Green WorldChildren of the Baltic
WHAT IS DEEP ECOLOGY?
ACTION SPIRITUALITY FEELINGS IDEAS
The central idea of Deep Ecology is that we are part of the earth, rather
than apart and separate from it.
This idea is in contrast to the dominant individualism of our culture,
where seeing ourselves as separate from our world makes it easier not to be
bothered by what's happening in it.
This century, two key ideas have emerged out of scientific thinking that
support the view of ourselves as part of the earth. The first idea comes
from Systems Theory and the second idea is called The Gaia Hypothesis.
Systems Theory sees our world is terms of 'systems', where each system is a
'whole' that is more than the sum of its parts, but also itself a 'part' of
larger systems. For examplae, a cell is more than just a pile of molecules
and itself is a part of larger systems eg. an organ. An organ is on one
level a whole in itself, but on another, it is a part of a system at the
level of an individual person. A family and a community can both be seen as
'systems' where the 'parts' are people
The Gaia Hypothesis takes this idea further and applies it to the whole
planet. All of life on earth can be seen as whole that is more than the sum
of its parts, this whole being like a huge super-lifeform that we call
'Gaia' (after the name for the ancient Greek goddess of the earth). Living
systems have a tendency to keep themselves in balance but also to adapt and
evolve over time. Scientists have found that the earth also has these
tendencies, with feedback mechanisms to 'keep in balance' the temperature
and oxygen levels of the atmosphere, just as our bodies maintain the
temperature and oxygen levels in our arteries.
The Gaia Hypothesis is stating that the earth is alive and that we are part
of it. This is something that many cultures have known for centuries.
"We are part of the earth and it is part of us"
Chief Seattle, North
Facing the scale of social and ecological crisis in our world can leave us
feeling numbed, overwhelmed and powerless. Yet there is often little place
for such feelings in conventional politics or in our society at large. The
dominant response is to deny or distract ourselves from any uncomfortable
feelings about the state of the world, and to carry on with 'business as
If we see ourselves as part of the world, it becomes possible to see that
such uncomfortable feelings may serve a valuable function. Just as it hurts
when we put our finger over a flame, 'pain for the world' alerts us to the
injuries of our world and can move us to respond. Allowing ourselves to
feel for our world also opens us to a source of energy and aliveness, and a
strength that comes from connection to something more than just our narrow
Spirituality is to do with our inner sense of connection with something
larger than ourselves and with our relationship with what we see as sacred.
This can give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose beyond material
success and those special moments where we feel that connection more deeply
can provide an important source of strength in difficult times.
If we see ourselves as part of the 'Tree of Life' - the interconnected web
of beings we call Gaia, then a Deep Ecological approach to spirituality
might emphasise our relationship with this larger whole. We may look at
life itself as being sacred, and see the possibility of the larger force of
life acting through us in our work for earth recovery. This 'life-centred
spirituality' can be an important source of inspiration to face and respond
to the problems of our world.
When we integrate our beliefs, ideas and values into our behaviour, we
bring them alive and give them the power to influence our world.If we see
ourselves as separate from the world, it is easy to dismiss our actions as
irrelevant or unlikely to make any difference. Yet from the Deep Ecology
perspective, we are part of the world and every choice we make will have
ripples that extend beyond us. What may seem tiny and insignificant by
itself always adds to a larger context, so that every time we act for life,
we put our weight behind the shift towards a life-sustaining culture.
What is DEEP ECOLOGY?
Deep Ecology is a holistic approach to facing world problems that brings
together thinking, feeling, spirituality and action. It involves moving
beyond the individualism of Western culture towards also seeing ourselves
as part of the earth. This leads to a deeper connection with life, where
Ecology is not just seen as something 'out there', but something we are
part of and have a role to play in.
Two Approaches to Ecology
In this approach, the relationship is more of an involved participant, who
feels connected with and part of the world around them. This is for
everybody, not just experts, each being moved by our values, experiences
and feelings to do our bit for the world around us.
- Scientific Ecology - the study of the inter-relationshipsbetween
species and their environment.In this approach, the relationship is of a detached observer separate from
the object of study. The focus is on measurable data 'out there', collected
by experts who know their 'facts and figures'.
- Deep Ecology - Experiencing ourselves as part of the living earth and
finding our role in protecting the planet.
The term 'Deep Ecology' was first introduced by
the Norwegian activist and
philosopher Arne Naess in the early 1970's, when stressing the need to move
beyond superficial responses to the social and ecological problems we face.
He proposed that we ask 'deeper questions', looking at the 'why and how' of
the way we live and seeing how this fits with our deeper beliefs, needs and
values. Asking questions like "How can I live in a way that is good for me,
other people and our planet?" may lead us to make deep changes in the way
Deep Ecology can also be seen as part of a much wider process of
questioning of basic assumptions in our society that is leading to a new
way of looking at science, politics, healthcare, education, spirituality
and many other areas. Because this change in the way we see things is so
wide ranging, it has been called a new 'worldview'. It tends to emphasise
the relationships between different areas, bringing together personal and
social change, science and spirituality, economics and ecology. Deep
Ecology applies this new worldview to our relationship with the earth. In
doing this, it challenges deep-seated assumptions about the way we see
ourselves, moving from just seeing ourselves as 'individuals' towards also
seeing ourselves as part of the earth. This can increase both our sense of
belonging in life and our tendency to act for life.
What happens in Deep Ecology Workshops?
Deep Ecology workshops bring people together with the intention to heal our
relationship with the earth. They provide an opportunity to explore our
emotional responses to world problems and may offer 'despair and
empowerment' methods to use the energy of these emotional responses in our
work for earth recovery. The workshops introduce the Deep Ecology approach,
working with ideas, feelings, spirituality and personal action planning. We
also sometimes dance, sing, drum, meditate, use communication exercises,
offer nature connecting experiences and non-dogmatically explore the role
These workshops have been strongly influenced by the work of
Joanna Macy, John Seed and others. They aim to deepen our sense of
connection with life and strengthen our ability to respond to world
- The Institute for Deep Ecology Education (UK)
c/o 36 Broomfield Lane, Palmers Green, London N134HHThe,
Author CHRIS JOHNSTONE U.K.100676.624@CompuServe.COM
- Institute for Deep Ecology, P.O. Box 1050, Occidental.
CA 95465, USA. e-mail: email@example.com