Ganges River Delta (NASA)

Deep Ecology

Excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability

Daniel Christian Wahl
Age of Awareness
Published in
3 min readApr 22, 2018


The philosopher Arne Naess suggests: “We may be in, of and for nature from our very beginning.” He argues: “Society and human relations are important, but our self is richer in its constituent relations. These relations are not only relations we have with humans and the human community, but with the larger community of all living beings” (Naess, 1988, p.20).

Along with John Seed, Joanna Macy and Pat Fleming, Arne Naess is regarded as the originator of the deep ecology movement. The conceptual and perceptual expansion of the self beyond the skin boundary and to experience and understand ourselves as a relational self, or “ecological self” is a central theme in deep ecology.

A voice for wild nature, the Foundation for Deep Ecology supports efforts to protect wilderness and wildlife, promote ecological agriculture, and oppose destructive mega-technologies that are accelerating the extinction crisis.(logo; image left; image middle, image right)

As early as the 1970s Arne Naess saw two different forms of environmentalism, that were not necessarily incompatible with each other, but very distinct in the solutions they proposed. One he called the “long-range deep ecology movement” and the other, the “shallow ecology movement.” The word “deep” in part referred to the level of questioning of our purposes and values with regard to environmental issues.

The Deep Ecology movement engages in deep questioning, right down to fundamental root causes. Whereas the more shallow and short-term approaches to the environmental crisis stop before affecting fundamental change, often promoting technological fixes that are based on the same consumption-oriented values and methods of the industrial economy.

The Deep Ecology approach calls for a redesign of all human made systems based on values and methods that truly preserve the ecological and cultural diversity of natural systems. Satish Kumar explains in this video the difference between shallow ecology and deep ecology.

Satish Kumar speaking of Shallow Ecology, Deep Ecology, Reverential Ecology and Gaia
Arne Næss was a Norwegian philosopher who inspired the Deep Ecology movement; other key people who have promoted deep ecology work around the world include Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone, and Stephan Harding (image left, image middle, image right)

Together with George Session, Arne Naess proposed a set of basic assumptions or attitudes shared by people in the deep ecology movement and call this list the Deep Ecology Platform. More than just a platform for a movement, it is also a call to ethically congruent action.

The Deep Ecology Platform:
(Source: Foundation for Deep Ecology)

The wellbeing 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.

Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

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.

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.

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.

Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

Note: This is an excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability. In 2012 I was asked to rewrite this dimension as part of a collaboration between Gaia Education and the Open University of Catalunya (UOC) and in 2016 I revised it again into this current version. The next opportunity to join the course is with the start of the Worldview Dimension on May 21st, 2018.



Daniel Christian Wahl
Age of Awareness

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures