Environment, Ecology, or Deep Ecology?

By: Jim Virkler; ©2014

When the environmental movement originated in the 1960s and 1970s, a relatively new term entered our modern vocabulary. The term environment was well understood but ecology was comparatively new and unfamiliar. Most people understood damage to the environment but used the term ecology incorrectly. Ecology expresses broad scope interrelationships of living things and their physical surroundings. Ecology describes the existence of these relationships rather than the quality of the environment. It is correct to say certain practices cause environmental damage but incorrect to assert that certain practices are bad for the ecology.

The environmental movement birthed in the 1960s and 1970s generated societal outcomes far displaced from positively regarded attitudes toward a healthy environment. In brief, environmental advocacy has morphed into environmental activism. Environmental activism has spread to multiple and complex phenomena of our contemporary society. No longer do we restrict environmental advocacy to proper respect and care of our wild animals, plants and natural resources. Beyond this, many modern members of our society have acquired an agenda-driven “cause” mentality. Many categories of causes have become attached to the environmental movement in the last five decades. Since environmental advocacy has become environmental activism, we regard some causes with enthusiasm; other causes we regard with distrust because activism has become extremism.

The term ecology was an unfamiliar term in 1962 when Rachel Carson provided the impetus for the environmental movement. The movement brought with it the opportunity for broader understanding and appreciation of the environment and ecology. Many terms such as ecosystem, ecologist, biosphere, and diversity have spun off from the environmental movement beginning in the 1960s and have become popular since then. These are now part of the familiar modern lexicon. Many of these expressions received occasional mention as far back as the mid-nineteenth century.

We introduce a new and far less familiar term: Deep Ecology. Historical research on environmental advocacy may not reveal mention of the term or its significance in the current climate change media discussions which assault us at every turn. Personally, I am convinced that many important social issues of our day spring from a subconscious awareness, tacit approval, or even an endorsement of deep ecology even if the term is not explicitly named.

Norwegian environmental activist Arne Naess originated the term Deep Ecology in 1973. He claimed the inspiration for his philosophical, social, and political movement came partly from the inspiration of Rachel Carson and was a spinoff of the Gaia Theory, a theory which placed much emphasis on the earth as a self-regulating mechanism. Deep Ecology was a by-product of the green movement which advocates a radical view of humanity’s relationship with nature. It does not see humanity as unique. Rather, humanity is merely a thread in the fabric of life. Ecocentrism is right; anthropocentrism (man-centeredness) is wrong. The last statement suggests man, created in God’s image according to Biblical theology, should not enjoy a privileged position on the spectrum of earth’s residents.

Nobel prize winner Al Gore calls the society of modern man “a dysfunctional fossil fuel civilization.” Some analysts write that Gore crosses over into deep ecology metaphysics. Over the past five decades many environmental advocacy organizations have transitioned to environmental activism, even environmental extremism and radicalism. For example, The Sierra Club in its early years was primarily focused on appreciation of our natural beauty and its preservation. It has become activist in its energy policy advocacy and now supports only wind and solar power. The organization does not support use of oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, and biofuels. Only 2% of modern society’s energy production is considered “good” while 98% is “bad” according to this standard.

Studying the history of the environmental advocacy movement, we encounter many other surprising revelations. The Deep Ecology movement advocates significant reduction of the human population. By extension of that thinking we might posit that advocacy of wind and solar technologies to solve our society’s energy needs in place of fossil fuels necessitates a profound restructuring of our society if not an actual reduction in population. Europe’s green energy program is on the verge of collapse owing to its tilt away from traditional fossil fuels and toward renewables. In the United States restraints on fossil fuels result in significantly higher energy costs. Are not these policies anti-human, raising energy costs and the cost of living in an economy already besieged by high unemployment, falling incomes, and high living costs?

Modern environmentalists do not wish to be labelled “Deep Ecologists.” The thinking of many of today’s environmental activists who have captured the thinking of politicians formulating policies by which our country operates, however, are often philosophically akin to the principles governing Deep Ecology.

Since the onset of the environmental movement, many burdensome regulations have been enacted. We do not disparage necessary and appropriate environmental directives. However, some dictates elevate the importance of animal life at the expense of human life. The west coast northern spotted owl and the current delta smelt controversy on the California coast come to mind. Each regulation scenario triggers many questions. The wisdom of hundreds of government regulations cries out for study.

Consider the social changes accompanying the onset of the environmental movement. The controversial Vietnam War was about to wind down. Social ferment and the sexual revolution was upon us. The onset of the New Age Movement corresponded to the arrival of the environmental movement including its deference to animal life and its de-emphasis of the value of human life. In 1973 the US Supreme Court legalized abortion to our national shame: human life seemed less important than wildlife. In the face of 17 years of declining worldwide temperatures since 1998 we now struggle to approve oil drilling in the Arctic or construction of the Keystone pipeline, battle against the closure of coal fired generating plants, shutter many nuclear generating installations, and strive to overturn fracking restrictions in the recovery of our plentiful natural gas deposits. Many of our government policies work against expansion of use of fossil fuels in deference to nearly impossible renewable energy strategies. The economic welfare of our expanding population seems secondary.

Fossil fuel burning has recently been labelled a “polluter” of air because the burning of these fuels produces CO2, a colorless, odorless gas vital for life processes of plants. By this standard every animal, including humans, pollutes the atmosphere by exhaling CO2 in their respiration process each living moment. Robert M. Carter, professor of Environmental and Earth Sciences at James Cook University, says, “Carbon Dioxide is not a pollutant but a naturally occurring, beneficial trace gas in the atmosphere.” Many scientists concur with this statement. The organization CO2 Is Green website asserts “What we see happening in Washington right now is the replacement of politics for science in conversations about CO2.”

Humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creative purpose. Scripture stresses God’s relationship and redemption of humanity. The Creator has providentially supplied natural resources for the benefit of man. Of course, God cares for the needs of millions of other earth species. Man, however, is entrusted with creation care. No other creature shares this honor. Wild creatures exist for our enjoyment and should be admired and treated with respect. Animals, plants, and the environment of our physical planet, however, occupy a lesser niche in the system of the created world than humanity.

We pray that the philosophy of the deep ecology movement would not become more entrenched in our politics, our worldview, and our theology. As church members we must become better informed. May our God generously supply HIS wisdom in our ability to think with clarity.


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