Deep Ecology arose in the 1970s and 80s in the developed West. Ideologically it reflects the alienation between people and nature engendered under capitalism. However, it is limited in scope to a First World population which has been historically embourgeoisfied via colonial and neo-colonial rent. Thus, it is equally limited as a revolutionary ideology capable of advancing history progressively forward. That is to say, it is insufficient both as an analytic tool for understanding the current world and as a practical methodology for intervening in world history
While the actual history of the development of deep ecology is one thing entirely, the leading embourgeoisified element within deep ecology is evident in its platform, published in 1984 by Arne Naess and George Sessions:
The Deep Ecology Platform
1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth, intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
4. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
5. 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.
6. Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.
—Arne Naess and George Sessions (1984)
For the purpose of clarifying the differences between Deep Ecology and a revolutionary Marxism, it is worth offering an examination of each point individually.
1) In its first point, the deep ecology platform defines a ‘intrinsic value’ to the well-being and flourishing of various forms of life. What this intrinsic value is based on is left unspoken, but it is simply put that it is not based on the usefulness to people.
At once, this point commits a number of errors.
First, it ideologically accepts the divorcement between nature and humanity by denying the only value they could have for each other, that of co-dependency of co-evolution.
Second, it denies the division of humanity, positing the current substance of ‘human purposes’ as humanity’s at large. This is done without noting the existing of specific ruling and ruled classes situated in a particular historical context.
Lastly, deep ecology defines an ahistorical ‘value’ to all lifeforms which is divorced from actual reality. What value does the life of a slave in the antebellum South, a factory worker in Bangladesh, or a drone strike victim in Yemen have? The answer by deep ecologists is no doubt a series of moral platitudes, which are certainly better than the ‘nuke ‘em all and let God sort them out’ outlook of some First Worlders. Yet such an outlook is liberal and fails to explain – let alone offer a solution to – the systemic abuse (and sometimes annihilation) of humans and other life-forms in the modern world.
2) The second premise is an extension of the first premise, positing that richness and diversity of life, irrespective of human utility, is a value unto itself.
Again, this is a value statement, not an explanatory statement on the current state of affairs or part of a counter-hegemonic strategy.
Though the background intent of the premise (i.e., a response to wholesale alienation from nature) is understandable, it is tantamount to acquiescing to a reification of a non-human world which is somehow separate from the human world. In reality, both are intimately related. Yet the premise that ‘richness of lifeforms is a value independent from human usefulness’ ultimately accepts the existence of a necessary division between ecological health and economic activity which is especially apparent under imperialism.
3) The third point is especially reveals deep ecology’s basic ignorance about capitalism and class divisions in the modern world. ‘Vital need’ is a fairly subjective term. Destroying the planet is vital for maintaining the rule of the imperialist bourgeoisie and its lackeys.
4) The fourth point of the deep ecology platform, while recognizing that ‘human interference in the non-human world is worsening,’ also fails to locate the cause in the present mode of production.
5) The fifth point, calling for a reduction of the human population, is particularly stark, especially considering its vagueness. It begs the question, which populations should be reduced, and how?
It is possible that some deep ecologist believe the world’s richest 20% should be eradicated (which would solve a lot of short-term environmental problems related to consumption and waste). Yet this is doubtful because deep ecology is largely a movement of people who are themselves part of that rich 20%.
Given deep ecologists’ overall lack of power, it begs the question of how to implement a program of population reduction. Withholding medicine? Denying food to the poor? Supporting inevitable imperialist wars? In this point, deep ecology, despite its professed support for the ‘flourishing of human life,’ borders on being anti-people and raises dangerous potential implications.
6) The sixth point states that ‘policies must be changed.’
For anyone concerned about the environment, this is a big no-brainer. It further states such policy changes must “affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures” and that the “resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.” This again begs the question, how?
7) The seventh point, on the ideological change deemed necessary, raises the same question.
8) The eighth point implores adherents to ‘directly or indirectly’ further the cause of the systemic realization of the preceding points. It otherwise offers no direction or leadership on the matter. It seems both everything and nothing can be done to “directly or indirectly participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.”
All that is left is a rather shallow ideological and moral high-horse. And, while offering a philosophical high ground, deep ecology does not offer anything approximating a strategy or program to implement anything resembling its ideals.
In light of the substantial deficiencies of deep ecology from a Marxist perspective, it is appropriate to put forward an alternative platform which corrects many of the former’s mistakes:
Revolutionary Ecology Platform
1: The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life are intimately related. The flourishing of non-human life is generally of direct and indirect utility to humans, and vice versa.
2: Richness and diversity of non-human life can contribute to utility for humanity at large. Thus, it should be promoted as such.
3: Real wealth is utility or the ability to satisfy human wants and needs. The source of all wealth is two-fold: nature and human labor. It is in the long-term interest of a majority of humanity to steward biodiversity and ecological well-being (along with other elements of nature).
4: Alienation from and the subjugation of nature is in the vital interest of a small proportion of humanity: the ruling classes. Increasingly under capitalist-imperialism, less real wealth (i.e., human utility) is produced in proportion to overall economic activity and at greater cost to human and non-human life.
5: Ecologically unsustainable economic activity is inherent to capitalist-imperialism, whereby economic activity must expand even as much of it is tertiary and adds no real wealth in terms of the satisfying basic wants and needs. Abolishing such parasitic economic activity and reassigning it to restoring the natural element of wealth would aid in re-establishing the basic link between human and non-human life and provide for the flourishing of both.
6: The whole structure of society needs to be changed. Only revolution – the seizure of power away from one set of classes by another – can create the necessary conditions for such a transformation. Any such revolution, if it is to be successful, must advance the interests of the most exploited and oppressed sections of humanity, not merely the privileged subjects of neo-colonial imperialism.
7: A total ideological change of reconnection between human and non-human life will not fully take place until the basic structure of society (i.e. the mode of production) has been transformed into one of democratically producing long-term utility instead of profit. Nonetheless, the ideological sphere and subjective forces are a leading variable component where class struggle is carried out.
8: Those who adhere to the above points must get organized to make revolution possible.
Deep ecology is sometimes (though not always) well-intended and less reactionary than other prevalent First World-bound ideological perspectives. However, it is limited in its outlook and should be recognized by revolutionaries as such. In its place, Marxists must put forward alternative platforms and practicable solutions to reconcile a disunity between humanity and nature which is ever more acute under capitalist imperialism.