Friday, July 17, 2009

3. The Eight Points of Deep Ecology

A good place to begin the process of development of a theoretical synthesis of Marxian social theory and Deep Ecology’s ecocenterist worldview is the Eight Points that Arne Naess and George Sessions formulated as a proposed platform for the Deep Ecology movement.

Let’s review the eight points:

  1. The wellbeing and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human 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. The flourishing of human life and culture is compatible with a substantially smaller human population. The flourishing of non-human life requires a smaller human population.
  5. Present human interference with the non-human world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
  6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
  7. The ideological change will be mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasing standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between bigness and greatness.
  8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.

In his 1986 article “The Deep Ecology Movement: Some Philosophical Aspects”[1] Naess attempts to unpack each of these point. I draw on these briefly and selectively.

Point 1 refers to the biosphere as a whole that includes individuals, species, populations, habitats, and human and non-human cultures. Value means that “The presence of inherent value in a natural object is independent of any awareness, interest, or appreciation of it by any conscious being.” (In his latter essay--see endnote 1 below--Naess settles for the term "inherent value".)

Point 2 “presupposes that life itself, as a process over the evolutionary time, implies an increase in diversity and richness” and that “lower” or “higher” order life forms are equally of value.

In Point 3 the term “vital needs” is deliberately left vague[2] to allow “considerable latitude in judgment” and to allow taking into consideration differences in climate and social structure.

Point 4 correctly singles out urgent needs for a world population strategy analogous to the present widespread consciousness that we need a climate policy to stop global warming

Naess himself accepts that Point 5 is rather mild and human interference and destruction of the ecosystems is increasing with alarming rate (and that was 25 years ago!) Naess notes: “Present ideology tends to value things because they are scarce and because they have a commodity value. There is prestige in vast consumption and waste.” These are clearly characteristics of a capitalist system. Thus, this point implies that the Deep Ecology movement must be an anti-capitalist movement.

In discussing Point 7, Naess correctly takes aim at those economists who will criticize the use of the term “quality of life’ as too vague. He correctly points out that “One cannot quantify adequately what is important for the quality of life as discussed here, and there is no need to do so.”

Point 8 offers very general policy recommendation as the authors clearly hoped currents within the Deep Ecology movement would work out more specific tasks and how to carry them out.

As a coalition building document, these Eight Points offer a great beginning. But let me make three comments about it.

First, the Eight Points include a set of ethnical positions that are simply declared. This is fine for a coalition-building document. But they can only be more effectively promoted if they are clearly related to scientific knowledge and argued rationally. Naess himself does so in his defense of Point 2 when he makes reference to the evolutionary theory. In fact, it is true that from a consistent Darwinian evolutionary theory all life are equally valuable and that diversity supports and extends life forms.

Second, in the same paper Naess takes pain to explain that various ecosophies (Buddhist, Christian, philosophical) can equally lead to the adoption of the Eight Point (he does so without showing any preference for any of them). However, when he defends the Eight Points he uses arguments consistent only with a materialist philosophy. It is clear that from both theoretical and practical perspectives it is important in the fight for Deep Ecology goals to advance a fully articulated and consistent materialist ecosophy within the ecology and environmental movements and in society at large.

Third, Naess also find it necessary to explain that the key factors undermining nature at our time are those clearly associated with the capitalist system. This is particularly important in light of the expressed need to advance along radical change in economic, technological, and ideological fronts. They are part of the process of radical social change.

That is why key contributions of the Marxian theory and radical movement for social change are important for Deep Ecologists to understand and assimilate.



1. See, Deep Ecology for the 21st Century, George Sessions, editor, Boston: Shambhala, 1995, pp. 62-84. See "The Deep Ecology's Eight Points Revised" by Naess in the same volume, pp. 213-22, for his other considerations.

2. Remember that the Eight Points are meant for Deep Ecology coalition building purposes.