban and non-urban activity, of work in city and recreation in nature with recreation in city and work in nature ...

It favors soft technique and "soft future-research," less prognosis, more clarification of possibilities. More sensitivity toward continuity and live traditions, and-more importantly, towards our state of ignorance.

The implemen tation of ecologically responsible policies requires in this century an exponential growth of technical skill and invention-but in new directions, directions which today are not consistently and liberally supported by the research policy organs of our nation-states.

7. Local autonomy and decentralization. The vulnerability of a form of life is roughly proportional to the weight of influences from afar, from outside the local region in which that form has obtained an ecological equilibrium. This lends support to our efforts to strengthen local self-government and material and mental self-sufficiency. But these efforts presuppose an impetus towards decentralization. Pollution problems, including those of thermal pollution and recirculation of materials, also lead us in this direction, because increased local autonomy, if we are able to keep other factors constant, reduces energy consumption. (Compare an approximately self-sufficient locality with one requiring the importation of foodstuff, materials for house construction, fuel and skilled labor from other continents. The former may use only five percent of the energy used by the latter.) Local autonomy is strengthened by a reduction in the number of links in the hierarchical chains of decision. (For example a chain consisting of a local board, municipal council, highest sub-national decision-maker, a state-wide institution in a state federation, a federal national government institution, a coalition of nations, and of institutions, e.g., E. E. C. top levels, and a global institution, can be reduced to one made up of a local board, nation-wide institution, and global institution.) Even if a decision follows majority rule at each step, many local interests may be dropped along the line, if it is too long. Summing up then, it should, first of all, be borne in mind that the norms and tendencies of the Deep Ecology movement are not derived from ecology by logic or induction. Ecological knowledge and the life-style of the ecological field-worker have suggested, inspired, andfortified the perspectives of the Deep Ecology movement. Many of the formulations in the above seven-point survey are rather vague generalizations, only tenable if made more precise in certain directions. But all over the world the inspiration from ecology has shown remarkable convergences. The survey does nit pretend to be more than one of the possible condensed codifications of these convergences. Secondly, it should be fully appreciated that the significant tenets of the Deep Ecology movement are clearly and forcefully normative. They express a value priority system only in part based on results (or lack of results, cf. point six) of scientific research. Today, ecologists try to influence policy-making bodies largely through threats, through predictions concerning pollutants and resource depletion, knowing that policy-makers accept at least certain minimum norms concerning health and 'ust distribution. But it is clear that there is a vast number of people in all countries, and even a considerable number of people in power, who accept as valid the wider norms and values characteristic of the Deep Ecology movement. There are political potentials in this movement which should not be overlooked and which have little to do with pollution and resource depletion. In plotting possible futures, the norms should be freely used and elaborated. Thirdly, insofar as ecology movements deserve our attention, they are ecophilosophical rather than ecological. Ecology is a limited science which makes use of scientific methods. Philosophy is the most general forum of debate on fundamentals, descriptive as well as prescriptive, and political philoso phy is one of its subsections. By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy is a kind of sophia wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announce ments and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction.

The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only "facts" of pollution, resources, population, etc., but also value priorities. Today, however, the seven points listed provide one unified framework for ecosophical systems.

In general systems theory, systems are mostly conceived in terms of causally or functionally interacting or interrelated items. An ecosophy, however, is more like a system of the kind constructed by Aristotle or Spinoza. It is ex pressed verbally as a set of sentences with a variety of functions, descriptive and prescriptive. The basic relation is that between subsets of premises and subsets of conclusions, that is, the relation of derivability. The relevant notions of derivability may be classed according to rigor, with logical and mathemati cal deducations topping the list, but also according to how much is implicitly taken for granted. An exposition of an ecosophy must necessarily be only moderately precise considering the vast scope of relevant ecological and nor mative (social, political, ethical) material. At the moment, ecosophy might profitably use models of systems, rough approximations of global systematiza tions. It is the global character, not preciseness in detail, which distinguishes an ecosophy. It articulates and integrates the efforts of an ideal ecological team, a team comprising not only scientists from an extreme variety of disciplines, but also students of politics and active policy-makers.

Under the name of ecologism, various deviations from the deep movement have been championed-primarily with a one-sided stress on pollution and resource depletion, but also with a neglect of the great differences between underand over-developed countries in favor of a vague global approach. The global approach is essential, but regional differences must largely determine policies in the coming years.