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Deep Ecology and Reality 18 December 2009

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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Like a lot folks in the enviro movement, Trevor over at Pondering the World has pulled out deep ecology to defend a relatively hands-off approach to humanity’s relationship with the natural world.     

  • We are one species among many, with equal rights to life.
  • As a member of the human species, my highest priority is our preservation.
  • As stakeholders in ecological integrity, humans should work to preserve the interdependence, richness, and diversity present in the world.
  • Only to satisfy vital needs should this preservation be sacrificed.
  • And of course, to members of the green community this line of thinking makes all the sense in the world. Who doesn’t believe after all that all species hold inherent rights to life? But whenever rights arrive on the scene, clear thinking tends to head out the door. Otherwise, rights raise sticky questions about prioritization, and while Trevor addresses the main point of concern — that humans will destroy other species to survive– it’s still difficult to pinpoint how exactly we’re supposed to resolve issues of conflicting rights. Short of making the a priori claim “humans count for more” anyway.

    At least Trevor has confronted the problem, however. More often than not, deep ecological thinking seems an outgrowth of these economically bountiful times.  We can preserve wilderness because we don’t need anything from wild areas. We can absorb the costs of barring development, but as surfaced in the debate over the Arctic Refuge last summer when we set preservation against our wallets our green-mindedness trickles away.

    The problem for deep ecology, then, lies not in a fault of reasoning but in the economy that sustains it. That economy will not last. Yes, Malthus was wrong about food production, and starvation today is the product of inefficient systems of agriculture and transportation not an overall lack of food. Yet as population continues to grow, humans will consume a commensurately larger portion of the earth’s resources, perhaps more.

    You can guess the result: as more people compete for scarcer resources, prices will rise. So while we can chat about habitat preservation as the right of the species that require it for now, I suspect that in the far future, our need for molybdenum will trump the American Pika’s right to life. At some point, we will weigh human needs and wants against almost every environmental protection. If that’s true, though, then deep ecological rights are nothing more than conveniences. The cost of  protecting these rights at the moment is sufficiently low enough to ensure their integrity. Notice, too, that deep ecological debate occurs almost exclusively among members of the developed world, although to be sure  it often spills over into normative pre(andpro-)scriptions for developing countries.

    So what does this mean for the deep ecological worldview? Mainly that it doesn’t square with reality. To invoke a right is to say “this contract cannot be broken,” but in speaking about human obligations to the environment, our species’ present trajectory guarantees that we will breach that commitment, stripping it of any value. Better then to throw out the talk of rights and instead say what we intend. That is, to place a high value on the preservation of non-human species for now while recognizing that someday we’ll probably kill every non-economically useful thing on the planet.



    1. Deconstructing Over-Consumption « Colorado: Wandered - 5 August 2010

    […] figure it out until we run out of universe. (Downside: as I wrote a while back, we’ll be forced to kill every non essential living thing on the planet first. Sorry, giant […]

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