Deep Ecology, community, and interpretation


Deep Ecology was one of the first environmental movements to argue that Nature is more than just a simple resource and has intrinsic value. The interpretivist approach connects with Deep Ecology by exploring how resource value and intrinsic value are not necessarily incompatible in environmental decision-making.

The argument in this chapter is based around a discussion of the need for accounting and accountability research to engage with Deep/deep ecological perspectives. The first substantive section of the chapter provides an overview of Devall and Sessions in order to (1) establish that accountability research is on a wrong path; (2) to argue that the environment is a necessary condition of being; and (3) that basic institutions such as accountability in structure can contribute towards developing a closer and what was referred to in Chapter 9 as a more transparent society.

Some philosophical implications of Deep Ecology

A core feature of Deep Ecology is its belief in the intrinsic value of the environment and environmental interests. Zimmerman (1999) describes intrinsic value in terms of the value that something has ‘in itself’, or ‘for its own sake’, or ‘as such’, or ‘in its own right’. This being the point at which you reach something whose goodness is not derivative for its value on something else in some way (Zimmerman, 1999). On the other hand, once you have established the intrinsic worth of something, it can provide a flow-on effect of derivative goods, to which it is related.

Deep Ecologists argue that the environment has such intrinsic value, and that benefits enjoyed by humanity are derivative from, and subject to, such intrinsic value being acknowledged and upheld. This forms the ideological basis on which communities would be constructed, built around, and the principle by which political decisions would be judged. It also forms the base for Aldo Leopold’s maxim in his Sand County Almanac, which posited in the 1940s that ‘a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise’ (Leopold, 1970, pp. 224-225).

A major feature of the Deep Ecological literature is its obsession with rejecting anthropocentrism (a human-centred, worldview). In the case of Devall and Sessions, what they advocate as their alternative reflects their own beliefs and feelings in ultimately naive terms:

It can potentially satisfy our deepest yearnings: faith and trust in our most basic institutions; courage to take direct action; joyous confidence to dance with the sensuous harmonies discovered through spontaneous, playful intercourse with the rhythms of our bodies, the rhythms of flowing water, changes in the weather and seasons, and the overall processes of life on earth.

(Devall & Sessions, 1985, p. 7)

Such a simplistic political world view does not consider fully the public sphere, political systems or engage with the overall will of the people (Taylor, 2016, 2017a). That is the charge levelled at many animal libera-tionists who, to the casual observer, might seem to be on the same side. Much of the animal liberation literature, however, might be commended for avoiding the charge of mysticism so often felt to be characteristic of Deep Ecologists. Criticisms of Deep Ecology essentially fit into three categories, which are as follows:

  • 1 It is too mystical and subjective.
  • 2 It is potentially highly undemocratic and authoritarian.
  • 3 It lacks pragmatism and unworkable in the real world.

Since intrinsic value is core to Deep Ecology, it is appropriate to explore what it means, how such value is judged, by whom, what implications does such value have in human dealings with the environment, what are the implications and complications?

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