The Green Movement and the Deep Ecology Movement

                                                                                           By David Orton

                (This talk was given at a public "information session" and discussion on deep ecology, organized
                by the New Glasgow library in Nova Scotia on February 8th, 2006. I was introduced as the
                National Spokesperson for Deep Ecology for the Green Party of Canada.)

             What is the Green Movement?

                    The green movement is a movement of people who have come forward to respond in some manner to the
                worldwide ecological crisis and to make the defence of the natural world an important part of their lives.
                It exists in many countries. In looking at today’s green movement, we should not forget that, in the West,
                the 19th century gave rise to a vegetarian movement, an anti-vivisection movement, an animal welfare and
                a naturalist movement, which were in some sense forerunners to the environmental and animal rights
                movements of the 20th century. (These points were brought out in Rod Preece’s Animals and Nature:
                Cultural Myths, Cultural Realities.)

                    For myself, I became involved in environmental work in 1977 in BC. In 1979 we moved as a family to Nova
                Scotia. In 1983, I publicly stated at an anti-cruise missile rally in Halifax:: “We need a new kind of politics
                and we believe the green movement, which stresses a new type of environmentally conscious society,
                is the way ahead.” But I only joined the Green Party in May of 2005.

          Light Green and Deep Green

                    It is important to see that there are “shades of green.” For discussion purposes, two main positions are usually
                described. (There is quite a good discussion of these two positions in Judith McKenzie’s 2002 text,
                Environmental Politics in Canada, Chapter One “Green Political Theory”.) But one should best think
                of such positions as part of a continuum or two poles. Many in the green movement can be called “light”
                greens - this would be the mainstream movement and describes most of the green or environmental
                organizations that we hear about, such as people trying to stop a strip mine, a gas pipeline or a forest spraying
                situation in their own back yards, salmon enhancement groups, or the Nova Scotia Environmental Network.
                While light green work is necessary and important, such people in the main (of course there are exceptions)
                want a clean environment but do not question that humans are the “top” species and that Nature is basically
                for human use, although it should be used wisely. They tend to believe that environmental changes can be
                accommodated within the existing capitalist and “liberal democratic” tradition that exists in the West. Deep
                (or dark) greens are far more radical. They are likely to be influenced by the deep ecology philosophy and
                see the existing economic and political system as having brought about the ecological crisis. It is the existing
                system itself which therefore becomes called into question. Deep greens believe that a totally new world view
                is needed, along with a different kind of economic, political and cultural system. Industrial capitalism itself,
                along with its human-centered viewpoint of seeing the Natural world as just a collection of "resources" for
                human or corporate use, is a main issue.

                    The deep green environmental movement is perhaps best known in North America as the Earth First!
                movement. The Earth First! movement in the United States, and later in England, Australia and other
                countries - it has a Canadian reflection particularly on the West Coast - took up the task of defending
                wilderness, old growth forests and the wildlife associated with them, as well as green spaces threatened
                by so-called development. (A recent deep ecology book by Fred Bender, The Culture of Extinction:
                Toward a Philosophy of Deep Ecology, p. 61, called real estate developers “habitat annihilators”.)
                Earth Firsters! claimed deep ecology as their guiding philosophy and came to define their “community”
                as not just a human-centered one but as also including the natural world. Arne Naess, the Norwegian
                founder of deep ecology says that the unfolding of potentialities of animals and plants is a right:
                        “One exercises justice or injustice to plants and animals as well...Plants and animals also
                          have a right to unfolding and self-realisation. They have the right to live.”
                          Ecology, community and lifestyle, pp.164-165

                    In demonstrations you will often see those who support Earth First! dressed as animals (including insects,
                fish, birds, mammals, etc.) or plants, or their habitats, thus trying to give a voice to non-human life forms
                and where they live. On the West Coast in Canada, the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, who also orient to
                deep ecology, have a slogan “If you want the trees to stand, you have to stand with the trees.” The
                Friends of Clayoquot Sound led demonstrations in defence of old growth temperate forests, under a
                NDP government, which resulted in hundreds of arrests.


            Formation of Green Parties

                    Another manifestation of the green movement would be the formation of various green parties in different
                countries, with the first one being established in New Zealand in the 1970s. Here in Canada, the electoral
                success of the German Green Party was much admired by some, and the federal Green Party was set up
                in 1983. (Rudolf Bahro, the German green philosopher, who was one of the co-founders of the German
                Green Party, resigned in 1985 because he said the Greens “were only brushing the teeth of the
                industrial dragon.”) For many years, the Canadian Green Party was really only a paper organization,
                because it was established before there had been built any kind of green movement in Canadian society
                of which the party could be a reflection. The federal Green Party was established “top down” and only
                became some kind of real political force in the 2004 federal election, when it polled over four per cent
                of the vote. (In 1980, a “Small Party” was organized in Canada, it met in Tatamagouche, N.S., and this
                was in many ways a precursor to the federal Green Party.) The light green and deep green orientations are
                present in the Canadian Green Party, with the first mentioned being predominant. The public national face
                of the Green Party tends to the light green.

            Ecological Ethics

                    By one of those strange coincidences, in 1973 were published three articles which have been enormously
                influential for the deep ecology and the animal liberation movements, and for moving ethics - “how one
                should live and act” (Patrick Curry, Ecological Ethics: An Introduction) - in a new revolutionary
                direction, away from human-centeredness. These articles were a response to ecological destruction and,
                with Peter Singer’s seminal article, to the abuse of animals. They are:

                   - Arne Naess “The Shallow And The Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements: A Summary”,
                      Inquiry, (Oslo), 16 (1973).
                   - Richard Sylvan (then Routley) “Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental Ethic?”, in
                      Proceedings of the XV World Congress of Philosophy, No. 1. Varna.
                   - Peter Singer “Animal Liberation”, in The New York Review of Books, 1973.

                    Our ethics are determined by what we ultimately value. If we see ourselves as only part of a human
                community, then we will only value humans. We will only treat properly whoever or whatever we
                care about. For those who put the Earth first, the ecological community forms the ethical community.
                The basic distinction is made between anthropocentric ethics, where ethics are human-centered or
                entirely restricted to humanity, and ecocentric ethics, which are Earth-centered.

                    Language, with its human-centered assumptions, where humans are seen as the pinnacle of some
                evolutionary process, frames environmental debates. Thus, for example, as Nature is seen as a
                “resource”, fish or trees become “resources”, i.e. placed on this planet for human use. Fish species,
                if not utilized by industrial society, are considered “under utilized”, seals eat “our” fish, etc. In
                industrial forestry, insects are “pests” if they eat trees. Trees are considered “fibre” and are
                spoken of as “decadent” and “over mature” if past the age for pulp mill consumption. Trees are
                “weed” species if they have no industrial use. Plantations of one or two softwood species,
                desired by the mills, are called forests. Fires or insect blooms are not considered part of the
                normal forest ecology. Under existing industrial forestry, it seems every tree has been spoken
                for, as required for human and corporate use by the forest industry and its government

                    It is important to see that the term anthropocentrism (or human-centeredness) covers a vast range
                of behaviours, from absolute selfishness to other humans and total disregard to the long-term
                interests of the Earth, to the “seventh generation” concept from aboriginal thought. As the ecological
                crisis develops, ecocentric ethics has emerged to shape a large section of green movement thinking
                and has come to influence a new “ecophilosophy”. This is a revolutionary philosophical development,
                because prior to the emergence of the new ecocentric thinking, where Nature is seen as ultimately
                determining value, philosophy and human thought had been considered human-centered or

             Aboriginal Land Ethics

                    “Act with the seventh generation in mind” is a saying which most of us have heard. It means taking
                a very long-term human perspective when we undertake any action. This is often held up as an example
                of the kind of ecological wisdom which is needed in contemporary society. Aboriginal cultures practiced
                animism over thousands of years. The basic idea is that the Earth is alive, and that plants and animals
                have their own intrinsic spirits and values. This has, in the past, acted as a restraint on human exploitation.
                However, animism, which sustained hunter-gatherer societies, was still ultimately human-centered, perhaps
                a form of "deep stewardship." This did not prevent the now documented extinctions of fauna in the
                Americas, Polynesia, New Zealand and Australia, as aboriginals entered these lands for the first time.
                David Suzuki put it this way in his book Wisdom of the Elders about aboriginal ethics:

                        “Aboriginal peoples’ relationship with other life forms comes from a deep respect that is
                          ultimately self-interested.” (p. xxviii)

                    Many deep ecology supporters have embraced the necessity for a contemporary form of animism, for
                a deeper green politics, that is, the need for an earth spirituality. This means accepting the necessity
                to see the Earth as sacred and as part of ourselves, if we are to turn around the ecological catastrophe
                which we face. I believe that traditional aboriginal animistic thinking has had an important positive impact
                on the deep ecology movement and deeper green politics.

                Regarding land "ownership", deep ecology supporters like myself would not agree with the position put
                forth in the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission On Aboriginal Peoples:"The origin of the law
                of Aboriginal title lies in institutions that give recognition to the near-universal principle that
                land belongs to those who have used it from time immemorial.” (Volume 2, Restructuring The
                Relationship, Part Two, p. 689, footnote 46.) Deep ecology opposes the idea of “private property”
                in Nature, that one can “own” other species and the land itself. As Arne Naess puts it, ”The ideology
                of ownership of nature has no place in an ecosophy.” I have written about “usufruct use” where there
                is the right of use, but where one is ultimately responsible and accountable to some form of ecocentric
                governance much wider that human society. Original aboriginal land occupancy in any country, including
                Canada, should be given priority consideration, from a human or social justice perspective, but Nature
                itself must remain a commons and not be privatized.

            Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)

                    I want to say some words about this important green thinker, before speaking about Arne Naess himself.
                Aldo Leopold is perhaps the most important ecophilosophy influence on the North American green
                and environmental movements. This would be particularly true for the United States. His land ethic has
                become very influential:
                        "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils,
                          waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land."
                          A Sand County Almanac, p. 239

                    Leopold, who was a hunter and a forester, moved in his own lifetime from conventional “resource
                management” to an Earth-centered land ethic. His book of essays, published after his death, has an
                essay called “Thinking Like a Mountain” which has come to symbolize this ethical shift. He describes
                the shooting of a female wolf, accompanied by her pups and the “green fire” dying in the wolf’s eyes as
                her life was extinguished. Through this incident he came to understand that deer and elk need predators,
                if they are to thrive and not over-browse the mountains which they inhabit. One cannot remove one part
                of an ecosystem to benefit what is seen as human-centered interests, i.e. “more game”, without suffering
                dysfunctional consequences to the rest of the system. The death of the she-wolf taught Leopold this
                fundamental lesson and though his own experience has taught countless others.

                    How did Leopold judge whether some action is right or wrong? To quote from his book,

                     "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the
                      biotic (living) community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
                      A Sand County Almanac, p. 262


                    The poem Break the Momentum, written by Jim Drescher in 1994, is a favourite of mine. It
                illustrates what land “ownership” means in our society, and the contrast between human-centered
                or anthropocentric law, and looking at the land from an ecocentric or Earth-first perspective. It
                reflects Nova Scotia experience. Jim Drescher runs an ecoforestry school at Windhorse Farm
                in Lunenburg County in Nova Scotia. He is perhaps the main “professional” forestry voice
                opposing industrial forestry in the province. As well as having trained as a forester, he is also a
                Buddhist. (This poem is part of  the 1998 Green Web Bulletin #66,“Industrial Forestry and
                a Critique of Natural Resource Management.”)

            Deep Ecology

                    The father of the deep ecology movement is Arne Naess. He is about 92 years old. Deep ecology is
                part of the larger green movement. He has been a well known mountaineer who built a work hut high in
                the Norwegian mountains, where he wrote many of his essays and books. A ten-volume Selected Works
                of Arne Naess has just been published. Naess is someone who continually revises his writings, so
                bringing out the Selected Works took a long time, it seems to me about ten years. Naess obtained his
                Ph.D. at age 24 and by 27 was given the Chair of Philosophy at Oslo University in Norway. He was
                very influenced by Spinoza and Gandhi. He took early retirement and then devoted himself to outlining
                his views on deep ecology and on movement building. Deep ecology as a sentiment within society existed
                before Naess, but he gave it a name and a philosophical framework.

                    Naess has said that “The main driving force of the Deep Ecology movement, as compared with the rest
                of the ecological movement, is that of identification and solidarity with all life.” I think what is being said
                here, is that we humans are part of the natural world, not separate from it. We identify with this world,
                so that its pain, for example when a forest or a wild creature is destroyed, is felt as a personal pain by
                the deep ecology supporter. This philosophy accepts the primacy of the natural world, but this is
                considered an “intuition” by Naess and is not logically or philosophically derived. Naess would say
                that “Every living being has an equal right to live and flourish, in principle.” This is not to deny
                that our existence as humans involves killing living beings. Living beings for Naess includes individual
                organisms, ecosystems, mountains, rivers, and the Earth itself.

                Deep ecology sees the necessity for a new philosophy and a new set of values, about

                - how we will relate to the natural world;
                - how we will organize human societies so that they are in a sustainable relationship with the
                  natural world; and
               - the necessity to defend what is left of the natural world and to become involved.

            Becoming Involved

                    Most of the people who come to identify with the deep ecology philosophy do not come to their
                positions based on reading deep ecology books, or through listening to lectures in universities or
                public libraries, or by having worked out some philosophical position which is perfectly logical and
                consistent. In my experience people become deep ecology supporters because:
                - they identify with the Natural world and all its creatures;
                - they see that this world is being destroyed and want to do something about it; and
                - they come to see that our own human concerns, while important, are fairly insignificant in

                    What often happens is that a person is on a road of self-discovery, because of her or his own
                environmental experiences and then comes across the philosophy of deep ecology. This is what
                happened to me in the 1980s. Another example would be Sharon Labchuk of PEI. A few years
                ago, after being introduced to some deep ecology readings she said: “It’s everything I’ve ever
                believed in, but I never had the language before.” (Tim Falconer, Watchdogs and Gadflies:
                Activism From Marginal To Mainstream, p. 130)

            Shallow-Deep Distinction

                    The 1973 article by Arne Naess, “The Shallow And The Deep, Long-Range Ecology
                Movements: A Summary”, introduced this distinction which has become part of the language
                of ecophilosophy and environmentalism. He defines the shallow ecology movement, which he
                says is more influential than the deep ecology movement, as “Fight against pollution and
                resource depletion. Central objective: the health and affluence of people in the
                developed countries.” The shallow approach takes for granted beliefs in technological optimism,
                economic growth, and scientific management.

                    Naess defines the “deep movement” by putting forward seven main points. The article is only a
                few pages long but quite profound, and shows the complexity of Naess. The overall perspective,
                over the years, ended up eventually as the eight-point Deep Ecology Platform. In the article, for
                example, Naess points out that biological complexity requires a corresponding social and cultural
                complexity; outlined is an “anti-class posture” and how anti-pollution devices can, because of
                increasing the “prices of life necessities” increase class differences; and he stresses local autonomy
                and decentralization.

               Deep Ecology Platform

                    The Deep Ecology Platform was worked out in 1984 by Arne Naess and George Sessions. It has
                been called "the heart of deep ecology" and received widespread acceptance by its supporters.
                Some points about the Platform:

                - It is fairly abstract and does not tell activists what to do in specific situations.

                - It says all non-human life forms have intrinsic value, not dependent on human purpose.

                - The concept of “vital needs” is introduced but not defined. Desiring little is the deep ecology path,
                   which also means far less control by the industrial capitalist system over the individual.

                - The Deep Ecology Platform does not mention non-violence.

                - It emphasizes population reduction, and deep ecology supporters stress this is to be done without
                   personal coercion.

                - The Platform gives no view on what an ecocentric economy would look like and how to achieve this.

                - There is no mechanism for changing the Platform, or for further developing it.

                Summary of Key Ideas

                - Non human-centeredness - humans do not have a privileged position at the expense of all the other
                   life forms on this one Earth that we share.
                - Necessity for a new spiritual relationship to the Natural world - this means that we come to see the
                  Earth as alive and part of ourselves. For industrial capitalism to commodify the Earth, its spirituality
                  had to be undermined.
                - Supporters of deep ecology extend their sense of personal self-identity to include the well being of
                   the Earth.
                - Opposing the idea of “private property” in Nature.
                - Understand that industrial capitalist society is based on continuous economic growth and consumerism,
                   and that it does not accept that there are ecological limits within which we must live, for the well being
                   of ourselves as humans, but also for the well being of other species.
                - Necessity for population stabilization and reduction using non coercive means.
                - Each of us must be actively involved in opposing the ongoing destruction of Nature. This means applying
                   the deep ecology perspective (the eight-point Platform) to ecological issues.
                - We must live the deep ecology philosophy to the largest extent possible. It means voluntary simplicity,
                   minimizing consumption and having a bioregional, not global, focus.


                    Even though I have given this kind of talk on deep ecology and the green movement quite a few times over
                the years, and to various types of audiences, I always feel inadequate in trying to convey to others what
                deep ecology is all about. But deep ecology is truly a philosophy which can change one’s life, as it has
                changed mine. If I have aroused your interest sufficiently to look further into it, this will be “success” for

                    I brought along some books for you to look at, and you each have a copy of the Deep Ecology Platform
                and the Left Biocentrism Primer, with four recommended books for an Earth-centered consciousness.
                These are
                - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac;
                - Clive Ponting, A Green History Of The World;
                - Arne Naess, Ecology, community and lifestyle; and
                - Patrick Curry, Ecological Ethics: An Introduction.

                You can each start on the deep ecology path, should you so desire. Our Earth needs your assistance.

            To obtain any of the Green Web publications,  write to us at:

Green Web, R.R. #3, Saltsprings, Nova Scotia, Canada, BOK 1PO
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 Last updated: February 13, 2006