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Arne Naess and Deep Ecology

Posted on January 27, 2012 at 7:45 AM

Arne Naess would have been one hundred years old today, January 27, 2012. He died in January, 2009. He was an important 20th century philosopher, an accomplished mountaineer and a man who lived his life with thoughtfulness and intensity.


The Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, paid homage to him in their Jan. 25th edition with a commentary by Johan Galtung, in Norwegian. He reminded readers of Naess’s principle theses of “deep ecology.” I read them and was immediately captivated.


The Guardian newspaper characterized Arne Naess’s work in this way, in their obituary article, found in its entirety online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/15/obituary-arne-naess

“A keen mountaineer, for a quarter of his life he lived in an isolated hut high in the Hallingskarvet mountains in southern Norway.  Through his books and lectures in many countries, Næss taught that ecology should not be concerned with man's place in nature but with every part of nature on an equal basis, because the natural order has intrinsic value that transcends human values. Indeed, humans could only attain "realisation of the Self" as part of an entire ecosphere. He urged the green movement to "not only protect the planet for the sake of humans, but also, for the sake of the planet itself, to keep ecosystems healthy for their own sake.”  Shallow ecology, he believed, meant thinking the big ecological problems could be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society. Deep meant asking deeper questions and understanding that society itself has caused the Earth-threatening ecological crisis. His concept, grounded in the teachings of Spinoza, Gandhi and Buddha, entered the mainstream green movement in the 1980s and was later elaborated by George Sessions in Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century (1995).” – The Guardian, Jan. 15, 2009.


In the spirit of spreading that philosophy, and re-examining it, I show below the first of the principles as noted by Galtung in the Norwegian article, translated by me, along with an English version found online. From the Aftenposten article, p. 7:


• It is of its own worth that life unfolds itself, independent of the narrowed interests of humans.

• The abundance and richness of life’s forms have worth in and of themselves.

• Humans do not have the right to reduce this abundance.


In English, the 8 theses are shown here, as found online:


1.The well-being 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.

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

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

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

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

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


Let’s have a long discussion on how these principles can be encouraged in the world as we know it. In a very real sense, the planet’s sustainability depends upon meeting these very challenges - while the ‘debate’ on sustainability veers always towards human premises and historical and political compromises. Reminds me of the discussion of whether trees have ‘standing’ – in courts. As well, of how modern deforestation practices undo the forest’s capacity to re-grow forever; of how modern agricultural methods are undoing our soil forever; of how modern fishing practices are unravelling our oceans’ biodiversity forever - the list goes on – and on and on.


The deep ecology movement continues, with book publications, grants and the spreading influence of this philosophy. Spreading how? By people like you, dear reader. Spread it; spread these significant values of Arne Naess – at home in Norway and everywhere. Live them, yourself, and try to help them flourish – yes, everywhere on Earth.

Categories: International Miscellaneous, Political Jargon, Law Stuff