A Free-Market Energy Blog

‘Deep Ecology’ versus Energy (McKibben’s virus understood)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 23, 2013

The Sierra Club, as yesterday’s post described, has ditched its previous support for natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel. And so goes the modern, Washington, DC-based environmental pressure group movement, rejecting not only oil, gas, and coal but also nuclear, hydro, and most biofuels. Translated into today’s energy usage, some 98 percent is bad and 2 percent good. [1]

Turning an industrial economy over to the two most costly, unreliable (intermittent) energy resources–solar and wind–is a lights out, engine stall strategy for a modern industrial economy.

Where does such anti-industrial, anti-human, coercionist thinking come from?  The answer is the deep ecology movement.

“Deep Ecology”

As mentioned yesterday, a radical wing of the modern environmental movement rejects a human-centered anthropocentric view of the world in favor of a nature-first ecocentric view. In constrast to shallow ecology, concerned with pollution and resource depletion in the developed world, deep ecology defends “the equal right” of lower animals and plants “to live and blossom.” Deep ecology rejects what is seen as a master-slave relationship between human and nonhuman life.

Deep ecology stresses the interrelatedness of all life systems on Earth, demoting human-centeredness. Man must respect nature for its own sake rather than as a tool of man. The human ego and concern for family and other loved ones must be joined by a similar emotional attachment to animals, trees, plants, and the rest of the ecosphere.

To hurt the planet, then, is the same as inflicting bodily harm on oneself. “In the broadest sense,” state Bill Devall and George Sessions (1985: ix), “we need to accept the invitation to the dance—the dance of unity of humans, plants, animals, the Earth.” To get to this point, we need to “trick ourselves into reenchantment” (10) with nature.

Deep Ecology Platform

The “deep ecology platform” of the Deep Ecology Foundation, formulated by Arne Naess and George Sessions, states:

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 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.

Gore to McKibben

As described yesterday, Bill McKibben, and thus his war on fossil fuels, is in the deep ecology tradition.

Al Gore’s complaint about  a “dysfunctional [fossil fuel] civilization” crosses over into deep ecology metaphysics.  As he states in Earth in the Balance (1992):

Our civilization is, in effect, addicted to the consumption of the earth itself. This addictive relationship distracts us from the pain of what we have lost: a direct experience of our connection to the vividness, vibrancy, and aliveness of the rest of the natural world. The froth and frenzy of industrial civilization mask our deep loneliness for that communion with the world that can lift our spirits and fill our senses with the richness and immediacy of life itself (220–21).

Eschewing incrementalism, Gore called for “bold and unequivocal” global action where “the rescue of the environment” is “the central organizing principle for civilization” (269).

Stasis–or Dynamism?

One can debate how much the above statements qualify their authors as deep ecologists. Whatever the case, the above thinking reflects the stasis mentality, which Virginia Postrel has defined in The Future and Its Enemies as a belief that “a good future must be static: either the product of detailed, technocratic blueprints or the return to an idealized, stable past” (1998: xii).

This in-the-past mentality is quite different from dynamism, which in Postrel’s words embraces “a world of constant creation, discovery, and competition” (xiv). Think creative destruction, which is why coal, oil, and gas displaced the inferior renewable energies of the past.


To deep ecologists, energy as the enabler of man over nature is a root enemy. Economics, the human-centered science of plan coordination and material improvement, is also the enemy. As one ecologist explained:

Economics and ecology, as words, have the same root; but that is about all they have in common…. The world of ecologists is ‘unspoiled nature.” They tend to avoid cities, parks, fields, orchards. The real world of the economists is … money, labor, market, goods, capital (Bates, 250–51).

Needless to say, any member of the Sierra Club would complain mightily if the lights went off–or even on-and-off (which would happen if wind or solar was the energy source without conventional energy fill-in or battery storage). And virtually all DC environmentalists would fume if their transportation stalled. They are human, after all–or at least outside of their workday of professional obstructionism.


[1] In 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewables accounted for 9 percent of U.S. consumption, of which wind and solar accounted for 15 percent or approximately 1.4 percent of the total.


Bates, Marston. The Forest and the Sea. New York: Random House, 1960.

Devall, Bill, and George Sessions. Deep Ecology. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1985.

Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. New York: Plume, 1992.

McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature. 1989. Reprint, New York: Anchor Books, 1990.

Naess, Arne. “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary.” 1973. Reprinted in Radical Environmentalism: Philosophy and Tactics, edited by Peter List, 19–24. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1993.

Postrel, Virginia. The Future and Its Enemies. New York: Free Press, 1998.


  1. Mark  

    The Sierra Club backs the concept of “jumping over natural gas and ushering in renewable energy” because “natural gas is, after all, still a fossil fuel.” Why? “We know that our continued reliance on dirty, dangerous fossil fuels, like natural gas, will not solve the climate crisis, even with the best controls in place. The majority of natural gas must stay in the ground if we want any chance of avoiding climate disaster.”



    We should also remain cognizant of the impact that ordinary people who struggle to pay their utility bills would face from such environmental elitisim.


  2. Alice Finkel  

    Very good. This is the essence of the environmental movement. It is not just the radical environmentalists who want to slash the human population by 90% or more. The big money greens that lobby and control huge government bureaus also work with that end in mind.

    The best way to expose this dirty secret is through popular narratives, songs, and other media which can rapidly pass through email circles, web rings, facebook networks, and other social and popular media.

    Blogs and information websites are good ways to expose large scale scams and malicious power plays. But to really get the word out, someone needs to think more deeply and work much harder.


  3. T. Caine  


    I agree that parts of the environmental movement/lobby/culture have veered into territory that clouds their message and why it should be important to other people.

    I hadn’t heard of the “Deep Ecology” term, but despite my support for sustainability, I wouldn’t call their list of qualifications a great pitch. The conversation treads close the level of “religious” and, as a result, is a non-starter for a lot of people. Whatever truth exists in parts of their end goals, it’s all for not if it’s not productive. Natural gas remains an important step in the evolution of our energy portfolio.

    That being said, I don’t think that energy has enabled us to conquer or supercede nature. On the contrary, natural systems still do many things much better and more efficiently than we have the ability to: purify air, purify water, break down material, harness solar energy, the list is long. Our bodies alone are amazing natural systems that we only kind of understand.

    In fact, the human body is host to around 100 trillion bacteria (all necessary for survival) most of which we have no control over at all. Nature still has a lot to offer us, which I think is more the point. While the life of an ant and that of a person probably don’t have equal value (in my opinion), we rely on natural systems to foster the way we live. Survival of the biosphere is in our best interest.

    I also think that the difference between “stasis” and “static” is important. “Static” is fixed in place, “not active or moving; stationary.” I agree, that’s not what we want, but the truth is that nature isn’t static either. Change is inevitable. “Stasis,” on the other hand, is an idea of balance, “A state of stability, in which all forces are equal and opposing.” This is something nature happens to do very well and I would argue we certainly should be trying to achieve.



  4. Targetted Ontario Human  

    As the accelerated implemention of Agenda 21 nation-wide progressively takes its predictable toll on liberties and prosperity here, Canadians have been disheartened to discover, after-the-fact, the undue amount of influence on public policies that adherents to such anti-human “Humanist” beliefs had been granted by government:

    Canadians for Limits to Growth: Dedicated to Reducing Human Impact on Earth
    Published in Humanist Perspectives, Issue 173, Summer 2010, pp. 22-23. Canadian Humanist Publications, a non-profit group with charitable status. Ottawa, Canada

    A Manifesto for Earth:

    The rural Ontario-based co-author of the above Manifesto was also affiliated with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and identified as a member of the Biodiversity Convention Advisory Group for the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy 1995 – Canada’s Response to the Convention on Biological Diversity:

    Up until recently, the majority of Canadians had likely grudgingly paid their taxes and voted on the assumption that those competing for election or comprising subsequent, same-but-different government bodies in Canada were actually members of the same “human species” now being aggressively targetted for involuntary de-valuation and reduction in numbers.

    Future elections at every level Canada-wide will obviously pose a conundrum for the quickly-growing numbers of better-informed Canadians whose majority likely don’t share these beliefs or the masochistic tendencies of their governments?


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