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The Need For An Ecological


The progressive degradation of the biosphere which we are witnessing today cannot be attributed to technical deficiencies in the implementation of our socio-economic policies. It is the policies themselves that by their very nature are causing the destruction. Those policies, what is more, are difficult to reverse for two basic reasons.

The first is that we have all become dependent on the proper functioning of commercial, bureaucratic and political institutions which employ the bulk of us, and which are committed to — and dependent on — the perpetuation of precisely those policies that are causing the destruction. The second reason is that we are imbued with a world-view — the 'world view of modernism' — which rationalises, and hence legitimises, these policies, and thus the destruction which they bring about.

The basic tenet of the world view of modernism is that the world is imperfect: it is random, chaotic, atomised, and aggressive. In fact, to use Lord Tennyson's well known phrase, nature is seen as "red in tooth and claw," while the life of natural man (as opposed to modern man) is seen, in Hobbes's equally famous phrase, as "nasty, brutish and short." In effect, God is thought to have done a bad job. According to conventional wisdom, He produced a lousy world, filled with miserable people — which is why we must reverse His work and must change the world, transforming it as radically as possible. This transformation is to be achieved by means of science, technology, industry and the various institutions of the nation-state, which together wil l supposedly bring about that miraculous process called 'economic development', or 'progress', thus creating a veritable paradise on earth, one that is incomparably superior to any that God or even the evolutionary process could possibly bring about.

This is unquestionably the most pernicious myth ever entertained by man, for it is the policies which it serves to rationalise that are leading to inexorable destruction of the biosphere, which in turn must inevitably spell the eventual extinction of our species. The reason is clear: economic development involves methodically substituting the technosphere — or the surrogate world of human artefacts—for the biosphere—or the real world of living things — from which the former derives its resources and to which i t consigns its ever more voluminous and toxic waste products. In other words, economic development, to which our society is totally committed, inevitably means ecological degradation and economic contraction. The two are inseparable — they are but different sides of the same coin.

Ecological degradation and contraction gives rise to a host of problems, each one of which is interpreted in such a way as to make it appear amenable to a solution that involves further economic development. Such an interpretation is consistent with the world-view of modernism. Thus, we are told, the population explosion is caused by poverty and insecurity in the 'underdevel-


oped' countries, and the only way to solve it is through further economic development which wil l make the poor rich and secure and wil l thereby give rise to the so-called 'demographic transition', with birth rates falling as material prosperity increases.

Similarly, malnutrition and famine are blamed on primitive agricultural techniques: again, economic development is seen as the solution, by making available tractors, combine harvesters, fertilisers, pesticides and cheap irrigation water.

And so it is for each of the growing problems that face us today and which are, in reality, but the symptoms of the ecological degradation being caused by the very policies that are supposed to solve them.

As a result, the destruction proceeds by positive feedback: we are in effect caught up in a veritable chain reaction in the direction of ever greater biospheric destruction — and eventual human extinction.

Indeed, i f man is to survive on this planet for more than a few decades, then our society must not only be restructured into socio-economic groupings that are capable of sustaining themselves without annihilating the world of living things, but we must also reject the world-view of modernism in all its ramification, replacing it with a world-view that validates these very different socio-economic structures and their ecologically benign policies.

The task of discrediting the world-view of modernism is well under way, but to persuade people to reject i t outright wil l only be possible once we are in possession of a comprehensive and coherent ecological world-view with which to replace it. Different branches of the ecological movement have, in the last twenty years, made various contributions towards the development of such a world-view and several schools of thinking have emerged, such as Arne Ness's 'Deep Ecology', Murray Bookchin's 'Social Ecology' and Henryk Skolimowski's 'Ecophilosophy', to name but three.

Unfortunately, the proponents of the different schools disagree on what they take to be a number of fundamental issues — as wil l be seen by the exchange of views published in this issue of The Ecologist between Grover Foley, Henryk Skolimowski and Arne Ness. It may be, however, that the differences are more superficial than it appears, and that members of these — and other schools — might co-operate to develop a single ecological world-view. We have published two lengthy articles in this issue by Richard Sylvan and myself, both of which seek in different ways to consider what the basic features of such a world-view might be.

Edward Goldsmith

The Ecologist, Vol.18, Nos 4/5, 1988 Deep Ecology and Subjectivity

by Grover Foley

Deep Ecology is right to reject quick technological and political "fixes" as the solution to our environmental and social woes. But does Deep Ecology take us Deep enough? According to Grover Foley, Deep Ecologists have shied away from the issue of defining new values and have failed to provide hard guidelines for ecological living. They have become befuddled by mysticism and have disastrously ignored the forces

behind humanity's fatal fascination with machines.

What is Deep Ecology? The term refers to all attempts to go beyond technological solutions — to change our values as well as our tools. 'Shallow' ecology depends on what Marxists of the Frankfurt School call 'instrumental reason', that which sets 'know-how' above 'know-what', cleverness above wisdom, quick fixes above long-term solutions. Among the deep thinkers range poets and professors such as Gary Snyder, Alan Watts, and Theodore Roszak; among the not-so-deep, Barry Commoner and Garrett Hardin. In their book, Deep Ecology, Bil l Devall and George Sessions give a thorough outline and comparison of the alternative views.1 But has Deep Ecology gone deep enough? Or does it still share some major assumptions of the technocratic, 'objectivist' views?

Commoner's 'Shallow' Ecology

As an example of the technological approach, take Barry Commoner. Called 'Mr. Ecology' by Newsweek, the 'Paul Revere of ecology' by Time, Commoner summed up three valuable principles of ecology:

1. Everything is connected to everything else. Life is a delicate, interwoven web; touch one thread, and the whole vibrates. 2. Everything must go somewhere. Nothing simply vanishes, and anything man-made can cause pollution. 3. Nature knows best. When we toss chemicals into an organism, it is as though we were tossing a random assortment of nuts and bolts into the most delicate machinery ever made. Al l three principles are encapsulated in the economists' rule, "There is no free lunch". There is a price on everything we do to nature.2

What then is Commoner's solution? Better technology and socialist government. We should, he says, replace bad technologies with good: cars with trains, plastics with wood, detergents with soap, synthetics with wool, aluminium with steel. Not fewer people or less consumption, he argues: only better design of our

Dr. Grover Foley, writer on technology, has taught social responsibility of science and technology at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Techno logy; medical ethics and ethics of technology at the Auckland Technical Institute, New Zealand; and philosophy, religion and ethics in the USA. He can be contacted at 4/6 Cahora Avenue, Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand.

The Ecologist, Vol.18, Nos 4/5 1988

production technology, for bad design accounts for 95 per cent of the pollution problem. We are not, he claims, running out of resources or facing a population bomb. America's oil, for instance, wil l last another fifty years. That gives us time to seek a substitute, like solar cells, and a socialist form of government, that wil l avoid major shortages.

But such solutions verge on technological and political quick fixes. Commoner seems to accept the American level of consumption, as long as it goes with better technology and state planning. Like most Marxists, he believes science and planning are our chief hope. The anarchist Murray Bookchin sees Commoner as a typical proponent of environmental management, rather than of ecological holism.3 Like the scientific socialists, he does not fully see the grip that power thinking has on both capitalist and socialist camps.

Deep Ecology: Beyond Quick Fixes

Deep Ecology goes beyond the transformation of technology and politics to a transformation of humanity. Taking a holistic, total-field view, it denies any boundaries between man and nature. We cannot, it says, separate man from nature. In place of dualism, it posits a unity of subject and object. Life has no separate selves, only "unbroken wholeness" (as the physicist David Bohm puts it). The self and ultimate reality are one, as Zen and other mystic traditions claim — That thou art, or: thou art That. The root of our problem is anthropocentrism, and to overcome this we must make Nature the centre. We must identify with the whole world, for "No one is saved until we are all saved."4

Not only are man and Nature united. They are equal at every level. The principle of 'biocentric equality' says that all beings and things have equal intrinsic value; none is higher than another. Al l have an equal right to self- realisation. Man cannot lord it over lichens or even rocks: he is a 'plain citizen' of earth. Nature is not a mere resource for humans. We cannot set up any hierarchy of species, whether based on skill, intellect, or sentience (the ability to feel).

Plainly we need Deep Ecology: beyond better tools, better values. In the anti-war campaign too, we need more than statistics on warheads and the charade of 'arms control'. Without a change of heart, we wil l change few minds, much less our whole way of life.