Deep Ecology and Animal Rights
Snappy Page Essence
Deep ecology is a philosophical and practical guide that opposes the destruction of nature by materialism and consumerism. It maintains that humanity must change its harmful ways or it will destroy itself and all life. Deep ecology gives us an extra perspective on animal rights.
Deep ecology contrasts with animal rights and helps us see animal rights in perspective. Deep ecology is concerned with fundamental philosophical, practical and personal questions about the ways humans relate to their environment. It relates to animals because of course animals are part of our environment.
Some environmental activists, along with some sections of political parties, support the philosophy of deep ecology and use it as a philosophical basis for change. As a guide for personal growth, deep ecology invites each individual to intermesh with and identify with all living creatures. But we are not just saving other species and ecosystems; we are really saving ourselves, because nature is a part of us. Deep ecology says that humans are not isolated objects but are part of the whole of Nature.
Deep ecology opposes the exploitation and destruction of the natural world by materialism and consumerism. It says we should minimise our impact on the world and it appeals for a change in the way we think about the world. Deep ecology predicts that if we do not shift our basic values and customs we will destroy the diversity and beauty of the world's life and its ability to support humanity.
The ideas of deep ecology came about against the background of the nascent Environmentalism of the 1960's. Deep ecology is primarily associated with Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912 - 2009). The 'Deep' in deep ecology refers to a fundamental or wise questioning of attitudes to nature. Deep ecology questions the root causes of the degeneration of the variety and richness of the world. It calls for a more enlightened approach for humanity to live within the bounds of Nature rather than to depend on technological fixes as remedies for our exploitation / destruction of nature.
Arne Naess. In 1973 he coined the term 'Deep Ecology', which contrasts with 'shallow ecology'.
Naess coined the term deep ecology in 1973 in contrast to shallow ecology, a lesser form of environmentalism and typical of societies worldwide today. The nature of shallow ecology has a utilitarian and anthropocentric attitude, based on materialism and consumerism. 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 example, shallow ecology promotes recycling of commercial and industrial waste instead of emphasising the prevention of the generation of waste in the first place. Again, shallow ecology supports placing ever increasing demands on the land to produce more food instead of stressing the improvement of human birth control to reduce human numbers.
The Eight Tenets of Deep Ecology
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 or religious background. The following table paraphrases the eight tenets and contrasts them with tenets that anyone might make up for shallow ecology.
Table 1. Tenets of Deep Ecology vs Shallow Ecology
|The Eight Tenets of Deep Ecology Paraphrased
||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.
|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 criticism of deep ecology from the animal rights point of view is that it asserts we can use animals to satisfy our basic needs (Tenet 3). However, 'deep' (ie abolitionist) animal rights philosophy forbids the use of animals. Even if we used just the occasional animal solely 'to satisfy our basic needs', then the billions of humans in the world would use up countless animals every month.
Another criticism of deep ecology is that governments of every country spurn it for shallow ecology, which they probably see as more workable. Therefore deep ecology at the level of large organisations is a failed philosophy (or...just perhaps...one that is still in waiting).
Can you be an exclusive animal rightist, welfarist, conservationist or deep ecologist? Actually, being exclusively one or the other may be the most difficult course. An alternative approach is not to see these philosophies as mutually exclusive but as reinforcing one another. We can surely be benignly flexible and adopt the best ideas and activities from each of them depending on the particular circumstances we encounter. Circumstances force us to be hard-headed at times. Certainly, knowledge about each of these outlooks and their antitheses helps us understand the outlook of other people.
For & Against: argue your case
Make a note of people's opinions, break them down into simple assertions and add a counter argument to help you defend your corner.
1. Harmony vs Industry
Claim: Deep ecologists want to stop industrial and technological development in order to embrace a lifestyle that is entirely in harmony with nature. But this would ruin mankind because industrial and technological disintegration would cause great upheaval.
Claim: We should continue humanity's industrial and technological development but in such a way as radically to take the pressure off biodiversity, particularly by reducing the human birth rate.
Claim: Supporters of deep ecology say that it is best for nature if humanity disappeared from the face of the Earth. So deep ecology is anti-human.
Claim: Deep ecology deplores anti-human statements. Deep ecology affirms that all beings, including humans, have inherent value.
3. Aboriginal Harmony
Claim: As deep ecologists we should look more to aboriginal people because their values and practices could help us live more wisely.
Claim: It is a myth that aboriginal people lived in harmony with nature. They exploited their environment to their full advantage. There is little we can learn from them.
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