I’m learning about deep ecology, a philosophy that argues for the inherent value of life on our planet and argues that once we accept that inherent value we have the responsibility to act in ways that affirm it.
Deep ecology, launched in 1984, has eight principles:
- All human and nonhuman life has intrinsic value
- This life is naturally diverse and that diversity is also an inherent value.
- Survival is the only justification for limiting diversity.
- Human and nonhuman flourishing may require fewer people.
- Humans have damaged the nonhuman world and continue to do so.
- We must change, comprehensively.
- Our change can include changing our definitions of what quality of life means.
- We are required to act.
So far, the principle I find most troublesome is the fourth.
The Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy explains deep ecology’s religious and philosophical sources, as well as philosophers’ criticisms of it. The entry also notes that deep ecology may have become passé within its first decade.
It seems like the 1980s, 1990s, and very early 2000s were the heyday for grand unitary theories. I’d love to check in with my systems theory friends on when they think that spotlight began to fade, and why. (See, for example, Stuart Umpleby.)
I’ve not yet seen another attempt at the scale of deep ecology to generate a multi-source philosophy for responsible stewardship of life on Earth. People come to a sense of Must Do Something about the climate, the environment, or more local issues of pollution, energy, and resource use, and they come to it from so many different starting points. There isn’t just one faith, ethical tradition, or values system that brings people to concern, and there can’t just be one rational basis for action. We aren’t, after all, all alike, and we don’t have to become so.
If we aren’t willing to compel people into compliance of thought, yet we need people to choose new courses of action than their current disconnected motivators provide, it’s well worth considering the combination of faiths, ethics, and values available to get us all where we need to go.
Incommensurability means that these sources may never be fully coherent. An apple will never be an orange, we love each in part because they aren’t the other fruit, and each one has elements that aren’t analogous to anything in the other. And while some find it threatening that people might choose to use both apple-beliefs and orange-philosophies in a single moral kitchen, our nutritional needs are complex enough that more than one kind of fruit is valuable.
When I visited the Grand Canyon earlier this year, I noticed a combination of state land preservation (via the National Park Service) and religious expressions of awe (via whomever posted a hand-painted verse from Psalm 104).
Perhaps some Canyon visitors take offense to this juxtaposition. I don’t know the history of the plaque or whether it’ll stay mounted where it is. But the more that I think about it, I can’t think of anything more illustrative of all the ways we come to attention, concern, and action, and how little we need to marginalize one way over others.