What is the difference between deep(TM) and shallow(TM) ecology
The rights of animals have the same moral status as humans, and nature is an ethical community where human beings are ‘plain citizens’20; anything else is ‘specieism’21. In 2001, in North America and Europe alone, approximately 17 billion land animals were raised and killed for their meat. Most lived and died in conditions we as humans would consider to be ‘morally repugnant’, but this is justified as the majority of human beings believe that animals do not have an equal standing or moral consideration22. As Peter Singer explains, “we cannot know what (animals) are feeling, but then nor can we know with other people”23.
Just because other human beings exist in the same conditions as ourselves does not mean we can assess the difference in levels of pain between themselves and us, or between us and animals. Shallow ecology, on the other hand, accepts many of the lessons of ecology but exists to harness them to human needs and ends. The natural world will provide for us in years to come should we nurture it now. On the other hand, the social organisation of many societies has been created upon the exploitation of the natural world, and thus has become almost acceptable24.
Some radically shallow ecologists, however, go as far as to suggest that nothing should be left in its original or natural condition, as such non-use would be a waste, and wastage of resources should be eliminated. This view regards the non-human world in use value terms25. The difference in these two ecological views can be seen in that while shallow ecologists may claim the value of a tropical rainforest in that it provides oxygen for human beings, or that it stops landslides, deep ecologists would insist that they are an imperative part of our natural world26.
Deep and shallow ecologism can be seen by human beings in many ways and do indeed have similarities, one being in their care for the environment, although “by different means and to different ends”27. Some still consider the theories of ecologism and environmentalism as an ‘urban fad’ or ‘post-industrial romanticism’28. It is difficult, however, to change decades of preconceived ideas about a number of these issues. Human selfishness often allows us not to care about the damage we are currently inflicting, in the instance that it will not affect the natural world within our lifetime.
Radical ecologists believe that many human beings disagree with this view but possess feelings of individual helplessness, which they hope to instil instead with the feeling of ability to make changes. Shallow ecology ties in with idealism in that it is now culturally required to show some concern for environmental issues, if only for self-survival means29. Recycling, littering and organic foods are all contemporary examples of this, and ones which make obvious the fact that human beings can change their ways but often only to an extent which does not dramatically affect the way they live their lives.
Spirituality operates often as a key theme within notions of ecology, notably towards deep ecological theories as many spiritual writings emphasise on the ‘oneness’ of nature30. Primitive religions often found no differences between human beings and other life forms or the living and non-living31. Modern societal views can hence be attributed to the decline in closeness to nature. In more contemporary spiritual notions, Mother Earth, or the Gaia theory, suggests that the health of the planet matters far more than any individual species living upon it32, which is an inherently ‘deep’ idea.
Traditional Western and somewhat ‘shallow’ views are reflected in religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam33, whereas theories of equality among species belong more towards Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism34. A number of problems are apparent in all streams of ecology, although some apply specifically to the different groups themselves. Primarily, there is somewhat of an environmental disaster, as economic growth has disturbed the ‘balance of nature’35 and endangered the very ecosystem which makes human life possible.
In relation to change, the only kind of society that could withhold necessary changes would be that of a sustainable society, the only type that would allow ecosystems to rebuild themselves, and one which involved an equal balance between human beings and the natural environment36. Unfortunately, according to ‘deep’ ecological views, we should be discouraging human beings from attempting to maximise ownership of material objects, despite the fact that this is a prime goal in life for most.
There has been a shift from living equally with other life forms, to endangering them, to current day rendering a number of them extinct, and it is hard to reverse this kind of damage. The modern world is experiencing an environmental global crisis, which is a result of previous patterns and a challenge for the future. Future prospects of the environmental crisis can be anything from reduced levels of male fertility due to pollution, to climate change and the further erosion of animal and plant species37.
Therefore, the connotations involved in that “radical ecology is the cutting edge of social ecology” are that of drastic measures for the good of society and the natural world together. The population crisis can be seen by both ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ ecologists, however it is often seen in different lights. ‘Deep’ ecologists often consider this population crisis as the source of almost all ecological problems, whereas shallow ecologists see it as a factor in deteriorating the quality of life for future generations38. Already methods are in place to counter it, such as the ‘one child’ policy in China.
However, it could be considered by many, radical ecologists in particular, that if in societies across the world it comes to this kind of necessary extreme, it may perhaps be too late to save both humankind and the surrounding environment alike. In relation to location, many countries have significantly larger amounts of valuable resources than others, and difficulties arise in whether to keep these private or whether there are obligations to share them with the rest of the human population in an equal, deeply ecological way39.
Also, many societies, particularly Westernized ones unused to a deep ecological form of thinking, are unable to argue environmental concerns for purely non-human related causes, although they might think they are doing just that40. As shown throughout the areas of economic growth, viewpoints on the relationship between animals and humans, and the problems and public faces of deep and shallow ecologies, there is a clear distinction between these ideologies.
Peter Bunyard declared that “what is missing is any sense of a more impartial, biocentric view in which the nonhuman world is considered to be of intrinsic value”41, and only through incorporating aspects of both deep and shallow forms of ecology can such a view ever be achieved.
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Politics and the environment : from theory to practice. Routledge, London, New York. Dobson, Andrew, 2000. Green political thought. 3rd edn, Routledge, London; New York. Eckersley, Robyn, 1992. Environmentalism and political theory : toward an ecocentric approach. State University of New York Press, Albany. Heywood, Andrew, 2007. Political ideologies : an introduction. 4th edn, Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Heywood, Andrew, 2004. Political theory : an introduction. 3rd edn, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.Lovelock, J. E. , 1987. Gaia : a new look at life on earth. Oxford University Press, Oxford.