Selected  Deep  Ecology  and  Other  Readings

                                                                                                      by David Orton

 (A note: There are many different personal paths to deep ecology awareness. That is, different paths to a fundamental shift from human-centered to ecocentric consciousness, in the way we relate to the Earth and the natural world around us. Many of these paths have little to do with reading books. Deep ecology provides the philosophical base for the radical ecocentric Earth First environmental movement. Studying this philosophy of deep ecology, deepens activist awareness. On my own personal journey, the following books have been important. They are listed below for those who want some readings in deep ecology. There are other deep ecology and related books (for example women authors like Delores Lachapelle and Robyn Eckersley), but this list may get you started on your own journey.)
Arne Naess, "The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement. A Summary", Inquiry 16 (1973) 95-100. This is the original, now famous article by Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher and founder of the deep ecology movement, which first made the now familiar distinctions between "shallow" and "deep" ecology. This article, although of historical interest, has been superseded by the eight-point
Deep Ecology Platform worked out by Naess and the U.S. deep ecologist George Sessions in 1984. It is this widely accepted eight-point Platform, which now serves as a common basis of unity and guide to action within the deep ecology movement.
Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle, 1989, Cambridge University Press. Reading this book is the best single introduction to the depth, complexity (and obscurity) of the deep ecology of Arne Naess.

George Sessions, editor, Deep Ecology For The 21st Century: Readings On The Philosophy And Practice Of The New Environmentalism, 1995, Shambhala Publications. Sessions has played an important role in introducing and popularizing deep ecology in North America. This book is divided into six sections, with excellent introductions by Sessions to each of the sections, which themselves contain essays by representative thinkers within or having influence on the deep ecology movement.

Andrew McLaughlin, Regarding Nature: Industrialism, Environmentalism, and Deep Ecology, 1993, State University of New York Press. A very important book, which combines a deep ecology, bioregional and social justice perspective, in its clarifying analysis of the roots and destructiveness of industrial society. This book in many ways has provided support for the theoretical tendency within deep ecology known as "left biocentrism". McLaughlin has also written on what he calls the "heart of deep ecology", the unifying eight-point Deep Ecology Platform.

Richard Sylvan and David Bennett, The Greening of Ethics: From Human Chauvinism to Deep-Green Theory, 1994, The White Horse Press. Sylvan, an Australian forest activist and academic philosopher who died in 1996, was the "bad boy" of the deep ecology movement and also a personal friend. Sylvan was the sophisticated critic of intellectual fuzziness of writings within the deep ecology movement. He outlined these views in the 1985 A Critique Of Deep Ecology, published by The Australian National University. The same Critique was published in two parts, in the journal Radical Philosophy 1986, 40 and 41: 2-12 and 1-22. Sylvan, with his "deep green" theory has been an important influence on left biocentrism.

Rudolf Bahro, was a German green philosopher and activist who died of cancer in 1997. His influence is enormous, particularly from a European perspective. He explored with a ruthless honesty the real contradictions for a left wing person of moving to a deep ecological consciousness. He saw the necessity for a personal and societal spiritual change if Earth destruction was to end. Industrialized countries like Germany, the United States and Canada, needed to reduce their impact upon the Earth to one-tenth of what it was. For Bahro, "The earth can belong to no one" and "The ecological crisis will bring about the end of capitalism." There are five books available in English. Start with From Red to Green, 1984 and then move on to his difficult but inspiring final work, Avoiding Social and Ecological Disaster: The Politics of World Transformation, subtitled "An Inquiry into the Foundations of Spiritual and Ecological Politics", 1994, Gateway Books, Bath, England. Bahro, in a Dec. 1995 letter, declared his agreement "with the essential points" of left biocentrism.

John Livingston, The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation, 1981, McClelland and Stewart Limited; and Rogue Primate: An exploration of human domestication, 1994, Key Porter Books. A powerful Canadian eco-philosopher and naturalist who David Suzuki has described as his mentor. For Livingston, wildlife has to be valued and defended for its own sake. Giving rational arguments for wildlife preservation is to accept the logic of industrial society. In the latest book, Livingston says that humans are the only animal that have entered domestication on their own. So-called resource conservation, "is a wholly proprietary, human-chauvinist concept."

Saral Sarkar, Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices, 1999, Zed Books, London, England. While not a deep ecology perspective, this is an important book for those concerned about whether or not it is possible to fuse the radical ecology and the socialist movements. Sarkar believes it is possible, providing socialism is prepared to redefine itself and learn "the ecological lesson" from the radical ecology movement. This book gives an ecological critique of all forms of socialism, a critique of green politics and an insightful examination of traditional cultures and what can be learnt from them. Sarkar was born in India and has lived in Germany for many years. He is the author of the historical work, Green-Alternative Politics in West Germany (2 vols), 1993 and 1994, United Nations University Press.

Other Important Books

Clive Ponting, A Green History Of The World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations, 1991 Sinclair-Stevenson Limited, England. It looks at world history, e.g. what happened to Easter Island, from an environmental perspective. A fundamental book to give a sense of ecological and historical place. However, this book will not come out and condemn industrial civilization and speak of an alternative.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River, first published in 1949,  Sierra Club/Ballantine Book. Leopold illustrates in his life and writings, the transition from U.S. forester and game manager to environmental philosopher. His thinking, writings, and metaphors e.g. the Land Ethic, "thinking like a mountain", "round river rendezvous", "green fire", have become part of the consciousness of radical environmentalism in North America. Leopold's environmental ethics has become influential: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

Calvin Luther Martin, Keepers Of The Game: Indian-Animal Relationships and the Fur Trade, 1978, University of California Press; and In the Spirit of the Earth: Rethinking History and Time, 1992, The Johns Hopkins University Press. These two important books aid in realistically understanding aboriginal land ethics, past and present. They also give insight, I believe, into understanding a potential relationship between an indigenous animism and deep ecology.

Olive Patricia Dickason, Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, 1992, McClelland & Stewart Inc. This is a progressive and detailed source of information from Metis historian Dickason, on the aboriginal peoples living in Canada.

Bill Devall, editor, Clearcut: The Tragedy Of Industrial Forestry, 1993, Sierra Club Books/ Earth Island Press. The book for ecocentric forestry activists. It shows the totally destructive ecological impact of capitalist industrial forestry in Canada and the United States, that is clearcutting. It has illustrations from each province in Canada and each state in the U.S. This book also has examples of an alternative forestry, influenced by deep ecology and a wholistic ecological world view.

Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang, 1975. A politically incorrect novel about monkey wrenching in the U.S. South West desert country, by four people who band together in the tradition of the Luddites. This novel has inspired many to activism. As Abbey says in this book through the character Doc Sarvis: "Let our practice form our doctrine, thus assuring precise theoretical coherence."

Earth First! Journal It is published 8 times a year. This is the activists' newspaper in the U.S. and Canada for the "no-compromise environmental movement". Every ecocentric radical activist in Canada and the States should read this on a regular basis. Address: POB 1415, Eugene, Oregon 97440, U.S.A. E-mail:

Left Biocentrism

This is a left focus or theoretical tendency within the deep ecology movement. There is a ten-point Left Biocentrism Primer which presents a summary of the position. There is also an internet discussion group called "left bio" which supports the Primer and whose members take part in theoretical and practical discussions.

For a consideration of some ideas important to left biocentrism, see in particular the following two Green Web Bulletins:

#63 "My Path to Left Biocentrism: Part I - The Theory" by D. Orton, April 1998. This Bulletin is a theoretical introduction to the left biocentric tendency within the deep ecology movement. Part I includes the important thinkers for a left biocentric synthesis, and discusses the continuities and discontinuities of left biocentrism with deep ecology.

#64 "My Path to Left Biocentrism: Part II - Actual Issues" by D. Orton, April 1998. This Bulletin shows the application of left biocentrism to actual issues: forests and forestry, aboriginal issues, relationship to the Left, green movement and party, protected areas and wildlife, and sustainable development. This Bulletin shows, in the context of the listed issues, what is distinctive about left biocentrism compared to deep ecology.
March, 1999
    (Published in The Northern Forest Forum, Mid-Spring 1999, Vol. 7, No. 4.)

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A Taste of Green Web Writings and Left Biocentrism
 Last updated: March 24, 2002