We think of ourselves as professionals who are aware of environmental problems and work hard to solve them, but we pay little heed to what we do, buy, and consume…I know excellent biologists who spend much of their professional lives condemning unsustainable fisheries or reporting high levels of toxic contaminants in marine megafauna, yet when eating at a restaurant they order swordfish or tuna from overfished and declining stocks. At this point their study subjects cease being endangered wildlife and become food…
The immense, complex, and global problems of our times will not disappear by the time all the members of our conservation elite have abandoned their unsustainable habits. Yet, only then will there be convincing evidence that responsible individual behavior can spring from science-based understanding of cause–effect relationships and only then will there be any hope that, beyond theory and preaching, the inspired and knowledgeable choices of a few visionaries may affect a larger community in a growing spiral of understanding.
And now Naess’ 7 tenets of deep ecology (adopted by Earth First! among others):
- The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
- Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
- Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.
- The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
- Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
- Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
- The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
- Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
Compare these two (especially Naess) with the current ecosystem services “movement” (if policies supported pretty much top-down by NGOs with billion dollar endowments can be called a movement). As with any contentious issue, this obviously comes down to an ideological vs. pragmatic debate. The ecosystem service argument seems to work a lot better in our capital-driven world: people need to put numbers to things in order to value them. There is no intrinsic value in capitalism. But I also have to believe that people in my field are, at heart, Deep Ecologists (and I don’t mean just, like, really effective at estimating alpha in the Lotka-Volterra model): that is, they subscribe to most of the first 7 tenets, and believe they are adhering to #8. It’s hard to live like that, though. As an ideologue. As somebody once said, “the question we ask today is not whether our [ecology] is too big or too small, but whether it works.”
I think we (I?) have to come to grips with the fact that the world’s human population is not about to change wholecloth into deep ecologists. Especially the ones whom we’re supposed to want to “decrease”! So, then, we must take what is really important from that philosophy, identify the goals inherent in the tenets, and work towards them instead. The ecosystem services crowd have effectively identified the weakest part of the philosophy (that diversity has intrinsic value) and flipped it to say that, not only is diversity important to human survival, it is, in fact, vital. Similarly, I think a lot of Deep Ecologists need to take that next step: that consumption is not inherently bad (an intrinsic cost?), but that our current methods of consumption are. And we should fight the methods, not the root, instead.