Secular Approaches to the Environment

Libertarian Extension – Deep Ecology 


  • Arne Naess in his paper “The Shallow and the Deep, Long Range Ecology Movement” stated there were two types of ecology movements
    • 1. Concerned with pollution, the depletion of natural resources & the usefulness of the earth for humans; anthropocentric 
    • 2. Concerned with richness, diversity and the intrinsic value of the natural world; deep ecology 
  • Naess argued for the intrinsic value & worth of the natural environment
  • According to Naess every living organism, whether human, animal or vegetable has an equal right to live & blossom, which he called ecosophy 
    • By ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium
  • Naess rejected any ideas that humans were more important because they had a soul, use reason or have consciousness
  • Nature does not exist to benefit humans, all organisms have a right to life regardless of their usefulness to humans

The Deep Ecology Platform 

  1. All life has value in itself – regardless of its usefulness/worth to humans
  2. Richness and diversity contribute to life’s well being and have value in themselves
  3. Humans have no right to reduce richness or diversity except to satisfy vital needs in a responsible way
  4. The impact of humans in the world is excessive and getting worse
  5. Human lifestyles & population are key elements of this impact
  6. The diversity of life can flourish only with reduced human impact 
  7. Basic ideological, political, economic structures must change
  8. Those who accept the forgoing points have an obligation to participate

Naess proposes that humans should:
– radically reduce the human population
– abandon all goals of economic growth
– conserve diversity of species
– live in small, self reliant communities
– “touch the earth lightly”


+ Notes the obvious negative effects of human activities on the earth
+ Diversity, richness & protection of species is important in maintaining biodiversity which sustains us and other species
– “Rapidly reducing population” is both inhumane and illogical; if all species have the same rights to reproduce & live why do humans adhere to different rules?
– Humans are different from animals and plants. Taking the arguments from Aristotle and Kant we can see that humans have rationality. This is not speciesist – if a cat developed higher levels of reasoning it too should be treated the same as humans
– The natural world does not follow ecosophy, take Mill’s argument that nature is inherently cruel, “crimes for which man are locked up are natures everyday performances”
– As well as this the immersion of a dominant species is a natural stage in biological succession – following primary succession & colonisation of barren land, biodiversity decreases as a dominant species emerges & takes advantage of the habitat

Ecological Extension – Eco-Holism 


  • James Lovelock developed the Gaia hypothesis in order to promote the unity of all organisms
  • The hypothesis challenges anthropocentrism & instead views humans as part of one whole – Gaia
    • The world is an ego-centric, self regulating biological organism
  • Lovelock saw the earth as a self regulating living organism
  • He argued that the almost intelligent maintenance of conditions needed for life to flourish on earth were not controlled by God but by Gaia
  • This rejects the Darwinian idea of survival of the fittest & suggests that Gaia alters the conditions of earth herself
  • According to Lovelock life cannot be destroyed
    • Humans may well be wiped out, but humans are just part of Gaia and Gaia herself would go on living, new species would develop & thrive
  • This challenges humans to see themselves as part of a whole with responsibility to respect that whole – if we abuse Gaia we risk our own survival
    • Civilisation is in imminent danger & has to use nuclear energy now, or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet


+ Recognises the importance of a change in human behaviour in order to survive & maintain the environment
+ Recognises symbiosis – the interdependence of all things
– Rejects evolution for which there is a multitude of evidence; the fossil record, genetic similarities, anatomical & biochemical similarities
– Takes the idea of a symbiotic organism as earth too literally; earth is literally a rock in space. There is no capacity for thought or action
– Commits a fallacy in rejecting anthropomorphism but basing the entire argument for protecting the environment on anthropomorphic goals, ie; if we don’t act humanity will die out. Following Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, it surely doesn’t matter whether or not we protect the environment, Gaia will remove us as the virus ailing her & go on to protect biodiversity

Conservation Ethics – Shallow Ecology 

  • Takes a different approach to the two above theories
  • Reviews the environment in terms of it’s instrumental value – the value given to it by humans
  • The environment is a means to an end, the conservation of it is important for the survival of the human race
  • Conservation ethics looks at the use of the environment in terms of its utility to humans
  • It is this ethic which the majority of environmental actions taken today are formed upon, such as the 1997 Kyoto summit
  • Biodiversity should be preserved as humans benefit from it
  • Shallow ecology accepts environmental damage if humans can stand to benefit from it
    • The clearing of rain forests can be justified to provide cheap beef & homes for humans, however it can equally be criticised as it disadvantages humans in the long run
  • Instrumental goodness does not have to relate purely to economic utility 
  • Many can gain social & personal benefits from biodiversity or preservation, such as swimming with dolphins, or botanical therapy


  • Michael La Bossiere argues that species should be allowed to die out as this is just part of the natural process of evolution & natural selection (corroborated by Chris Packham)
  • Humans have no obligation to prevent natural extinction,  but this does not give them a free hand to eradicate species, even when it would benefit humanity


+ Focuses on the environment in terms of humans which is the current and easiest way to both explain and understand the importance of maintaining the earth
+ Does not just focus on economic gain, but also on social impacts. This means that the environment cannot justifiably be destroyed simply for capitalism
+ Can and does promote protection of biodiversity, species and the environment
+ Based on instrumental value – is there really intrinsic value? If a rock was not used to build a house, provide shelter for animals etc. (all value placed upon it by other things) surely it would have no value?
+ Promotes scientific theories such as natural selection & evolution – surely meddling to prevent natural extinction is as troublesome as deliberately causing it? Humans would still be altering ecosystems & their natural passage
– Too subjective & confusing, taking the above example of deforestation
Some would argue there is intrinsic value 
– Seen as too anthropocentric 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s