The deep ecology and the animal rights movements are helping to change
consciousness, away from human-centeredness and the automatic assumptions of
"resource rights" to exploit wildlife and the natural world. Both movements pose
major threats to the continuation of industrial capitalist society and the status quo.
Yet activists from both movements are sometimes at odds with each other, although
some identify with both movements (perhaps more so on the deep ecology side).
The comments below are meant to contribute towards a discussion on understanding
the similarities and differences between the deep ecology and the animal rights
movements. Previous discussions, sometimes heated, on the internet group "left bio",
have contributed to this document and are gratefully acknowledged. Most, but not
all on "left bio", are coming to this discussion from the deep ecology side of the debate.
I would like to stress that
there are many areas in common between deep ecology
and animal rights supporters, when there would be disagreements with many
mainstream human-focussed environmentalists who basically accept industrial society.
Most deep ecology supporters
do not approve of the use of the term "rights" as in
"animal rights". (For a discussion of this, see John Livingston's book Rogue Primate:
An exploration of human domestication, 1994, Key Porter Books.) Rights are
seen as a human-centered extension term applied to animals, with roots in power and
privilege. The use of this term overlooks the intrinsic values inhering in animals and their
uniqueness, and hence the need for a movement conceptualization which expresses this -
not rights as an extension of human rights.
Below are the two aspects
of the debate: first the areas in which there is basic
agreement between deep ecology and animal rights supporters, and then areas where
the views differ.
Basic Agreements Between Deep Ecology and Animal Rights Supporters
A1. Commercial Use of Animals - Fur Industry,
On a practical level there are many animal rights actions which deep ecology
supporters can agree with and support, and this cooperation is quite evident among
activists. For example: opposing the trapping of wild animals and the frequent
"by-catch" of domestic animals by trappers; opposing the poisoning of so-called
problem wildlife; actions against the fur industry - including the "farming" of wild
animals for their fur (mink, fox, lynx, etc.); opposing the annual Canadian seal
slaughter of harp and hooded seals; etc.
A2. Habitat Protection
Some animal rights organizations understand, like deep ecology supporters, that wild
animals need appropriate habitat for their survival. For example, the International Fund
for Animal Welfare says: "The well-being of animals - from seals, to bears, to elephants,
to snow leopards - depends on one common denominator, one absolute key to survival:
habitat...protected habitat." (IFAW 2000 Calendar)
A3. Opposing Cruelty
Deep ecology supporters, like animal rights activists, oppose the cruelty of modern,
mass production animal agriculture, and the use of animals for experimental purposes
such as testing pesticides and drugs on mice and rats, or the transfer of animal organs
to humans. Young people in the school system, whether animal rights or deep ecology
supporters, would oppose performing experiments on animals in their classrooms. (At
the high school level, deep ecology has much less impact than animal rights thinking.)
A4. Opposing Domestication
Deep Ecology and animal rights supporters oppose the domestication of wild animals
for human consumption, eg. elk, bison and emu, and aquaculture or fish farming.
A5. Opposing Zoos
Deep ecology supporters also oppose keeping in captivity wild animals such as killer
whales, dolphins, bears, seals, etc., for entertainment or alleged educational purposes.
However, some deep ecology supporters feel that a case can be made for zoos, as
many urban people can first bond with wildlife through this experience. (Of course those
who financially exploit wildlife cover their self-interest with such a justification.) So there
needs to be more discussion on this. One of the issues here, apart from the adequacy
of the cages confining the animals, is whether in the interests of mobilizing humankind
for animal protection, there can be "sacrificial" individual animals.
A6. Not Supporting Aboriginal Exploitation of
Deep ecology and animal rights supporters would generally oppose the opening up of
parks, wildlife refuges and marine protected areas, to hunting or trapping or commercial
exploitation, in the name of "traditional" aboriginal or treaty rights. Most animal rights and
deep ecology supporters have opposed the claim by some aboriginals to resume whaling
because of an alleged traditional cultural right, e.g. the Makah grey whale whaling. (The
Canadian First Nations Environmental Network, in a press release of May 18, 1999,
also opposed the resumption of whaling by the Makah and said that, "spiritually and
morally, the act of killing whales cannot be justified.)
Distancing Areas Between Deep Ecology and Animal Rights Supporters
D1. Concern for Species vs. Individual Animals
The outlook of deep ecology supporters is more towards species, populations, and the
ecosystem than the individual animal. Deep ecology does not accept a hierarchy of values
in Nature, but sees the inherent worth of all plants and animals and the ecosphere itself.
The land ethic of Aldo Leopold, which has very much influenced supporters of deep
ecology, includes plants and animals, and soils and waters, as all being in the ecological
community. Animal rights is based on a concern for individual creatures foremost. (See
also a perceptive article on deep ecology and animal rights by Chim Blea "Individualism
and Ecology", Earth First! Journal June 21, 1986. The article looks at the
philosophical differences between the two movements, and stresses "the transcendence
of the community over any individual.")
D2. Domestic vs. Wild Animals
Animal rights activists focus on domestic animals, particularly cats and dogs. Wild
animals are a focus for deep ecology supporters. The concern with "pets" and their well
being, would be seen by deep ecology supporters in a larger sense, as an extension of
the human domestication of the planet, at the expense of wild nature.
D3. Anthropomorphism/Individual Suffering
Animal rights supporters tend to favour animals that are seen as close to humans,
which are understood to experience "sentience" or pain or suffering. (The English 19th
century philosopher of utilitarianism, Jeremy Benthan, advanced this position.) A deep
ecology supporter would see this position as a form of anthropocentrism or human-
centeredness. Also, it is a form of anthropomorphism, that is, projecting human
emotions upon other life forms. As Rod Preece said in Animals and Nature, "To
assume that other species possess similar emotions to humans is potentially to deny
them their uniqueness." (Some animal rights supporters argue that giving mammals
more "value" than "lower" life forms is based on the notion that animals with a
developed central nervous system can feel pain, rather than on the anthropocentric
notion that they are "more similar" to humans. The animal rights motivation for
different "valuation" of species would thus be compassion rather than
anthropocentrism.) Animal rights supporters are often highly motivated to become
agents of social change, by compassion for animals that are suffering. Deep ecology
supporters are not unconcerned with issues of compassion. They may seem to
disregard individual suffering, because their concerns are with the larger picture.
D4. Importance of a Paradigm Shift
Deep ecology supporters focus on WILD Nature and the health of the total
ecosystem. They see that our human numbers and industrial consumer lifestyle have
to be sharply curtailed, so that all wild species can continue their evolutionary
unfolding. Animal rights activists tend to work within the confines of industrial
capitalist society without openly challenging its fundamental premises - although
what they advocate with regards to how we relate to animals, e.g. stopping
factory and fur farming, does challenge in a fundamental way the industrial
"resource" paradigm of values. This helps to explain how venomous some of the
media criticism of animal rights actions is. For deep ecology supporters, there
are animal rights but there are also plant, mountain and river rights - and all are
equally of importance.
D5. Attitude towards Feral/Exotic Species
Animal rights supporters would normally oppose the removal of feral animals
(animals that have escaped or been deliberately introduced into the wild and
established viable populations), or exotic animals that have been imported from
another ecosystem or country, because of the often destructive impacts on a
particular ecosystem. Deep ecology supporters would favour removing if it was
possible (perhaps reluctantly), the feral or exotic animals, if serious negative
ecosystem impacts can be demonstrated that will impact native species of animals
and plants. Two examples would be the feral horses in the Suffolk wildlife area in
Alberta, Canada which were removed, and the possum introduced to New
Zealand, which has apparently propagated itself in very large numbers.
However, there are a number of theoretical issues here which need to be
discussed further. For example, what is an "exotic" given the new reality of
interrelated ecosystems in a globalized world?
Also, can a "feral" animal which has been in place for a long period, become
non-feral? Perhaps a more important question is, should humans be looked at as
"exotics" in most regions of the world, given their reported African origins?
Deep ecology and animal rights supporters are also at odds on the issue of
chemical birth controls for various species which seem to affect their habitats or
interfere with human exploitation of the environment. Some animal rights
organizations have advocated or supported the use of birth controls for wild
animals, e.g. grey seals and deer.
There is usually an insistence by animal rights activists on being vegetarian. The
statement is sometimes heard that, "Those who say they care about the environment
and continue to eat meat are hypocrites." While many deep ecology supporters are
also vegetarians or vegans, they do not accept that deep ecology requires this as a
mandatory belief. Some deep ecology supporters are omnivores. Both vegetarian
and omnivore deep ecology supporters share support for an organic bioregional
Some deep ecology supporters who are omnivores continue to hunt or do not
oppose hunting under specific ecological and social conditions (but still oppose the
hunting of animals in parks or wildlife sanctuaries), whereas most animal rights
supporters would oppose all hunting. Deep ecology supporters see a difference
between ecologically acceptable hunting as a basic form of subsistence, versus
hunting for sport or "slob" hunting, e.g. shooting from cars along back roads.
(Also, most hunters are not involved in habitat defence, e.g. opposing industrial
D8. Philosophical Inclusiveness
Most animal rights publications do not seem to be interested in deep ecology as
a philosophy, whereas deep ecology publications often promote animal rights issues.
January 09, 2000
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