In Memory of Richard Sylvan (1935-1996)

            I am deeply saddened to just find out that Richard Sylvan, the Australian deep ecologist, philosopher and
        forestry activist died on June 16th in Bali, Indonesia. There was a memorial gathering on June 24th in Canberra,
        Australia. He was buried, his wife Louise wrote to me in a July 9th letter,
                in the manner that he wished: without ceremony, at the edge of one of the forests he cherished
                and overlooking the sea. I'll plant the tree to grow beside his grave in the spring.

            I first contacted Richard in 1987 because of reading some negative comments about a 1985 Australian
        National University publication by him called A Critique Of Deep Ecology. At the time I thought, this sounds
        like an interesting fellow to be so savagely criticized. I made the initial contact to obtain the publication for myself
        to read. Richard's strict philosophical writing was incomprehensible to me. Over the years we exchanged many
        publications and letters. We shared a critical deep ecology perspective and a concern with how to apply this to
        subvert the industrial world. He called his work "Deep Green Theory". Despite promises rung out of him from
        me, he never produced the "primer" of his ideas for activists interested in theoretical questions, which I felt was
        necessary. He intellectually inspired me although we differed politically. Richard was an anarchist and did not
        share my pro-socialist sentiments. We never personally met or even spoke on the telephone. His letters were
        extremely difficult to read because of his hand writing. It was always a major task to try and decipher what
        Richard was saying. But the effort was always worth while.

            Richard Sylvan had a a sharp mind, a sharp tongue and was never afraid to give unpopular views. His was the
        major inside critical voice pointing out the philosophical fuzziness of much of deep ecology. The opening
        paragraph of his Critique, described deep ecology as "a conceptual bog" which was "well on the way to
        becoming all things to all interested parties."
Perhaps because of this criticism, he seemed to be excluded
        from the mutual appreciation "club" of deep ecology academics.

            Richard changed his name from "Routley" to Sylvan. Under his former name, with Val Routley, The Fight for
        the Forests: the takeover of Australian forests for pines, wood chips, and intensive forestry
, second
        edition, was published in 1974, by the Australian National University. Fortunate was the North American forestry
        activist who came across this book.

            The issues raised in the The Fight, showed an extensive and detailed knowledge of Australian forests and
        wildlife, and the timber industry. But perhaps more importantly, the theoretical perspective was helpful to forestry
        activists everywhere and became part of my own world view. Namely:

            While unknown to many ecocentric activists in Canada and the United States, I regarded Richard as the leading
        critical voice within the deep ecology movement. He was very intellectually productive and there are many
        publications. Two recent books are (with D. Bennett), The Greening of Ethics, 1994, White Horse Press;
        Transcendental Metaphysics: From Radical to Deep Pluralism, 1997, The White Horse Press.

            His work remains, but I will really miss him. My warm condolences to Richard Sylvan's family in Australia.

                                                                                                                                David Orton
                                                                                                                                July 17, 1996

                                                Published in The Trumpeter, Winter 1997, Vol. 14, No. 1.

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 Last updated: January 29, 2005