“Deep Ecology” Platform Is Drafted

The first “deep ecology” platform was an important step in the development of radical environmentalism, environmental ethics, and green philosophy.

Summary of Event

During a camping trip in the Utah desert in 1984, Arne Naess and George Sessions discussed the principles of “deep ecology.” They decided to draft a platform, a specific list of deep ecology tenets, in order to speed development of the deep ecology movement. The original platform, which first appeared in a 1985 book coauthored by Sessions and Bill Devall, consisted of eight principles extolling the intrinsic value of nonhuman life and asserting the need to protect the nonhuman world from humankind. The principles of deep ecology have been the subject of intense discussion and criticism, and these principles have evolved periodically as activists have revised them to fit their needs. Deep ecology
Environmental awareness;deep ecology
Green philosophy
[kw]”Deep Ecology” Platform Is Drafted (1984)
[kw]Platform Is Drafted, “Deep Ecology” (1984)
Deep ecology
Environmental awareness;deep ecology
Green philosophy
[g]North America;1984: “Deep Ecology” Platform Is Drafted[05330]
[g]United States;1984: “Deep Ecology” Platform Is Drafted[05330]
[c]Environmental issues;1984: “Deep Ecology” Platform Is Drafted[05330]
[c]Philosophy;1984: “Deep Ecology” Platform Is Drafted[05330]
Naess, Arne
Sessions, George
Kelly, Petra
Foreman, Dave
Devall, Bill

The term “deep ecology” signifies a dual phenomenon, both a somewhat coherent philosophy and a loosely networked grassroots direct-action wing of the global environmental movement. Naess coined the term “deep ecology” in his paper “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement,” “Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement, The” (Naess)[Shallow and the Deep, Long Range Ecology] first published in the journal Inquiry in 1973. He followed that initial work with a number of other writings throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. Naess an important logician, a highly critical philosopher of science, and an insightful interpreter of the thought of Mahatma Gandhi built his deep ecology theorizing on the tradition of seventeenth century philosopher Baruch Spinoza and on the aesthetic preservation strand of twentieth century American environmentalism represented by John Muir. Muir, John The idea behind the platform was to bring together the philosophy and the movement.

The tree of environmentalism produced the branch of deep ecology for numerous reasons, including three that were political in nature. First, activists were tired of the compromises of mainstream reform environmentalism, which Naess called “shallow ecology.” Shallow ecology Mainstream environmentalist organizations include such groups as the Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National Wildlife Federation. Dave Foreman, one of the founders of Earth First!, Earth First! the most famous of deep ecology action groups, was a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and field-office director for the mainstream group the Wilderness Society Wilderness Society during the 1970’s. It was Foreman’s view that the Wilderness Society was increasingly willing to compromise the loss of pristine public lands in the American West to private resource extractors in return for continued “credibility” among policy makers in the nation’s capital.

Foreman and his colleagues in Earth First! adopted the slogan “No compromise in the defense of Mother Earth” and shrugged off any concern for cooperative relations with the authorities. Earth First! developed into the leading radical environmentalist group in the United States, scorned by some and celebrated by others. Earth First! members’ willingness to engage in nonviolent direct action (civil disobedience) and “monkeywrenching” Monkeywrenching (ecological sabotage) Ecological sabotage on behalf of wilderness and biodiversity caused a storm of controversy. Some observers claimed that Earth First! broke its pledge of nonviolence when its activists and others inspired by the organization “spiked” trees in California and the Pacific Northwest during the 1980’s. Tree spiking Spiking involves driving a large nail into a tree slated for cutting in order to dissuade a chain saw-wielding logger from bringing it down and, should that fail, to keep a lumber mill from processing it. Monkeywrenchers publicly announce the presence of their spikes to deter any attempt at logging a spiked forest.

The second reason deep ecology arose was that some activists experienced more acutely than most the fear and frustration engendered by President Ronald Reagan’s Reagan, Ronald
[p]Reagan, Ronald;environmental policy administration in many environmentalists in the United States. Reagan had appointed virulently antienvironmentalist individuals to key positions in federal agencies concerned with natural resources and the environment, including James G. Watt Watt, James G. as secretary of the interior and Anne Gorsuch Burford Burford, Anne Gorsuch as a highly placed official of the Environmental Protection Agency. These appointees were guided by a free market philosophy that aimed to “get government off the backs of business.” Attempts were made, with varying success, to weaken pollution-abatement statutes, to speed extraction of resources from public lands, and to minimize regulation of industry’s drive for profits.

Third, despite the considerable legacy of environmental legislation from the 1970’s, deep ecologists believed that pollution control laws and attempts to mitigate the harshest consequences of economic growth did not go far enough. They claimed that ecosystem integrity, biodiversity, and the health of the planet were continuing to suffer. Only radical action aimed at realizing the principles of the platform would, according to deep ecology activists, stem the slide of Earth toward ultimate doom.


Although they have grown less controversial over time, the tenets of deep ecology still give rise to thorny problems concerning the definition of terms and the implementation of policies based on these terms. What are “human needs”? How is society to reduce population? Despite these difficulties, it became clear by the mid-1990’s that deep ecological thinking and action had made a considerable impact across the spectrum of environmental philosophy, policy, and activism. Analysis of deep ecology’s impact may proceed from a conceptual division of theory and practice. Deep ecology enriched “green” political theory and philosophy primarily in the field of environmental ethics. Deep ecology influenced environmental practice through its tendency to radicalize and to shatter complacency.

Deep ecology has had an immense effect on green philosophy. This is so mainly because of deep ecology’s claims about the inherent worth of nonhuman life and because of the centrality of biological diversity in the platform. Aldo Leopold Leopold, Aldo first put forward his “land ethic” in A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There (1949); Sand County Almanac, A (Leopold) Leopold’s recommendation that humans behave ethically toward other living things that humans should “think like a mountain” had an enormous impact on ecological thinking and helped form an important root of Naess and Sessions’s central principle of intrinsic value. Although the field of environmental ethics did not institutionalize until the last quarter of the twentieth century, it came to constitute one of the most vibrant fields of philosophy. The same can be said for the subfield of green political theory in relation to political theory, a field of political science.

Green political thinkers wondered about such things as the connection between new concepts of sustainability and ancient concepts of democracy and community. Several green political thinkers suggested that it is only through ecocentrism or biocentrism that the ancient goals the philosophical Golden Fleece might finally be attained. “Biocentrism” is the name given to the relatively new perspective, consonant with deep ecology, that views humanity as part of a seamless web of life, as an integral element of ecosystems. It stands in opposition to anthropocentrism, the ancient perspective from which human beings are seen as superior to and above other living creatures. In the anthopocentric view, humans have “dominion” over nature; nature exists for the sole use of and exploitation by people.

Principles 2, 3, and 5 of the deep ecology platform directly concern the protection of biological diversity. Policy makers and publics may have been concerned about biodiversity and deforestation before the advent of the deep ecology movement, but these issues took giant leaps up their agendas as a result of deep ecological mobilization. This concern took the form of new approaches to the conservation of biodiversity, the development of a new field of science, and militant tactics on behalf of threatened ecosystems. Ecologists realized that attempts to save individual endangered species must also include efforts to save the habitats of these species; for example, the northern spotted owl cannot be saved unless the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest in which it lives are also saved.

The field of conservation biology arose during the 1980’s in opposition to the standard practice of other life sciences. Tired of merely chronicling the decline of species, conservation biologists focused on action to restore threatened species and damaged ecosystems. Environmentalists empowered by the ideas of deep ecology proved to be the most radical in their tactics and strategies. Other environmentalists were moderate in comparison, perhaps causing authorities to compromise to a moderate degree to avoid confrontation with radicals advocating extreme change. The practices of groups such as Earth First! stimulated widespread and healthy debate among activists about strategies, goals, and tactics, and radicalized more people than any other stream of American environmentalism.

Deep ecology stimulated the development of political parties throughout the industrialized world. Deep ecology is one of the primary philosophical influences on the fundamentalist wing of the green movement. The fundamentalists eschew cooperation with other political parties or government institutions and are in frequent conflict with their more accommodating brethren, known as the realists. By the mid-1990’s, the realists had the upper hand and control of the Green Party in Germany, the country with the most developed green political movement. Elsewhere, too, the realists were in ascendancy.

Deep ecology also stimulated bioregionalism, the branch of environmentalism that asserts that human beings are inseparable from specific networks of biological, geological, and hydrological systems bioregions and that humans must live in harmony within their bioregions. Bioregionalists recommend the restoration of damaged ecosystems and the reformation of political and economic institutions for the purpose of sustaining society within the boundaries of each region. Bioregionalists argue that a return to direct land- and water-based living, a devolution that would take several generations, could afford humankind an opportunity to fashion the steady-state economies and grassroots political arrangements necessary for long-term human survival.

Deep ecological thought and practice assert the intrinsic worth of all living beings and lobby for biological and cultural diversity, for a drastically reduced human population, for change in human understanding and interaction with the biosphere, and for nonviolent action to realize these points. Naess and Sessions’s work thus inaugurated the most important philosophical and practical streams in environmentalism at the end of the twentieth century. Deep ecology
Environmental awareness;deep ecology
Green philosophy

Further Reading

  • Best, Steven, and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth. Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2006. Collection of essays by a wide range of contributors addresses various aspects of the radical environmental movement. Coedited by a member of Earth First!
  • Bookchin, Murray. Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman. Edited by Steve Chase. Boston: South End Press, 1991. Classic volume, a major event in environmentalist publishing history, allows readers to compare the views of the main exponents of social ecology and deep ecology, two leading contenders for ideological hegemony within North American environmentalism. Foreman later claimed to have modified his views slightly as a consequence of the encounter; Bookchin saw no such need.
  • Devall, Bill. Simple in Means, Rich in Ends: Practicing Deep Ecology. Salt Lake City, Utah: Peregrine Smith, 1988. One of the best primers on deep ecology in practice. A veritable how-to manual for the serious deep ecologist.
  • Foreman, Dave. Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Crown, 1991. Memoir of the controversial founder of Earth First! serves as a forum for Foreman to respond to his many critics and propound his views on deep ecology, monkeywrenching, mainstream environmentalism, biodiversity, and wilderness.
  • Fox, Warwick. Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism. 1990. Reprint. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Among the central contributions to deep ecological philosophy by one of deep ecology’s strongest defenders and interpreters.
  • Manes, Christopher. Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990. Early treatment of radical environmentalism in the United States. Manes counts himself among the radicals and seeks to defend them against their detractors.
  • Rothenberg, David. Is It Painful to Think? Conversations with Arne Naess. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Presents a thought-provoking dialogue between Rothenberg and Naess on a wide range of issues directly relevant to deep ecological philosophy.
  • Scarce, Rik. Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement. Updated ed. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Left Coast Press, 2006. Updated edition of one of the first surveys of radical American environmentalism. Presents a sympathetic and penetrating account.
  • Seed, John, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming, and Arne Naess. Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings. Santa Cruz, Calif.: New Society, 1988. Inspiring book in which the authors extend Aldo Leopold’s ideas about a “land ethic.” An important work in the growing field of green philosophy.
  • Taylor, Bron Raymond, ed. Ecological Resistance Movements: The Global Emergence of Radical and Popular Environmentalism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Excellent collection presents empirical accounts of various grassroots environmentalisms from all over the world. Includes chapters on Earth First! and deep ecology.

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