Espen Gamlund: What is Wrong with Deep Ecology?

What is the best way to approach our environmental problems? Or what kind of environmental ethics or philosophy is best suited to address and possibly solve some of the most serious environmental problems of our time? These questions have been discussed several times over the last decades and various alternative answers have been proposed for how to deal with contemporary environmental problems. One influential approach in the early 1970s was deep ecology, launched by Arne Naess in his article «The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary» (1973). Deep ecology or the deep ecological movement was for a long time a dominant theme in environmental philosophy and it has given rise to numerous articles, books and conferences. Deep ecology flourished in the 1970-80s, but its standing today is severely diminished. Why has deep ecology lost its standing as a leading environmental philosophy and movement? In this paper, I discuss some of the reasons why I think deep ecology has such a limited appeal today. I will argue that the flaw of deep ecology lies in its adherence to ontology rather than ethics. Supporters of deep ecology, such as Naess himself, have tended to attach great importance to our experience of reality as a source of environmental attitudes. But I believe that this focus on environmental ontology has been a recipe for disaster rather than a success for deep ecology and its supporters. I suggest that a proper environmental position should be based on critical thinking and moral principles rather than on ontological assumptions about human experiences of the world.

Keywords: Arne Naess, Deep Ecology, Ecosophy T, Identification, Self-realization, Relational ontology, Environmental ethics.