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Environmentalist Focus, Deep Versus Shallow Ecology


Guest post by Emma Waight

Deep EcologyWithin the theory of environmentalism are varying extremes in points of view.  In his book, Nested Ecology, Edward Wimberley (2009) argues that the fundamental concern of humans towards environmental ecology is that the environment must continue to remain sustainable for the good of the human species.  Wimberley states that “this is a subtle but important feature informing most environmental philosophies”.  This argument therefore suggests that as a species, we care more about the future viability of humankind and human culture on Earth, than that of the natural world which existed long before us.  If that’s true, are all environmentalists just selfish?

Wimberley declares,

“People inevitably construe their ecological philosophies from the initial perspective of their personal ecologies and for this reason tend to consider the world from an anthropocentric vantage point.”

To argue that humans can only live within the bounds of nature could be seen as unrealistic and insufficient as we have culturally evolved to rely on one another and to specialize in producing vast arrays of resources necessary to sustain life and social culture, via a system of trade and consumerism.  Utilitarianism (humans acting to secure their own happiness) logically flows from anthropocentrism (human centred) as it recognises the inherent need of humans to maximise human satisfaction and minimise discomfort.

Deep Ecologists

Deep ecology is a more extreme form of environmentalism which aims to transfer a person’s environmental ideology from anthropocentric to eco-centric (nature centred).  Professor Arne Naess first attributed the theory of deep ecology, after being inspired by Rachel Carson’s pesticide-exposing book, Silent Spring. Naess believed that all living things were equal and argued that the shallow ecology movement only fought against pollution and resource depletion, with the objective being the health of people in developed countries.  Deep ecology, in contrast, considers the natural environment as a whole.  Plant species and animals should be saved because of their intrinsic value, especially as the human population is now excessive, Naess reasons.

Since Carson’s book was published in the 1960s, environmentalism has grown as a mass movement and filtered into many aspects of life in our post-modern society.  Although it would be naïve to state that environmentalism was non-existent before this time, the lack of green movements documented would suggest that it was not previously a prevalent ideology.  The use of the Earth’s resources in producing consumer goods, the cause of ozone depletion and the increasing extinction of animal species, is seen by some environmentalists as products of industrialisation and its destructive nature.  However, if environmentalist movements are opposed to industrialisation, it could be questioned why they only emerged at the end of the twentieth century, when the industrial revolution can be dated back to the mid eighteenth century.

Moving Forward

The formative meeting of the UK’s first environmental group, The Commons Preservation Society, was held on 19th July 1865.  The formation of environmental groups was evolutionary throughout the twentieth century with the advent, for example, of The Forestry Commission in 1919, World Wildlife Fund for Nature (now just known as WWF) in 1961 and Friends of the Earth in 1971. The WWF for example, is now one of the best recognised charities across the globe.

An environmentalist viewpoint comes in many forms and general environmental issues of waste, recycling and carbon footprints are widely acknowledged among the general public. Perhaps though, if we are to see great change, we must all adopt a deep ecologist’s viewpoint, before it becomes too late.


Emma Waight is a geography researcher and freelance fashion writer.

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