Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century Paperback – 24 Jan 1995
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About the Author
George Sessions is chairman of the philosophy department at Sierra College in Rocklin, California. He is the coauthor of Deep Ecology: Living As If Nature Mattered and coeditor of Environmental Philosophy.
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He wrote in the Preface to this 1995 book, "In Part One ... various theorists discuss their views of the nature of Deep Ecology and the issues the movement addresses... Part Two discusses the history of the development of the Deep Ecology movement... Part Three consists of papers by Arne Naess... Part Four addresses the issue of the relation of the Deep Ecology movement to Social Ecology, Ecofeminism, the New Age, and the Greens... Part Five involves discussions of wilderness and the wild... Part Six centers on discussions of the politics of ecological sustainability." The authors in this collection include Thomas Berry, Fritjof Capra, Gary Snyder, Dave Foreman, Arne Naess, and Sessions himself---along with many others.
Sessions criticizes Al Gore's book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit as well as Murray Bookchin, arguing that "For critics such as Bookchin and Gore to substantiate their claims that the Deep Ecology position is essentially misanthropic, they would have to show the ECOCENTRISM is essentially misanthropic. To my knowledge, no such serious argumentation has occurred and the case has not been made." (Pg. xiii)
Naess defines the essence of deep ecology as, "to ask deeper questions... (it) involves a shift from science to wisdom." (Pg. 27) He admits that "Ecosophies" are "not religions in the classical sense. They are better characterized as GENERAL philosophies, in the sense of total views, inspired in part by the science of ecology." (Pg. 79) He also notes that "It is of considerable importance that the Deep Ecology movement has so far faced no serious philosophically-based criticism." (Pg. 211) He also adds that he is an optimist, "in reaction to the so-called doomsday prophets: people who talk as IF they mean nothing can be done to straighten things out." (Pg. 463)
This broad and deep collection will be of considerable interest to students of environmentalism and earth-centered spirituality.
Published in 1995, including essays written as many as 15 years earlier, the collection does include some scientific findings that have been superceded in the ensuing years. That's of little import as recent scientific findings are readily available from other sources and, in most cases, reflect conditions that actually are more dire than at the time of the writing. The real value of this volume is it's insights into underlying causes and appropriate responses. What's amazing is just how prescient these authors were 20 or 30 years ago. This collection is every bit as relevant today as when it was first published, and its insights even more critical to the future of our biosphere.
The high price is dismaying. By all means find a used copy, as I did, if the cost puts you off. And I would strongly encourage the copyright holders to make this book available via Kindle and other electronic means at a reduced price. We need this book.
The book makes a good case for taking an ecocentric rather than an anthropocentric world view, and sets out a clear platform of basic principles - but then does almost nothing to translate these principles into practical guidelines, so that one cannot judge whether the approach has merit in reality. Many of the authors spend time sniping at other authors; this, given the magnitude of the present environmental crisis, is more or less like arguing about the new upholstery for the deckchairs on the Titanic. Two papers in particular, both by Arne Naess, worry me. One concerns the application of Deep Ecology to the "Third World"; I've spent most of my professional life dealing with Third World practical problems, and, while Naess' Third World contacts may express a support for Deep Ecology, the pressures for further development and hence environmental degradation are immense, whether for pure survival, "rent-seeking" by corrupt governments, or emulation of Western living standards. This is unlikely to change until Western societies are able to control their greed and materialism (largely dependent on resources from Third World countries), and set an example; I see few signs of this happening. The other paper, the last in the compilation, concerns Deep Ecology for the 22nd century. In it, Naess sets out five scenarios of the extent of ecological damage in the 21st century before it "bottoms out" and humanity resolves to take the matter seriously. The first four of these scenarios are various forms of major ecological catastrophe; the fifth is ecological enlightenment, leading to "a trend toward decreasing unsustainability discernable (sic) by the year 2101". Naess then - without providing any cogent arguments - declares himself an optimist and a supporter of the fifth scenario - which, it should be noted, leaves us with another century of decline before discernible progress is made...
Altogether, the atmosphere is more reminiscent of the academic arguments in an Oxford Senior Common Room than of a group of people who are out to change the way in which the world does business - but that's what we need to do. In my opinion, this collection is a useful background document reflecting what some some people (predominantly academics, predominantly American) were thinking in the mid-1990s. What is now needed is a complete update, showing how (whether?) Deep Ecology can be applied to mitigate the far worse conditions we now face, and written in a style that is clear and convincing for non-academics - especially the people who actually have to make political and investment decisions.
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