What is Deep Ecology?

Deep Ecology is a term coined almost by accident by Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess in 1973 in his seminal paper “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement, A Summary” 1

In that essay Naess distinguishes “shallow” ecology, typical of some aspects of ecological science (for example the “ecosystem services” concept), as an anthropocentric view that gives only instrumental value to nature, from a “deep” ecology, that recognizes the intrinsic worth of all living beings and regards humans as but one of many strands in the tapestry of life. He often summarizes this holistic ethic as “biospheric(al) egalitarianism.”

Later, Næss preferred to employ the term “ecosophy” over “deep ecology,” the latter of which was sometimes faulted for being overly vague; more specifically, for “lacking a coherent theory or advocating an effective practice.” 2.

In truth however, Naess and others went on to not only call for such methods, but also to actively develop and practice them. In their book “Thinking Like a Mountain3 John Seed, Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming, and Arne Naess call specifically for a body of group therapeutic process aimed at healing the perceived rift between humans and nature. The flow of group process described therein culminated in a “Council of All Beings”, by which name the whole process also came to be known.

In later years, the group processes, as facilitated by John Seed especially, came to be known in Australia simply as “deep ecology”. In parallel, and informed by her “grief and empowerment” work with activists facing the threat of nuclear holocaust, Joanna Macy and others continued to develop the work also. Introduced in her books “World as Lover, World as Self” and “Coming back to Life” this work gave rise to a branch of group process now referred to as “The Work That Reconnects”.

To distinguish between these differing and complementary dimensions of the work, we can refer therefore to the philosophy underpinning it as “Ecosophy” or perhaps better, as “Ecophilosophy”. In this website we refer to the group processes in the style favoured by John Seed as “Deep Ecology”, as distinct from Joanna Macy’s “The Work That Reconnects”. It is nonetheless important to recognise that these are simply strands of the same web, and individual practitioners and facilitators will often be inspired and informed by all of the above, as well as many other influences.

In the book: thinking like a mountain, Joanna Macy and Pat Fleming offered the following in their introduction to guidelines for such “deep ecology” process:

“Naess also calls for a form of community therapy or experiential process by which we can genuinely appropriate the perspective and values of deep ecology, and develop an ecological sense of the self. The group process called the “Council of All Beings” is intended to do precisely that…

There is nothing esoteric about conducting this form of group work. It is a natural and easy way to help people expand and express their awareness of the ecological trouble we are in, and to deepen their motivation to act. The primary aim of the Council and its workshop is perhaps just this: to enhance human commitment and resources for preserving life upon our planet home.” 4

Joanna Macy and Pat Fleming -from “Thinking like a Mountain, Towards a Council of All Beings”
Article contributed by: Tenzin -April 2022

Further reading

Read more about Arne Naess

Read more about Joanna Macy

Read more about John Seed

This useful article examines some of the history and background of the movement, as well as some criticisms it has received over the years: https://www.treehugger.com/what-is-deep-ecology-philosophy-principles-and-criticism-5191550


1 Naess, Arne (1973) “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement, A Summary” Inquiry 16.

2: Ireton, Sean https://www.europenowjournal.org/2021/11/07/self-realization-beyond-the-human-arne-naess-and-norwegian-deep-ecolog

3: Seed, John. Macy, Joanna. Fleming, Pat, Naess, Arne, 1988 “Thinking Like a Mountain”

4: Macy, Joanna and Fleming. Pat, (1988) in: “Thinking like a Mountain, Towards a Council of All Beings”