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ETHICS AND NATURE “Deep Ecology” 17 th Green at Royal Troon, Scotland Bill Devall (b. 1938) and George Sessions (b. 1938) ECOLOGY

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“Deep Ecology”

17th Green at Royal Troon, Scotland

Bill Devall (b. 1938) and George Sessions (b. 1938)


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ECOLOGY

  • Ecology 1. a branch of science concerned with the interrelationships of organisms and their environments 2. the totality or pattern of relations between organisms and their environments

  • Eco- habitat or environment

  • -logy - doctrine; theory; science

Hunters in the Snow,Pieter Brueghel (1565)


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THE NOTION OF DEEP ECOLOGY I

  • The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess coined the term deep ecology in a 1973 article.

  • Deep ecology, as an intellectual and ethical project, looks beyond the individual and society to consider each in relation to nature.

  • This involves “a more sensitive openness to ourselves and nonhuman life around us.”

Arne Naess (b. 1912)


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THE NOTION OF DEEP ECOLOGY II

  • “The essence of deep ecology is to keep asking more searching questions about human life, society, and Nature as in the Western philosophical tradition of Socrates.”

  • “Deep ecology goes beyond a limited piecemeal shallow approach to environmental problems and attempts to articulate a comprehensive religious and philosophical world view.”

  • Thus deep ecology goes beyond a purely scientific consideration of man and nature and examines the value of man and nature in relation to one another.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania


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THE NOTION OF DEEP ECOLOGY III

  • For deep ecology there is no sharp break between man and nature, between an individual and her environment.

  • We live in as we form part of nature. We interact with nature as nature interacts with us. We have effects on nature as nature has effects on us.

  • The question of what it means to be a unique individual must be raised in relation to the whole of which each person forms part.

Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson (1970)


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DEEP ECOLOGY AND DOMINANCE I

  • The view that man is isolated and separate from the rest of nature is incorrect according to deep ecology.

  • Deep ecology says that the view that man is superior to and in charge of the rest of nature is wrong.

Los Angeles at sunrise


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DEEP ECOLOGY AND DOMINANCE II

  • Devall and Sessions say that Western culture has been obsessed with the idea of dominance: “with dominance of humans over nonhuman Nature, masculine over the feminine, wealthy and powerful over the poor, with the dominance of the West over non-Western cultures.”

  • For deep ecology, these are “erroneous and dangerous illusions.”

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco


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Man and Nature

  • For deep ecology, we must see ourselves “as part of the organic whole,” and where this is not a “narrowly materialist scientific understanding of reality,” but one where “the spiritual and material aspects of reality fuse together.”

  • “There is no bifurcation of reality between the human and the non-human realms . . . to the extent that we perceive boundaries we fall short of deep ecological considerations.”

Norwegian fjord


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TWO NOTIONS OF THE SELF

  • For deep ecology, the Western notion of the self as an isolated ego largely concerned with self-gratification is both narrow and wrong.

  • The self of deep ecology goes beyond both the individual and humanity “to include the nonhuman world.”

  • Self-realization, for deep ecology, sees the self in relation to the rest of the world, including all of nature, and so not just man, but all animals and “mountains and rivers, the tiniest microbes in the soil, and so on.”

Self-portrait with Burning Cigarette

Edvard Munch, 1895

Wheatfield with Crows,Vincent van Gogh, 1890


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BIOCENTRIC EQUALITY I

  • Biocentric equality = df. “all things in the biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom and to reach their own individual forms of unfolding and self-realization within the larger Self-realization.”

  • The larger Self “stands for organic wholeness” where no part of nature is superior to another.

Landscape, Chaim Soutine, 1921


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BIOCENTRIC EQUALITY II

  • If, as biocentric equality maintains, “all organisms and entities in the ecosphere, as parts of the interrelated whole [the big Self], are equal in intrinsic worth” then how can a person eat a vegetable to stay alive?

  • Naess says that biocentric equality is “true in principle” but recognizes that “in the process of living all species use each other as food, shelter, etc.”

  • A question for deep ecology then is: How do we decide what we can and cannot do to stay alive in relation to other parts of nature? What is acceptable and what is not?

The Dining Room, Pierre Bonnard, 1925


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BIOCENTRIC EQUALITY III

  • Biocentric equality says that “if we harm the rest of Nature then we are harming ourselves.”

  • “There are no boundaries and everything is interrelated.”

  • Even where we do recognize something as an individual – and whether human or nonhuman – each individual is part of the whole and is not superior to any other part.

Ireland Line, Richard Long


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BASIC PRINCIPLES OF DEEP ECOLOGY

Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950


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PRINCIPLE ONE

  • The life of any human or nonhuman being is intrinsically valuable.

  • The value of nonhuman life does not depend on its usefulness to human beings, and does not depend on its being an object of awareness, interest, or appreciation of any conscious being.

  • This is a principle of concern and respect that pertains to “individuals, species, populations, habitat, as well as human and nonhuman cultures.”


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PRINCIPLE TWO

  • Life in all of its forms is rich, diverse, and intrinsically valuable.

  • The richness and diversity of life contribute to the value of life.

  • Richness and diversity “are also values in themselves.”

  • Organisms – including simpler organisms – that contribute to the richness and diversity of nature are valuable for that reason in addition to being intrinsically valuable.


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PRINCIPLE THREE

  • Because richness and diversity are both instrumentally and intrinsically valuable, “humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.”

  • Devall and Sessions say that “the term ‘vital need’ is left deliberately vague [by deep ecology] to allow for considerable latitude in judgment.”

  • The point is though that, in relation to humans, we should conduct ourselves so that we do nothing unnecessary to reduce the richness and diversity of nature.


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PRINCIPLE FOUR

  • Human population of the world must decrease in order to allow nonhuman life to flourish.

  • The decrease in human population is consistent with the flourishing of human life and culture.

  • Population increase, with the increased consumption of resources and the production of waste that comes from population growth, has a negative effect on both human and nonhuman life.


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PRINCIPLE FIVE

  • Humans today interfere with the nonhuman world in ways that are excessive and getting worse.

  • The extent of this interference cannot be justified.

  • Deep ecology does not say that “humans should not modify some ecosystems [a community of organisms and their environment functioning as an ecological unit in nature] as do other species. At issue is the nature and extent of such interference.”


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PRINCIPLE SIX

  • Humans need to change how they think about themselves in relation to nature and so “policies must be changed.” These policies must be global.

  • “These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures.”

  • Changing current policies will make life very different from life now.

  • In particular, “economic growth as conceived and implemented today by the industrial states is incompatible with [principles] 1-5.


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PRINCIPLE SEVEN

  • The notion of a “higher standard of living” must be replaced by the idea of “appreciating life quality.”

  • Appreciation of life quality follows from and recognizes the intrinsic value of all life.

  • Bigger – as in a bigger house, for instance - is not necessarily better, and awareness of what is great will be based on the intrinsic value of nonhuman in addition to human life.


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PRINCIPLE EIGHT

  • People who subscribe to the preceding principles of deep ecology “have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.”

  • That is, the changes that are necessary for man to see himself in relation to the rest of nature, and not to think himself superior to nature, and not to think of nature as simply something to be used solely to further the interests of man.

  • The preceding points having been made, Devall and Sessions recognize that there is much room to discuss and debate “what should be done first, what next? What is most urgent? What is clearly necessary as opposed to what is highly desirable but not absolutely pressing?”


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“The Case Against Nature”

Wrapped Coast, Christo, Little Bay, Australia 1968-1969

Gregg Easterbrook


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MAN AND NATURE I

  • Some say that we ought to leave nature alone since man usually has a negative impact on nature.

  • While Easterbrook says that “there are times and places where people ought to leave nature alone,” he thinks, following René Dubos, that “human beings might be able to assist nature” in its “long-term undertaking of self-improvement.”

The Grand Canyon


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MAN AND NATURE II

  • Easterbrook says “if we leave parts of the environment alone, we can be sure that nature will not.”

  • “Nature will keep changing . . . in seeking refinement.”

  • “People should not worry that they destroy nature. It is more likely that nature will destroy us.”


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MAN AND NATURE III

  • Some environmentalists think that nature is “metaphysically superior” to the artifacts of man, and so should be revered for this reason.

  • Easterbrook thinks that “there are many reasons to love nature,” but is suspicious of nature being metaphysically superior to human creations.

  • Nature is often cruel. Should we overlook that cruelty? Easterbrook does not think so.

Stonehenge (C. 2500 BCE)


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THE NATURE OF NATURE

  • For Easterbrook, we should not offer our blind allegiance to nature. This is because nature can be cruel and dangerous in addition to being beautiful and inspiring.

  • “Environmentalism has not come to terms with the inherent horribleness of many natural structures,” and has conveniently overlooked “the fact that much of the natural order is based on violent death.”


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NATURE AND MORALITY I

  • Easterbrook says that deep ecologists, such as Arne Naess, “believe that in moral value human beings are the same as animals: no better no worse, just another creature.”

  • Because of their love, or worship, of nature, deep ecologists or orthodox environmentalists “feel that they must pretend that there is nothing – not the slightest thing – wrong with nature.”


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NATURE AND MORALITY II

  • For Easterbrook though, this view that there is nothing wrong with nature leads to problems.

  • For instance, deep ecologists must recognize that some animals must kill other animals to stay alive. Is it okay then for one human animal to kill another to stay alive?

  • Naess says: “It is against my intuition of unity to say ‘I can kill you because I am more valuable, but not against my intuition to say ‘I will kill you because I am hungry.’”

  • Easterbrook then wonders if “Naess would object if a poor man who was hungry killed Naess to take his wallet?”

  • If it is okay for nature to kill because nature can do no wrong, why is it not okay for man to kill since we are part of nature?


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BIOCENTRISM AND ECOCENTRISM

  • Deep ecologists, such as George Sessions, originally advocated ‘biocentrism’ which says that life – all life, not just human – is more important than technology. [bio- life]

  • However, biocentrism was attacked by some as being too narrow in excluding inanimate objects, such as rocks, from ethical consideration.

  • This resulted in ‘ecocentrism’ “which purports to grant rocks and plains the same ethical significance as living things.” [eco- environment]


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PLAINS AND PEOPLE

  • If people are no more valuable than plains – or any animate or inanimate object – then how can we ethically move or excavate ground for building such things as grocery stores to feed people or hospitals to care for the sick and injured?

  • Are we entitled to plant crops, or does this interfere with the right of the land to continue in its existing state?


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ROCKS AND RIVERS

  • “Let the river live” is a slogan of ecocentrism.

  • Easterbrook says: “So it’s not only fine [for ecocentrism] for a tiger to gore an antelope and a hungry robber to gun down a passerby, it’s fine for all these people and animals to die in a river since the river is only expressing its right to flow.”


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NATURE AND MORALITY III

  • Easterbrook thinks that environmental ethicists and deep ecologists must recognize that nature is flawed.

  • However, since they tend to lionize nature, Easterbrook thinks that they are confounded by the question of whether it is bad to be killed, and they have “trouble coming to grips with the practical flaws in nature.”

Damage from earthquakes in Japan


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NATURE’S POLLUTION

  • Easterbrook: “Nature makes pollutants, poisons, and suffering on a scale so far unapproached by men and women except during periods of warfare.”

  • “Though Ronald Reagan was wrong to say that trees cause more pollution than cars . . . Natural processes, mainly the photochemistry of tree leaves, place into the air volumes of volatile organic chemicals, the same class of substances that evaporate from petroleum and help form smog.”

  • “Nature generates toxins, venoms, carcinogens, and other objectionable substances in far larger quantities than do people, even considering the daunting output of man’s petrochemical complexes.”


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NATURAL DISASTERS

  • Easterbrook says that natural disasters cause more deaths per year “by a substantial margin” than do industrial accidents.

  • “On average natural badness kills 55,786 people per year worldwide, while industrial accidents kill 356 people annually.”

Hurricane seen from above

Hurricane damage in U. S. Virgin Islands


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DISEASE AND HUMAN KILLING

  • Easterbrook points out that disease kills many more people than wars.

  • World War 1 (the Great War, the War to End All Wars), which lasted from 1914-1918, resulted in 9,720,453 military deaths and 8,871, 248 civilian deaths, for a total of 18,591,701 deaths. “The global influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1919 killed an estimated 25 million.”

  • Although the flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919 killed far more people than all human environment abuses combined through the course of history . . . in environmental orthodoxy people are fallen and evil; nature is uplifted and beneficent.”


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DISEASE AND HUMAN LIFE

  • While Easterbrook thinks that it is legitimate to wonder “whether diseases evolved to perform an ecological role of which genus Homo is not yet aware,” he thinks that it is more likely that “diseases are simply flaws in the natural system.”

  • “The best evidence of the fault character of disease is that nature has devoted incredible energies to the mounting of defenses: immune systems, predators to the insects that transmit disease, disease-resisting life cycles.”


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DISEASE, MAN, AND NATURE

  • “Dubos thought that the fight against disease would be the first important place where humankind could repair a rend in the fabric of the natural world.”

  • As part of nature, human medical researchers would be part of nature’s ongoing self-improvement.

  • This would constitute tampering with “the natural world toward constructive ends,” and would be preferable to doing nothing.


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NATURE, VALUES, AND MORALITY I

  • “Nature may have values, which can be inherent and self-evident; but nature lacks morals, which are artificial systems requiring forethought.”

Tundra in fall in California's Kings Canyon National Park


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NATURE, VALUES, AND MORALITY II

  • “The tiger does not recognize such concepts as right and wrong; it kills by rote, feeling no compunction as it ends the life of an antelope.”

  • “Men and women have, at least, developed the spark of conscience that holds that such behavior is wrong.”


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NATURE, VALUES, AND MORALITY III

  • “Morality has only been under development for a few thousand years” – which is nothing in the history of man, the earth, or the cosmos.

  • Easterbrook intimates that man’s development of morality may allow him to interfere with nature in ways that are constructive.

  • This is because our sense of right and wrong should dictate that we do what we can to improve nature, such as eliminating disease.

U. S. Supreme Court


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TECHNOLOGY, MORALITY, AND KILLING I

  • Easterbrook thinks that technology may give humans “the possibility of existing without killing, by rote or otherwise.”

  • “Today we slaughter animals for food and our fellows for distressingly trivial reasons.”

  • Given our intelligence we should be able to think our way out of both “reliance on other species for nutrients and materials (with a technical solution) and of persecution of humans for our own gain (with a moral solution.)”

Carcass of Beef, Rembrandt, 1657


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TECHNOLOGY, MORALITY, AND KILLING II

  • Easterbrook: “today even the most morally conscious human beings swallow foods whose production requires that animals experience brief, miserable lives in confinement and then die horribly in abattoirs.”

Still life by Chaim Soutine


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TECHNOLOGY, MORALITY, AND KILLING III

  • Easterbrook thinks that it would be a step in the right moral direction to get humans out of the killing cycle, and we might be able to do that “if biological nutrients (and biological materials, such as leather) could be made without any involvement of animals.”

Still Life with Lemons, Soutine


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KILLING OUR OWN

  • Easterbrook: “No Earth creature save the human being methodically preys on its own.”

  • “Some species fight over mates, but rarely to the death.”

  • “Technology might someday help human beings escape the cycle of killing one another,” as technology may allow us to escape killing animals for food.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London,

During the Battle of Britain, World War II


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KILLING AND DNA I

  • Easterbrook: “So far as is known, animal behavior patterns – instinct – emanate from DNA. This suggests animals carry in their genes some code that enjoins them from attacking their like.”


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KILLING AND DNA II

  • “Given that a goal of natural selection is to increase the survival prospects of genes related to the ones you carry, a DNA instruction that forbids attack against members of your own species – your genetic peer group – would be logical.”


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KILLING AND DNA III

  • Easterbrook says that, perhaps due to a flaw of nature, humans did not get the genetic code that would prevent man from killing man.

  • But perhaps, through genetic engineering, we could produce future humans that would be kind and peaceful, not violent and warlike.


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PEACE AND GENETIC ENGINEERING I

  • Easterbrook says that, whereas we need to be careful about genetic engineering because “many things could go wrong,” perhaps a pacific genetic code – as from “the mild-mannered, vegetarian mountain gorilla of Africa – “could be isolated from some other animal and inserted into the human germ line through genetic engineering.”

Vegetarian mountain gorilla in Rwanda


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PEACE AND GENETIC ENGINEERING II

  • Easterbrook: “if there is an identifiable DNA sequence in animals that confers on them an instinct not to kill their own, and that sequence can be transferred to people, imagine the moral new age that might dawn.”


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