Global Environmental Ethics: A Valuable Earth – Holmes Rolston

This article was published as Chapter 20 in the book: A New Century for Natural Resource Management, edited by Richard L. Knight and Sarah F. Bates. (Island Press, Washington 1995), pp.349-366.

Suddenly from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth—home.

                                       —Edgar Mirchell, quoted by K.V. Kelley, 1988

Nature and Culture

The Earth is remarkable, and valuable, for both the nature and the culture that occur on it. Evolutionary history has been going on for billions of years, while cultural history is only about a hundred thousand years old. But certainly from here onward, culture increasingly determines what natural history shall continue. The next millennium is, some say, the epoch of the end of nature. But another hope is that we can launch a millennium of culture in harmony with nature.

Humans evolved out of nature; our biochemistries are natural and we draw our life support from the hydrological cycles and photosynthesis; we too have genes and inborn traits; we are subject to natural laws. But human life is radically different from that in wild, spontaneous nature. Unlike coyotes or bats, humans are not just what they are by nature; we come into the world by nature quite unfinished and become what we become by culture. Humans deliberately rebuild the wild environment and make rural and urban environments.

Information in nature travels intergenerationally on genes; information in culture travels neurally as persons are educated into transmissible cultures. In nature, the coping skills are coded on chromosomes. In culture, the skills are coded in craftsman’s traditions, religious rituals, or technology manuals. Information acquired during an organism’s lifetime is not transmitted genetically; the essence of culture is acquired information transmitted to the next generation. This information transfer is several orders of magnitude faster and overleaps genetic lines. Children are educated by taking classes from dozens of teachers, by reading hundreds of books, using libraries with tens of thousands of books, written by authors to whom they are genetically unrelated, who may have been dead for centuries.

Animals are without options in what they shall be, even if they make some limited choices. Humans have myriads of lifestyle options. Educated persons criticize their cultures. Natural selection pressures are relaxed; humans help each other out compassionately with charity, affirmative action, or head start programs. They study medicine to cure their diseases. They worry about overpopulation in developing nations and over consumption in developed nations. The determinants of animal and plant behavior, much less the determinants of climate or nutrient recycling, are never anthropological, political, economic, technological, scientific, philosophical, ethical, or religious.

Animals do not read or write books trying to recommend the future of natural resource management. They do not try to get clear about the differences between nature and culture. One critical difference is that humans are moral agents and their behavior is constrained by what they value, by values they recognize in other humans. Increasingly, we are here arguing, they ought also take into account the nonhuman values in the natural world.

The debate about ethics as applied to nature (often thought of as “natural resources”) asks whether the primary values about which we should be concerned are cultural, that is, anthropocentric, or whether there is also intrinsic natural value, independent of humans, which humans ought to consider. Asking such a question is quite outside the capacity of plants and animals. Humans can and ought to see outside their own sector. Only humans have conscience enough to do this. Though humans evolved out of nature, they have significantly evolved out of it. We need to understand the difference in being human, and after we clarify that, we also want to see the senses in which, though evolved out of it, culture has and ought to remain in relative harmony with nature.

Although all deliberate human behaviors differ from the processes of spontaneous nature, some are healthy for humans because they agree with the natural systems with which their cultural decisions interact. In a relative sense, what humans do can be natural. Conservation values are not the only values; there are numerous values autonomous to cultures. Some of these can be gained by the sacrifice of natural values. So the environmental ethics of the next century will increasingly have to ask whether and why cultures should preserve any natural values at all, and what kind of balance ought to be reached. Here we may wonder how much of the time humans ought to win. They cannot lose all the time; but we may also hold that humans ought not invariably be the winners. They should constrain their behavior for the good of plants and animals.

Sometimes too, decisions can be win-win. There are nonrival, complementary goods. Properly to care for the natural world can combine with a strategy for sustainability. The idea here is that nature provides the life support system for culture, and therefore what is good for nature is often good for culture. Fauna, flora, and people all need clean air and water, good soil. It is hard to have a healthy culture on a sick environment. Nature and culture have entwined destinies.

It is true that Earth is now in a post-evolutionary phase. Culture is the principal determinant of Earth’s future, more now than nature; we are passing into a century when this will be increasingly obvious. Indeed, some say, that will be the principal novelty of the new millennium—Earth will be a managed planet. Meanwhile, the technosphere remains in the biosphere; we are not in a post-ecological phase. The management of the planet must conserve environmental values. Hopefully, such policy can, in places, let nature take its course.

Intrinsic Natural Values

“Human beings are at the centre of concerns . . . . “So the Rio Declaration begins, the creed (once to be called the Earth Charter) formulated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), and signed by almost every nation on Earth. The claim is, in many respects, quite true. The humans species is causing all the concern. Environmental problems are people problems, not gorilla or sequoia problems. The problem is to get people into “a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature”(1). And yet those who put themselves at the center of concerns are liable to the fallacy of misplaced values.

Does this make nature peripheral or marginal? The center of a circle is circumscribed by, embedded in, the larger area. Being located at the center may highlight, rather than reduce, ties and responsibilities. We need to assess the human values that require natural values, asking also what human values may override, or ought to yield to, natural values. We need to ask whether there are many, or any, natural values independent of humans.

“Every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man.” That is how the UN World Charter for Nature begins. It is as nonanthropocentric as the Rio Declaration’s beginning is anthropocentric (2). One hundred and twelve nations endorsed this charter, though the United States vigorously opposed it. It is possible, we should notice, for humans to be at the center of concerns and also for every form of life to have its worth regardless of humans. Both can be true. The Society of American Foresters, while continuing to affirm that forestry is for the good of society, has recently adopted a land ethic canon that, they say, “demonstrates our respect for the land.” This means, says Raymond S. Craig, chair of their Land Ethic Committee, that foresters also “value all components of ecosystems, without regard to their usefulness to humans, because all components have intrinsic value”(3).

When we think about it, biological conservation did not begin when the United Nations promulgated a World Charter for Nature, nor when Teddy Roosevelt withdrew forest reserves. Biological conservation in the deepest sense is not something that originates in the human mind. Organisms are self-maintaining systems; they resist dying. They reproduce. They keep re-composing themselves. Life is an energetic fight uphill in a world that overall moves thermodynamically downhill. The “genius” of life is coded into genetic sets. The DNA is really a set of conservation molecules.

Biology can refer to the science humans have produced—that which appears in textbooks and laboratories. This is a subjective affair in human heads. Take away humans, and biology, like the other sciences, disappears. Biology can also refer to the life metabolisms on Earth. Such biology is objective out there in the world. Take away humans, and this nonhuman biology remains. This biology is primary, and such biology without conservation is impossible, a contradiction in terms, a condition that can exist in the actual world only temporarily, since biology without conservation is death.

Broadly, two different philosophical perspectives are possible when a human valuer encounters an x in the world.(1) What is x good for? (2) What is x’s own good? The first is a question about instrumental value, the second about intrinsic value. What is Sally good for? She can serve as a cook or legislator. What is Sally’s good? Her well-being of body and mind, the meaning she finds in life. This is also true, in comparative ways, confronting animals and plants. Beyond dispute, animals and plants defend a good of their own, and use resources to do so. Warblers preserve their own lives, and make more warblers; they consume (and regulate) insects and avoid raptors. They have connections in their ecosystems that go on “over their heads,” but what is “in their heads” (and in their genes) is that being a warbler is a good thing. Every organism has a good of its own; it defends its kind as a good kind. In this sense, a genetic set is a normative set; it distinguishes between what is and what ought to be.

This does not mean that the organism is a moral system, or has lifestyle options among which it may choose. These levels of value are reached only much later, dramatically in humans. Nevertheless the organism grows, reproduces, repairs its wounds, and resists death. A life is defended for what it is in itself, without necessary further contributory reference—although such lives invariably do have further ecosystemic reference. There is intrinsic value when a life is so defended. That ipso facto is value in both biological and philosophical senses.

Intrinsic value in nature is always in a web that connects with others. The tiger, valued for what it is in itself, is at the top of a trophic food pyramid that moves downward through gazelles, grass, microbes, requires the rainfall, the geomorphic and erosional cycles that produce the soil, and so on. In this sense, the traditional concepts of instrumental and intrinsic value need to be set in a more comprehensive picture, that of ecosystems and, before we conclude, of the home planet Earth. In that sense an ecosystem is valuable, that is, value-able, able to produce and sustain values. Organisms value and defend only their selves, with species increasing their numbers. But the evolutionary ecosystem spins a bigger story, limiting each kind, locking it into the welfare of others, promoting new arrivals, increasing kinds and the integration of kinds. Species increase their kind; but ecosystems increase kinds. The individual is programmed to make more of its kind, but more is going on systemically than that; the system is making more kinds. Communal processes generate an ever-richer community. Hence the evolutionary toil, elaborating and diversifying the biota.

Ethical conservatives, in the humanist sense, will say that ecosystems are of value only because they contribute to human experiences. They will put humans at the center of concerns. But that mistakes the last chapter, perhaps the climax, for the whole story, as though there were no concerns except those in center focus. Humans count enough to have the right to flourish here on Earth, but not so much that we have the right to degrade or shut down ecosystems, not at least without a burden of proof that there is an overriding cultural gain. The ethical conservative in the ecological sense sees that the stability, integrity, and beauty of biotic communities is what is most fundamentally to be conserved. That is, in fact, where the real ability to produce value arises; it does not arise, as we in our anthropocentric arrogance might say, only when we humans arrive on the scene to assign and project our values there. Making the fallacy of misplaced values, this is like dipping water at a fountain of life, watering a lush land, then valuing the water and the fountain instrumentally, and commenting that nothing was of value until I came. It is like finding a goose that lays golden eggs and valuing the eggs but not the goose.

Spontaneously, natural history organizes itself. This is what we call its systemic value. In one sense nature is indifferent to mountains, rivers, fauna, flora, forests, and grasslands. But in another sense nature has bent toward making and remaking these projects, millions of kinds, for several billion years. These performances are worth noticing—remarkable, memorable—and not just because they produce this noticing in certain recent subjects—our human selves. The splendors of Earth do not simply lie in their roles as human resources, supports of culture, or stimulators of experience. The most plausible account will find some programmatic evolution toward value.

How do we humans come to be charged up with values, if there was and is nothing in nature charging us up so? A systematic environmental ethic does not wish to believe in the special creation of values, nor in their dumbfounding epigenesis at the moment that humans appear on the scene. It discovers that values have evolved out of a systemically valuable nature.

From this more objective viewpoint, there is something naive about living in a reference frame where one species takes itself as absolute and values everything else in nature relative to its utility.

Placing one’s own species at the center, a biologist may insist, is just what goes on in the woods; warblers take a warblo-centric point of view; spruce push only to make more spruce. Other biologists will also insist, however. that the system takes no such particular points of view but generates myriads of such kinds. Humans are the only species who can see an ecosystem for what it objectively is, a tapestry of interwoven values. Conservation biologists, in addition to saving fauna and flora, can save humans by daily rescuing us from this beguiling anthropocentrism through a perennial contact with the primeval biological and geomorphic givens. Conservation biology should liberate us from a narrow humanism—from putting ourselves at the center—and help us gain fuller humanity by transcending merely human interests. It reforms human character in encounters with a value-laden world.

Natural and National Resources

There is one Earth; on it are 178 sovereign nations, a politically fragmented world. “The Earth is one but the world is not”(4). True, the one Earth is plural in its landmasses and supports myriads of diverse ecosystems, species, and peoples. Still, the really divisive troubles arise among the world states. The national sovereignties are not well adapted for harmonious relations with the Earth commons. The rights of nations, and rights as claimed by citizens of these political states, are not well aligned with the ecology and geography. In the 20th century, the commons problem became transnational; at the turn of tire millennium it is becoming global. Our citizenship in nations is not well synchronized with our residence in geographic places, nor with our sense of global dwelling on our home planet.

Many of Earth’s natural resources, unevenly distributed, have to flow across national lines. Few, if any, nations are self-sufficient in all of the natural resources they need or desire, and many are quite deficient. No one familiar with ecosystems will dislike interdependencies and networked communities. or be surprised by competition for resource allocation. Still, cultures differ radically from ecosystems. Animals do not live in nations and trade in markets. In ecosystems, there are no taxes and trade tariffs, no balance of payments to be protected, no GNP; there is no management and labor, no hiring and firing, no capital acquisition, no international loans to be repaid, no money exchange rates. So a new trouble appears. Nation states, and the relations between them, are often ill-adapted for the efficient use of natural resources. Divisiveness, struggle, even wars can result.

People are fighting for what is of value in nature, but they are also fighting as citizens of nations that have economic policies and political agendas, demanding loyalties in support. Their access to natural resources conics filtered through political and industrial units that are not formed, or continued, with these ecologies in mind. They want resources, but the political alignments can often mean suboptimal and unjust solutions to the problems of resource distribution. Natural resources have to become national resources, and “nationalizing” natural resources can be as much part of the problem as part of the answer, especially when the sovereign independence of nations is asserted without regard for the interdependencies of these nations—both those with each other and those of the global ecosystems. When biological resources are taken to be national possessions in dispute, rather than an Earth commons to be shared, it can become difficult to find a way to share them.

On Earth, there are two major blocs, the G-7 nations (the Group of 7, the big industrial nations of North America, Europe, and Japan), and the G-77 nations, once 77 but now including some 128 lesser developed nations, often south of the industrial North. The G-7 nations hold about one-fifth of the world’s five billion persons, and they product and consume about four- fifths of all goods and services. The G-77 nations, with four-fifths of tire world’s people, produce and consume one-fifth (5). If we draw a pie chart of the goods produced by consuming Earth’s resources, four-fifths of the pie goes to one-fifth of the people. Can this be fair?

Answers are complex. Earth’s natural resources are unevenly distributed by nature, and national boundaries were nearly all drawn before many of the modern essential resources were resources at all: coal, electric power, iron ore. One quarter of the known petroleum reserves are in Saudi Arabia, and more than half are in the Middle East. The need for petroleum is dispersed around the globe. The divisions of nation states, rather accidentally related to the location of this most valuable resource, often compound the problem. The biodiversity resources on Earth are likewise unevenly located, and here the problem is that, though these resources are important to all nations, they may be located in the less developed nations, who most need to develop, possibly using up these resources (such as cutting their forests), or who, if they wish to conserve these resources, may be least able to afford the costs of conservation.

A second cause is that the myriad diverse societies on Earth have taken different directions of development; they have different governments, ideologies, and religions, have made different social choices, valued material prosperity differently. Typically, where there is agricultural and industrial development, people think of this as an achievement. If we imagine a pie chart of production again, different nations have different powers to produce this pie. People ought to get what they earn. There is nothing evidently unfair in dividing a pie unequally, until we consider who produced the pie. Fairness nowhere commands rewarding all parties equally; justice is giving each his or her due. That can mean unequal treatment proportionate to earnings.

In America, we think that our forefathers got what they got by Yankee ingenuity, hard work, thrift; they built the nation, plowed the prairies, hoed the corn, split the rails, paved the roads, developed the natural resources, and on and on. There is a commendable genius in the American blend of democracy, industry, labor, and resource conservation and use; that is, in fact, what has made the United States the envy of much of the world. Similar things can be said for any prosperous nation. If so, the distribution pattern reflects achievement; and what the other nations need to do is to imitate this. Unproductive people need to learn how to make more pie.

But do we believe that some countries have more merit than others? We have all been cautioned of ethnocentrism. One is reluctant to be too proud about success. Perhaps by the time one reaches the scale of country, statistical averages take over, and every country has its mix of deserving and undeserving persons, success and failure. People are the same all over the globe, and excellence is no respecter of national boundaries. We do not want to be discriminatory; we want to be fair.

Exploitation can be a third cause of this asymmetrical distribution. Many in C-77 nations find themselves deprived rather than blessed by the capitalism that originated in Europe and spread abroad, enabling the G-7 nations to take advantage not only of their own resources but also of those in other nations. These poor are, as they see it, the victims of colonialism. It is difficult to consider the one-fifth-consuming-four-fifths distribution pattern and not think that something is unfair, even when we make allowances for differential earnings and merit. Is some of the richness on one side related to the poverty on the other? Regularly, the poor come off poorly when they bargain with the rich; and wealth that originates as impressive achievement can further accumulate when such wealth becomes a means of exploitation.

Those in the G-7 nations who emphasize the earnings model tend to recommend to the G-77 nations that they produce more, often offering to help them by investments that can also be productive for the G-7 nations. Those in the G-77 nations realize that the problem is sharing too. A continually growing production can be as much part of the problem as part of the solution. One way to think of a circular pie chart of Earth goods is that this is planet Earth, and we do not have any way of producing a bigger planet. Maybe too, Earth is not just a big pie to be eaten up. Earth is valuable on its own and has produced fauna and flora that are worth construing for what they are in themselves.

On global scales, if the controlling interest is national sovereignty, gross national product, and welfare alone, we may be prevented from the ethics we need by the fallacy of misplaced community. This mistakes the nature and character of the communities to which one belongs, and it gives such disproportionate emphasis to some communities (one’s nation, one’s city, one’s industrial company) that one becomes blind to others (the larger community of life, the biotic community in which one resides, the global village). The wrong conclusions and inappropriate actions follow. An effort by a developed country to aid a developing nation is typically interpreted, for example, as “foreign” aid, when such effort could better have been interpreted by the developed country as saving their “home” planet. On the global scale, none of us are aliens—we are all at home. “The common heritage of mankind” is the classical category for valuing this global commons.

Keeping each nation oriented to global perspectives by instruments of international law is a major role of the United Nations. Since the United Nations is not a sovereign state, its appeal must be largely persuasive, negotiatory, ethical—based on rights and responsibilities more than on military force or political power. Laws will be soft laws, but still they will be aspirational and can orient nations. The UNCED Conference, for instance, produced the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The United Nations Environment Programme played an important role in negotiations leading to the 1987 Montreal ozone protocol. We have already noted the Rio Declaration and the World Charter for Nature. Agenda 21, one of the most complex international documents ever negotiated, is a comprehensive strategy for blending environmental conservation and national development. There are more than 150 international agreements registered with the United Nations that deal directly with environmental problems(6).

Nature, Natural Resources, and Rights to Development

There are problems of overpopulation, overconsumption, and the underdistribution of resources. But a moral humanist can plausibly object that, when it comes to individual persons caught up in these social forces, we should factor out al! three, none of which are the fault of the persons who may wish to develop their lands. “I did not ask to be born; I am poor, not overconsuming; I am not the cause but rather the victim of the inequitable distribution of wealth.” Surely there is a right to use whatever natural resources one Iris available, as best one can, under the exigencies of one’s particular fife, set though this is in these unfortunate circumstances. “I only wont enough to eat, is that not my right?”

Certainty a human right to an environment with integrity will be one of the chief goals of biological conservation. Human rights must include the right to subsistence, to have basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter met. So even if particular persons are part of an undesirable pattern of population growth, even if there is some better social solution than the wrong one that is in fact happening, have they not a right that will override the conservation of natural value? Granted that culture is unhealthy, will it not just be a further wrong to them to deprive them of their right to what little they have? Can human rights ever be overridden by a society that wants to do better by conserving natural value? Should nature win, while such unlucky persons lose?

Answering such questions requires some weighing of values. Consider tropical forests. There is more richness there than in other regions of the planet—half of all known species. On the one continent of South America, there are one-fifth of the planet’s species of terrestrial mammals (800 species); there are one-third of the planet’s (lowering plants (7). Given the ecology of the tropical forests, which does not respond well to fragmentation, these species can be preserved only if large Amazonian rainforests and other wetland regions of South America are left relatively undeveloped and at low population densities. The peak of global plant diversity is the combined flora of the three Andean countries of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. There more than 40,000 species occur on just 2 percent of the world’s land surface (8). But population growth in South America has been as high as anywhere in the world (9), and people are flowing into the forests, often crowded off other lands.

What about people? Consider people who are not now there but might move. This is not good agricultural soil, and such would-be settlers are likely to find only a short-term bargain, a long-term loss. Consider people who already live there. If they are indigenous peoples, and wish to continue to live as they have for hundreds and even thousands of years, there will be no threat to the forest. If they are cabaclos (of mixed European and native races), they can also continue the lifestyles known for hundreds of years, without serious destruction of the forests. Nothing is taken away from them.

Can these indigenous and cabaclos peoples modernize? Can they multiply? The two questions are connected, since it is modern medicine mid technology that enables them to multiply. These are problematic questions for, in a sense, a modernized, much-multiplied indigenous people is not an indigenous people any more. The cabaclos’ lifestyle modernized has really been transformed into something else. Have they the right to develop into modern peoples, if this requires an exploitation of their resources that destroys the rainforests? The first answer is that they do, but with the qualification that all rights are not absolute, some are weaker, some stronger, and the exercise of any right lots to be balanced against values destroyed in the exercise of that right.

The qualification brings a second answer. If one concludes that the natural values at stake are quite high (perhaps higher than anywhere else in the world), and that the opportunities for development are low, because the envisioned development is inadvisable, then a possible answer is: No, there will be no development of these reserved areas. There will be development elsewhere, to which such persons will be facilitated to move, if they wish. If they stay, they must stay under the traditional lifestyle of their present and past circumstances. So they must pay, if you like, an opportunity cost, if they remain. They do have the right to develop, but not here.

Anywhere there is legal zoning, persons are told what they may not do on the lands on which they reside, in order to protect various social and natural values. Land ownership is limited, “imperfect,” as lawyers term it. One’s rights are always constrained by the harm one does to others. Environmental policy regulates the harms that people do on the lands on which they live, and it is perfectly appropriate to set aside conservation reserves to protect natural values, because of the ecological, scientific, economic, historical, aesthetic, religious, and other values people have at stake, as well as for intrinsic values in fauna and flora. Indeed, unless there is such reserving counterbalancing the pressures for development, there will be almost no conservation at all. Every person on Earth is told that there are some areas that he or she cannot develop. If one is residing in a location where development is constrained, this may seem unfair, to force relocation. Does that not violate human rights? Consider relocation in general, and start on the development side. Every large dam ever built has forced people to move. Kariba Dam, on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, supplies water, electricity, fish, and benefits wildlife, but forced 50,000 Tonga people to move from their ancestral homelands. Typically we think this a justifiable overriding of their rights; we may also think that compensation is required. General Motors is closing 21 plants, affecting 76,000 jobs between 1990 and 1995, choosing subcontracting for parts, production overseas, and getting better efficiency in other plants. During 1920-1960, most textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, moved south, in search of cheaper, nonunion labor, lower taxes, to get closer to the cotton, to modernize plants, and, no longer needing water power, to take advantage of cheaper electricity provided by TVA, and other government incentives to develop the South. The United States closes military bases and tens of thousands have to move.

We may not think these decisions are always right, but they sometimes are. We require people to relocate in the interests of various social goods. On a parity with this, but on the conservation side, we may also ask people to relocate—as when national parks have been established. What is so amiss about asking people to relocate in the interest of protecting nature, where the stakes are especially high? No more human rights are being “violated” for the conservation of nature than have regularly been “violated” (as is alleged) in the name of development. Rights, at least some of them, are constrained by larger goods, which we may not have any right to block or destroy.

This will be especially permissible where we ask persons to relocate only if they are revising their lifestyles in ways that put new threats on the environment. They are proposing to introduce changes, and the burden of proof should be on them to say why they should jeopardize nature there, rather than move to less sensitive areas. One way of putting this is that the people have options; the forests do not. People can move; forests cannot, nor can the animals they contain. Saving the natural values present, optimizing the mix of values in nature and culture can require limiting the options of people in order to save the nonoptional forest values.

Human rights to development, even by those who are poor, though they are to be taken quite seriously, are not always and everywhere absolute, but have to be weighed against all the other values at stake. A person may be doing what would be, taken individually, a perfectly good flung, a thing he has a right to do, were he alone. But taken in collection with thousands of others doing the same thing, it becomes a harmful thing, which he has no right to do because it destroys the commons and irreversibly destroys natural values. These poor may not have so much a right to develop in any way they please, as a right to a more equitable distribution of the goods of the Earth that we, the wealthy, think we absolutely own. A Managed Earth and the End of Nature?

William Clark writes, in a Scientific American issue devoted to “Managing Planet Earth,” “NVc have entered an era characterized by syndromes of global change …. As we attempt to move from merely causing these syndromes to managing them consciously, two central questions must be asked? What kind of planet do we want? What kind of planet can we get?” (10). Those questions do not preclude nonanthropocentric answers; but they strongly suggest that humans are being asked what they want out of the planet, and the planetary managers will figure out how to get it for them. That puts humans at the center of concerns. The root of “manage” is the Latin “minus,” hand. Humans will handle the place. This can even mean that Homo sapiens is the professional manager of an otherwise valueless world. Nature is to be harnessed to human needs. Now an opposite worry strikes us. This managing the planet begins to sound like the end of nature, the replacement of spontaneous nature with a new epoch of deliberate control, humanizing tire Earth. Is that what we have or what we want? Let’s face the facts, the technocrat will insist. Humans now control 90 percent of the planet’s land-based primary net photosynthetic productivity (11). A study for the World Bank found that 35 percent of the Earth’s land has now become degraded (12). Surely, our only option is to intervene more intelligently—to manage the planet. Now no one wishes to oppose more intelligent intervention. We want a sustainable society with its health and integrity, superposed on a natural world with its health and integrity. But we are not so sure that managing the valueless planet is the apt paradigm, besides which all other conservation ideologies are backward romanticisms. Why not, for instance, think of ourselves as residents who are learning the logic of our home community, or as moral overseers trying to optimize both the cultural and the natural values on the planet? Is our only relationship to nature one of engineering it for the better? Perhaps what is as much to be managed is this earth-eating, managerial mentality that has caused the environmental crisis in the first place.

Penultimately, management is a good thing; but, ultimately management is no more appropriate for Earth than for people, because it only sees means not ends. The scientific managers still have the value questions on their hands. On planetary scales, and even on continental and regional scales, it is not so clear that we really do want to manage the environment; rather we want to manage human uses of the environment so that they are congenial to letting the planet go on managing itself. Managers do not really dwell in an environment; they only have resources, something like the way in which bosses, as such, do not have friends, only subordinates. Even the most enlightened exploiters, qua exploiters, do not live as persons in a community; they are not citizens of a world, only consumers of materials. They reduce their environment to resource and sink. The environment must be this much, but it can be much more. For consummate managers, proportionately as the development ethic increases, the environment is reduced to little more than exploited resource.

We cannot simply take nature ready to hand, but we must remake it for the supporting of agriculture, industry, culture. After that, perhaps, on the larger planetary scales, it is better to build our cultures in intelligent harmony with the way the world is already built, rather than take control and rebuild the planet by ourselves and for ourselves. An overweening trust in science, technology, and industry may result in too little trust in Mother Earth.

The planetary manager wants human genius to manage the system, but there is already a considerable “genius” in the system. Is man the engineer in an unengineered world? The word engineer comes from the root ingenium, an innate genius, an inventive power, and hence our word ingenious, “characterized by original construction.” Etymologically, “nature” and “genius” (and hence “engineer”) come from the same root, gene (g) nasci, natus, to give clever birth. In that sense there is ample inventive and engineering power in nature, which has built Earth and about perhaps a billion species, keeping the whole machinery running, with these species coming and going, for several billion years.

Who built the engineers, with their clever brains and hands, with which they propose now to manage the planet? Isn’t building people out of protozoans, and protozoans out of protons a rather ingenious achievement? Maybe we should reconsider our models. Nature is not the antithesis of engineering; it is the prototype of ingenuity. Engineers and managers cannot know what they are doing, until they know what they are undoing. We ought to spend adequate effort making sure we know what a place is, especially if it is the only home planet, before we decide to remake it into something else. Hands are for managing and also for bolding in loving care. Perhaps there looms before us what some call, rather dramatically, “the end of nature.” In the 21st century, there will only be nature that has been tampered with, not spontaneous nature. Indeed, laments Bill McKibben, already “we live in a postnatural world,” in “a world that is of our own making.” “There’s no such thing as nature any more” (13). Earlier, wild nature could remain alongside culture; the natural givens stayed in place. There could not be wilderness everywhere, but there could be wilderness somewhere, lots of it, all over the world. Wild creatures could coexist on their own in the reserves, the woodlots, the fencerows, the nooks, the crannies of civilization. But with acid rain, with pollutants everywhere, with carcinogens in the food chains, such coexistence is impossible. With global warming accelerating climate change a hundred times over, “changing nature means changing everything” and this “seems infinitely sad.” Everything, everywhere “bears the permanent stamp of man.” “We live at the end of nature, the moment when the essential character of the world . . . is suddenly changing.” There is no more nature “for its own sake” (14).

Has or might nature come to an end? The answers are both matters of fact and of philosophical analysis. Is it the case that, owing to human disturbances in the Yellowstone Park ecosystem, we have lost any possibility of letting the park be natural? There will be an absolute sense in which this is true, since there is no square foot of the park in which humans have not disturbed the predation pressures, no square foot on which rain falls without detectable pollutants. But it does not follow that nature is absolutely ended because it is not absolutely present. Answers come in degrees. Events in Yellowstone can remain 99.44 percent natural on many a square foot, indeed on hundreds of square miles, in the sense that we can designate there “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (15). We can put the predators back and clean up the air. Even where the system was once disturbed and subsequently restored or left to recover on its own, wildness can return.

On other lands, past certain thresholds, so far as land is managed for agriculture or industry, so far its it is fenced for pasture or mowed as lawns, wild nature has ended. This ending may be always, in its own way. a sad thing; but it is sometimes an inevitable thing, and the culture that replaces nature can have compensating values. It would be a sadder thing still, if culture had never appeared to grace the Earth, or if cultures had remained so modest that they had never substantially modified the landscape. We do not always lament our presence, even though we want some untrammeled lands. Where the human presence permanently alters the land, wilderness is impossible, but some portions of the Adirondacks of New fork can be rural and still relatively natural.

Still, the more drastic the intervention, the more nature has ended. If, for instance, global warming introduces climatic changes so dramatic that natural environments cannot track these changes, then dheie will be no more nature. Again, this is not absolute, for some natural processes will remain, but the system will be unrecognizably natural. The epoch of spontaneously self-organizing systems, of wild nature with integrity, will be effectively over, and that will be a tragedy. Similarly if other toxics choke up the system, or if the extinction rate reaches the projected disastrous levels, or if deforestation or soil loss reach levels that cause the system to crash. So the end of nature is not absolutely here, it is not absolutely possible, but it is relatively to be feared. Some end of nature is a good thing; but too much of any good thing is a bad thing. Beyond, beneath, and around our culture, we do not want the end of nature. We value nature as an end in itself.

Earth Ethics

The astronaut Michael Collins recalled being: “I remember so vividly . . . what I saw when I looked back at my fragile home—a glistening, inviting beacon, delicate blue and white, a tiny outpost suspended in the black infinity. Earth is to be treasured and nurtured, something precious that must endure” (16). The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, closed the Earth Summit: “The Spirit of Rio must create a new mode of civic conduct. It is not enough for man to love his neighbour; he must also learn to love his world” (17).

Neither is thinking merely anthropocentrically of Earth as a big resource to be exploited for human needs, a pie to be divided up for human consumption. Rather, Earth is a precious thing in itself because it is home for us all; Earth is to be loved, as we do a neighbor, for an intrinsic integrity. The center of focus is not people, but the biosphere. But valuing the whole Earth and responsibilities to it are unfamiliar and need philosophical analysis.

Dealing with an acre or two of real estate, perhaps even with hundreds or thousands of acres, we can think that the earth belongs to us, as private properly holders. Dealing with a landscape, we can think that the earth belongs to us, as citizens of the country geographically located there. But on the global scale, Earth is not something we own. Earth does not belong to us; rather we belong to it. We belong on it. The question is not of property, but of community. The valuing of nature and natural resources is not over until we have risen to the planetary level, and valued this system we inhabit. Earth is really the relevant survival unit.

Earth is, some will insist, a big rockpile like the moon, only one on which the rocks are watered and illuminated in such a way that they support life. So it is really the life we value and not the Earth, except as instrumental to life. We have duties to people, perhaps to living things. We must not confuse duties to the home with duties to the inhabitants. We do not praise the Earth so much as what is on Earth. But this is not a systemic view of what is going on. We need some systematic account of the valuable Earth we now behold, before we beheld it, not just some value that is generated in the eye of the beholder. Finding that value will generate a global sense of obligation.

The evolution of rocks into dirt into fauna and flora is one of the great surprises of natural history, one of the rarest events in the astronomical universe. We humans too rise up from the humus, and we find revealed what earth can do when it is self-organizing under suitable conditions. This is pretty spectacular dirt. On an everyday scale earth seems to be passive, inert, an unsuitable object of moral concern. But on a global scale? The scale changes nothing, a critic may protest, the changes are only quantitative. Earth is no doubt precious as life support, but it is not precious in itself. There is nobody there in a planet. There is not even the objective vitality of an organism, or the genetic transmission of a species line. Earth is not even an ecosystem, strictly speaking; it is a loose collection of myriads of ecosystems. So we must be talking loosely, perhaps poetically, or romantically of valuing Earth. Earth is a mere thing, a big thing, a special thing for those who happen to live on it, but still a thing, and not appropriate as an object of intrinsic or systemic valuation. We can, if we insist on being anthropocentrists, say that it is all valueless except as our human resource.

But we will not be valuing Earth objectively until we appreciate this marvelous natural history. This really is a superb planet, the most valuable entity of all, because it is the entity able to produce all the Earthbound values. At this scale of vision, if we ask what is principally to be valued, the value of life arising as a creative process on Earth seems a better description and a more comprehensive category than to speak of a careful management of planetary natural resources.

Do not humans sometimes value Earth’s life-supporting systems because they are valuable, and not always the other way round? It seems parochial to say that our part alone in the drama establishes all its worth. The production of value over the millennia of natural history is not something subjective that goes on in the human mind. The creativity within the natural system we inherit, and the values this generates, are the ground of our being, not just the ground under our feet. Earth could be the ultimate object of duty, short of God, if God exists.


Quotation: Kelley, K. W. ed. 1988. The home planet, photo 42. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.

1. UN Conference on Environment and Development. 1992. The Rio declaration. UNCED Document A/CONF.151/5/Rev. 1, 13 June.

2. World Charter for Nature. 1982. UN General Assembly Resolution No. 37/7 of 28 October.

3. Craig, R.S. 1992. Land ethic canon proposal: a report from the task force. Journal of Forestry 90, no. 8 (August):40-41.

4. UN World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our common future, 27. The Brundtland Report. New York: Oxford University Press.

5. World Development Report 1991. New York: Oxford University Press.

6. United Nations Environment Programme. 1991. Register of international treaties and other agreements in the field of the environment. Nairobi, Kenya. Document No. UNEI’/GC.16/Inf.4, May.

7. Mares, M.A. 1986. Conservation in South America: problems, consequences and solutions. Science 233:734-39.

8. Wilson, E.O. 1992. The diversity of life, 197. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

9. Coale, A.J. 1983. Recent trends in fertility in the less developed countries. Science 221:828-832.

10. Clark, W. 1989. Managing planet Earth. Scientific American 261, no. 3 (September):47-48.

11. Vitousek, P., P. Ehrlich, A. Ehrlich, and P Matson. 1986. Human appropriation of the products of biosynthesis. BioScience 36:374.

12. Goodland, R.1992. The case that the world has reached limits. In Population, technology, and lifestyle. R. Goodland, H.E. Daly, and S. El Serafy, eds., 3-22. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

13. McKibben, B. 1989. The end of nature, 60,85,89. New York: Random House.

14. McKibben, 70-79, 174-175, 210 (13).

15. United States Congress. Wilderness Act of 1964, sec. 2(c). Public Law 88-577. 78 Stat 891.

16. Collins, M. 1980. Foreword. In Our universe. R.A. Gallant, ed., 6. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

17. Boutros-Ghali, B. 1992. Extracts from closing UNCED statement, in an UNCED summary, Final Meeting and Round-up of Conference, 1. UN Document ENV/DEV/RIO/29,14 June.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | ekoloji, ekolojist akımlar, türcülük, doğa / hayvan özgürlüğü | 1 Comment

Ecophilosophy, Ecosophy and the Deep Ecology Movement: An Overview – Alan Drengson

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, Vol 14, No. 3, Summer 1997, pages 110-111, entitled “An Ecophilosophy Approach, the Deep Ecology Movement, and Diverse Ecosophies” Thanks to Arne Naess and Ted Mosquin for their suggestions.

During the last thirty years philosophers in the West have critiqued the underlying assumptions of Modern philosophy in relation to the natural world. This development has been part of an ongoing expansion of philosophical work involving cross cultural studies of world views or ultimate philosophies. Since philosophical studies in the West have often ignored the natural world, and since most studies in ethics have focused on human values, those approaches which emphasize ecocentric values have been referred to as ecophilosophy. Just as the aim of traditional philosophy is sophia or wisdom, so the aim of ecophilosophy is ecosophy or ecological wisdom. The Practice of ecophilosophy is an ongoing, comprehensive, deep inquiry into values, the nature of the world and the self.

The mission of ecophilosophy is to explore a diversity of perspectives on human-Nature contexts and interrelationships. It fosters deeper and more harmonious relationships between place, self, community and the natural world. This aim is furthered by comparing the diversity of ecosophies from which people support the platform principles of the global, long range, deep ecology movement.

Here is Arne Naess’s original definition of ecosophy:  “By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities.” (See A. Drengson and Y. Inoue, 1995, page 8.)

In 1973 (Inquiry 16, pp. 95-100) the name “deep ecology movement” was introduced into environmental literature by Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Professor Arne Naess. (For a reprint of the article see Drengson and Inoue 1995.) Environmentalism emerged as a popular grass roots political movement in the 1960’s with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. Those already involved in conservation/preservation efforts were joined by many others concerned about the detrimental environmental impacts of modern industrial technology. The longer range, older elements of the movement included writers and activists like Thoreau and Muir, whereas the newer mainstream awareness was closer to the wise conservation philosophy of people like Gifford Pinchot. 

Naess’s article was based on a talk he gave in Bucharest in 1972 at the Third World Future Research Conference. In his talk Naess discussed the longer-range background of the ecology movement and its connection with respect for Nature and the inherent worth of other beings. As a mountaineer who had climbed all over the world, Naess enjoyed the opportunity to observe political and social action in diverse cultures. Both historically and in the contemporary movement Naess saw two different forms of environmentalism, not necessarily incompatible with one another. One he called the “long-range deep ecology movement” and the other, the “shallow ecology movement.” The word “deep” in part referred to the level of questioning of our purposes and values, when arguing in environmental conflicts. The “deep” movement involves deep questioning, right down to fundamentals. The shallow stops before the ultimate level. 

In his ecophilosophy framework for cross cultural analysis of grass roots social-political movements, Naess distinguishes between four levels of discourse (see the chart below). In forming cross cultural global movements some general consensus develops that focuses the movement through platform principles (as is the case for many movements–literary, philosophical, social, political, etc.), such as the principles of social justice, or the principles of peace and nonviolence, or the principles for the deep ecology movement (DEM). Movements so described have their principles emerge from the bottom up and are thus called grass roots movements (as in the Gandhian tradition), not top down power over hierarchies . 

The aim of ecophilosophy is a total or comprehensive view of our human and individual situation. Comprehensive includes the whole global context with us in it, sharing a world with diverse cultures and beings. We move toward a total view via deep questioning–always asking why–to ultimate norms and premises, and via articulation  (or application) to policies and practices. Much cross cultural work is done at the level of platform principles, and we can have a high level of agreement at this level that Naess calls Level II. From Level II we can engage in deep questioning and pursue articulating our own ecosophy, which might be grounded in some major worldview or religion, such as Pantheism or Christianity. This level of ultimate philosophies is called Level I. There is considerable diversity at this level. From Level II principles we can develop specific policy recommendations and formulations, or Level III. From Level III application leads us to practical actions, Level IV. There is considerable diversity at the level of policies, but even more at the level of practical actions. 

Table Showing Levels of Questioning and Articulation

Level  I Ultimate Premises Taoism, Christianity, Ecosophy T, etc.
Level  II Platform Principles Movement Peace Movement, Deep Ecology Movement, Social Justice Movement, etc.
Level  III Policies A, B, C, etc.
Level  IV Practical Actions W, X, Y, etc.

 [The above chart is a simplification of Naess’s Apron Diagram. See Drengson and Inoue, 1995, pp. 10-12.]

In deep questioning we move toward ultimate premises and norms. In the process of derivation and application we move toward platform support and developing policies and practical actions. This is a continuous back and forth process which keeps our understanding and practices in harmony with a changing world. The deep approach, then, becomes evolutionary, changing with natural conditions. (For example, the “new corporation” [or community] has to engage in this back and forth movement and so requires full employee participation, diverse leaders and initiative takers.) In the three grassroots movements mentioned above the principles are individual and international.  It is important to note that there is great diversity at the level of ultimate philosophies. We do not all have to subscribe to the same ultimate ecological philosophy in order to work cooperatively for the benefit of the planet and its communities of beings. The front is very long and we each have values to contribute to realizing higher qualities in life as a whole. We must work on many different levels.

Naess has much first-hand experience in the world peace and social justice movements, and he is a committed practitioner of the way of nonviolence taught by Gandhi (Naess 1974). He also is a philosopher of science and logic who has done innovative work on language and communication.  His studies and travels have given him deep cross-cultural knowledge and perspectives. (For more details on his philosophy of communication see Naess (1953). This work will be reissued in the Selected Works of Arne Naess to be published in English by Klewer in 2000.) Naess is well placed to identify the main features of the emerging grass-roots environmental movement, which is supported by social activists from all parts of the political spectrum. The shallow-deep spectrum he describes is not the same as the old right-left split. It cuts across many conventional distinctions.

In his talk and paper Naess explained the difference between the short-term, shallow and the long-range deep ecology movements in broad terms. He explained that the distinctive aspects of the deep ecology movement is its recognition of the inherent value of all other living beings, and of the inherent worth of diversity of all kinds. This awareness is used to shape environmental policies and actions. Those who work for social changes based on this recognition are motivated by love of Nature as well as for humans. They try to be caring in all their dealings. They recognize that we cannot go on with industrial culture’s business as usual. We must make fundamental changes in basic values and practices or we will destroy the diversity and beauty of the world, and its ability to support diverse human cultures. 

In 1972, not many people appreciated that Naess was characterizing a grass-roots social movement, not stating his personal ultimate philosophy. Since then, he has articulated a set of platform principles to clarify matters. Grass-roots political movements often join people with diverse ultimate beliefs and backgrounds. In order to state the shared objectives of the movement a platform is usually put forth. The platform presents the more general principles that unite the group in terms of shared projects, aims and values. 

Naess and others have proposed a set of eight principles to characterize the deep ecology movement as part of the general ecology movement. These principles are endorsed by people from a diversity of backgrounds who share common concerns for the planet, its many beings and ecological communities. In many Western nations supporters of the platform principles stated below come from different religious and philosophical backgrounds. Their political affiliations differ considerably. What unites them is a long-range vision of what is necessary to protect the integrity of the Earth’s ecological communities and values. Supporters of the principles have a diversity of ultimate beliefs. “Ultimate beliefs” here refers to their own basic metaphysical, personal and religious grounds for their values, actions and support for the deep ecology movement. Different people and cultures have different mythologies and stories. Nonetheless, they can support the platform and work for solutions to our shared environmental crisis. A diversity of practices is emerging, but there is considerable overlap, as can be seen in hundreds of environmental conflicts all over the world. 

Supporters of the platform principles stated below come from all walks of life, and a wide variety of cultures and places. Because they live in different places, the courses of practical action that follow from commitment to the platform are also diverse. Each person has something unique to contribute by living their own ecosophies. Here are the proposed platform principles of the deep ecology movement as originally formulated by Arne Naess and George Sessions in 1984 while on a hiking trip in Death Valley California: 

The Platform Principles of the Deep Ecology Movement 

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: 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 realizations of these values and are also values in themselves. 
3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs. 
4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease. 
5. Present human interference with the nonhuman 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 is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) 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 to directly or indirectly try to implement the necessary changes. 

(Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985, p. 70. Note that this platform is discussed in an exchange of papers between Stan Rowe and Arne Naess, published originally in The Trumpeter 1996,13, 1, and now online at <;.)

Anyone who endorses these eight principles, is called by Naess and others a supporter of the deep
ecology movement, not a deep ecologist. Naess feels that “deep ecologist” is too immodest, and “shallow ecologist” is unkind language. The word “supporter” is more Ghandian and rich for interpretation. As mentioned, Naess stresses that those who support these principles can do so from a wide range of different ultimate views. Just as birds build different kinds of nests in different habitats, so human cultures which grow out of ecological places with respect for their inherent values develop diverse forms of practice, technology and social order. 

Naess calls his own ultimate philosophy Ecosophy T. It is deeply influenced by Norwegian friluftsliv (a movement to experience living in the outdoors, see Henderson, 1997), Gandhian nonviolence, Mahayana Buddhism and Spinozan pantheism. T refers to Tvergastein, Naess’s mountain hut in Norway, where much of Ecosophy T was worked out. The T also refers to the Norwegian word for interpretation (tolkning) which is central to his philosophy of language and communication. A basic norm in Naess’s Ecosophy T is Self realization!–for all beings. The Self to be realized for humans is not the ego self (small s), but the larger ecological Self (cap S). This self/Self distinction has affinities with Mahayana Buddhism. Naess says we can realize our ecological Selves in a number of ways. The way he talks most about is extension of identification. He prefaces this by saying that he assumes one is well integrated and has a healthy ego so as to avoid projection of the small self and its shadow.

Sometimes people confuse the “deep ecology movement” as described above, with Naess’ own ultimate ecocentric philosophy, Ecosophy T. Naess calls his own ultimate philosophy Ecosophy T, not deep ecology. It is on the basis of Ecosophy T that he personally supports the platform principles of the deep ecology movement. 

Naess tries to make his whole view surveyable by starting with only the one norm, Self-Realization! Self-realization! is taken to imply: “Self-realization for all beings!” The exclamation point is used to mark that this is not a mere description, but that it says something that ought to be. Naess feels the norm as a basis of his own lived ecosophy. He urges others to develop their own ecosophies based on their ultimate views. Self-realization for humans he says, can be achieved in a variety of ways. His own approach is to extend his sense of identification to a larger sense of Self. Humans naturally have this capacity as Naess and others have observed cross-culturally. We have the capacity to connect with a much larger sense of self, transcending ego, by extending our sense of identification beyond the usual narrow focus on ego to a wider sphere of relationships. It is not difficult for us to identify with other living beings. We can actually practice or cultivate this capacity. One way is to practice extending our care and affection. We can also explore this larger Self in a variety of other ways. 

Many other authors have developed ecosophies very similar to Naess’s based on the idea of extending awareness and care to a larger ecological Self. However, other supporters of the deep
ecology movement have ecosophies which do not start with the Self-realization! norm. Warwick Fox (1990) and I have both observed that the extension of self and the idea of the ecological Self overlaps in many ways with work in transpersonal psychology. Fox calls these Self-realization types of ecosophies transpersonal ecologies. (Today we call them transpersonal ecosophies and their psychological study is transpersonal ecology.) Matthew Fox’s (1988) Creation Theology (which has a long history as a minority tradition in Christianity) is a transpersonal ecology in the form of a Christian philosophy and practice that finds the Christ principle and power of love revealed in the ongoing creation of the world. It is this that we should reverence. This opens us to the expansive sense of Self. A Mahyana Buddhist, concerned for the deliverance of all sentient beings, can easily support the deep ecology movement principles.

Other writers who support the platform principles of the deep ecology movement have criticized the extension of self identification. Some prefer to find their ultimate premises and ecosophies grounded in a different conception of self, emphasizing the social self–in some cases, or stressing the difference between the way self identity develops for women in contrast to men in our traditions. In this way, some supporters of the deep ecology movement are ecofeminists, some are social ecologists, some Christians. 

No supporters of the deep ecology movement as characterized above could be anti-human, as is sometimes alleged. Some vociferous environmentalists who claim to be supporters of the movement have said and written things that are misanthropic in tone. They have not explained how such statements are consistent with commitment to platform principle number one, which recognizes the inherent worth of all beings, including humans. Supporters of the deep ecology movement deplore antihuman statements and actions. They support Gandhian nonviolence in word and deed. Arne Naess says that he is a supporter of the ecofeminist, social ecology, social justice, bioregional, and peace movements. He believes that the platform principles of the deep ecology movement are broad enough to be this inclusive. 

Another dispute has centered on the critique of anthropocentrism offered by some supporters of the deep ecology movement. “Anthropocentrism” has a number of different meanings. We must not let verbal misunderstandings be divisive. When we defend our loved ones or are moved more by human suffering than the suffering of other beings, we are acting as descendants, parents, friends, lovers, etc. One can support the deep ecology movement consistent with such feelings. What is inconsistent is refusing to recognize the inherent worth of other beings to the extent that one is willing to allow unmerciful exploitation and destruction of life forms purely for human convenience and profit. Anthropocentrism as a bias against other life forms fails to recognize that we are part of these lives and they are part of ours. Our human self in the deepest sense cannot be separated from the earth from which we have grown. Anthropocentrism is objectionable when it emphasizes “humans first!” regardless of the consequences to other beings.

When we explore our own embodied, in place, ecological Self we discover our affinities with other beings as part of our humanity. This once more emphasizes that the platform principles refer to the intrinsic worth of all beings, including humans. Supporters of the deep ecology movement platform are committed to recognizing and respecting in word and deed the inherent worth of humans and other beings. This leads to actions that try to minimize our own impacts on ecological communities and other human cultures. In order to start the process of lessening our impacts diverse transition strategies are vital. In the area of business, for example, The Natural Step (Nattrass and Altomore 1999) is a process of lessening negative impacts and encouraging positive ones. It uses bottom up initiatives, diverse leaders, and back and forth play between workers and leaders. For more on industrial ecology and new values and directions in work and business see Hawken (1993 & 1999) and on higher value leadership see Secretan (1996.)

If one accepts the platform principles of the deep ecology movement, this involves commitment to respect the intrinsic values of richness and diversity. This in turn leads to a critique of industrial society. This critique cuts across cultural boundaries. It is presented from both within and outside of industrial societies. It is partly from such a critique that support for indigenous cultures arises within Modern societies. The gist of the critique goes like this: 

Industrial culture represents itself as the only acceptable model for progress and development. However, application of this model and its financial and technological systems to all areas of the planet results in destruction of habitat, extinction of species, and destruction of indigenous cultures. The biodiversity crisis is about loss of critical species, populations and processes that perform necessary biological functions, and it is also about loss of multitudes of other values which are good in themselves and depend on preservation of natural diversity and wild evolutionary processes. Industrial society is a monoculture in agriculture and forestry, and in every other way. Its development models construe the Earth as only raw material to be used to satisfy consumption and production to meet not only vital needs, but inflated desires whose satisfaction requires more and more consumption. Its monocultures destroy cultural and biological diversity, both of which are good in themselves and critical to our survival and flourishing. The older industrial development models are now superseded by the ecological approaches referred to in this paper. (See websites listed below.)

If we do not accept the Industrial development model, what then? Endorsing the deep ecology platform principles might lead us to study the ecosophies of aboriginal and indigenous people so as to learn from them values and practices that can help us to dwell wisely in neighboring places. We also can learn from the wisdom of our places and the many beings who inhabit them. At the same time, the ecocentric values implied by the platform lead us to recognize that all human cultures have a mutual interest in seeing Earth and its diversity continue for our sake, for its own sake and because we love it. Most want to flourish and realize themselves in harmony with other beings and cultures. How can we better develop common understandings that enable us to work with civility toward harmony with other cultures, creatures and beings? The deep ecology movement platform principles are guides in this direction. Respect for diversity leads us to recognize the forms of ecological wisdom that grow out of specific places and contexts. Supporters of the deep ecology movement embrace place-specific, ecological wisdom, and vernacular technology practices. No one philosophy and technology is applicable to the whole planet.  Diversity on every level is good!

In the West there is a renewal of Christian practices that support ecotheology based on a reverential spirit for Creation. The ferment of this with the new ecocentric paradigms–influenced by field ecology and leading edge science–has led writers like Thomas Berry (1988) to begin fashioning a “new story” as a basis for Western initiatives in creating an ecologically wise and harmonious society. All of these efforts can be seen as compatible with support for the platform principles of the deep ecology movement, with perhaps some slight modifications. 

Bioregionalism (see The Planet Drum, and also Sale 1985) is an activist form of support for the deep ecology movement. The Wildlands Project, The Arne Naess Selected Works Project, the Ecoagriculture Movement, the Ecoforestry Institute and Institute for Deep Ecology education programs, and the Ecostery Foundation are a few examples of applications of deep ecology movement principles to work in support of biodiversity, preservation of wildness and ecological restoration. Other deep efforts include Ecopsychology (Roszak, et al 1995), The Natural Step, the Turning Point Project, the project to measure our ecological footprint (Rees and Wackernagel 1996), and Redefining Progress and its measures by means of a General Progress Index or GPI.

For specific applications to Forestry see Drengson and Taylor (1997). For examples of how Buddhist thought and practice have influenced some Western ecosophies see the works of Joanna Macy (1991) and Gary Snyder (1990). For applications and critiques from Third World perspectives see the writings of Vandana Shiva (1993) and Helena Norberg-Hodge (1991). On trade, the global economy and relocalization see Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith (1996). For more on natural capitalism and industrial ecology see Paul Hawken, Amory and Hunter Lovins (1999). To learn more about ecophilosophy and the movement to deep and diverse values check out the illustrative (not exhaustive) sample of references and websites listed below.


Abrams, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Language and Perception in a More-than-Human World. New York, Pantheon Books.

Berry, Thomas. 1988. Dream of the Earth. San Francisco, Sierra Books.

Bowers, C.A. 1993. Education, Cultural Myths and the Ecological Crisis: Toward Deep Changes. Albany, SUNY Press.

Devall, Bill. Editor. 1994. Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry. San Francisco, Earth Island Press.

Devall, Bill. 1988. Simple in Means, Rich in Ends: Practicing Deep Ecology. Salt Lake City,
Gibb Smith.

Devall, Bill & George Sessions. 1985. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered. Salt Lake City, Peregrine Smith.

Drengson, Alan and Yuichi Inoue, Editors. 1995. The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology. Berkeley, North Atlantic Publishers. (This book has been revised and translated for
publication in Japanese.)

Drengson, Alan. 1995. The Practice of Technology: Exploring Technology, Ecophilosophy, and Spiritual Disciplines for Vital Links. Albany, SUNY Press.

Drengson, Alan & Duncan Taylor, Editors. 1997. Ecoforestry: The Art and Science of Sustainable Forest Use. Gabriola Island, New Society Publishers.

Fox, Matthew. 1988. The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. San Francisco, Harper and Row.

Fox, Warwick. 1990. Toward a Transpersonal Ecology. Boston, Shambhala.

Hawken, Paul. 1993. The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability. New York, Haper Collins.

Hawken, Paul, and Amory and L. Hunter Lovins. 1999. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Boston, Little, Brown.

Henderson, Bob. 1997. “Friluftsliv”. The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, Vol 14, No. 2, Spring 97, p. 93-94.

Jackson, Wes. 1994. Becoming Native to this Place. Lexington, University of Kentucky.

Lauck, Joanne Elizabeth. 1998. The Voice of the Infinite in the Small: Revisioning the Insect-Human Connection. Mill Spring, NC, Swan and Raven Press.

LaChapell, Dolores. 1988. Sacred Sex, Sacred Land: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life. Silverton, CO. Finn Hill Arts. 

Macy, Joanna. 1991. World as Lover, World as Self. Berkeley, Parallax Press.

Mander, Jerry & E. Goldsmith. 1996. The Case Against the Global Economy: And a Turn Toward the Local. San Francisco, Sierra Books.

McLaughlin, Andrew. 1993. Regarding Nature: Industrialism and Deep Ecology. Albany, SUNY Press.

Naess, Arne. 1953. Interpretation and Preciseness. Oslo, Dybwad.

Naess, Arne. 1974. Gandhi and Group Conflict. Oslo, Universitets-Forlaget.

Naess, Arne. 1991. Ecology, Community and Lifestyle. London, Cambridge.

Naess, Arne. 2000. Selected Works of Arne Naess. In English, edited by Harold Glasser. Amsterdam, Klewer. Forthcoming in approximately 10 volumes.

Nattrass, B. & M. Altomare. 1999. The Natural Step for Business and the Evolutionary Corporation. Gabriola Island, New Society Publishers.

Norberg-Hodge, Helena. 1991. Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. San Francisco, Sierra Books.

Orr, David. 1992. Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Post Modern World. Albany, SUNY Press.

Rees, Bill & Mathis Wackernagel. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Gabriola Island, New Society Publishers.

Roszak, T., Gomes, M.E. & Kanner, A.D. 1995. Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. San Francisco, Sierra Books.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. 1985. Dwellers on the Land: The Bioregional Vision. San Francisco, Sierra Club Books.

Secretan, Lance. 1996. Reclaiming Higher Ground: Creating Organizations that Inspire the Soul. Toronto, Macmillan.

Sessions, George, Editor. 1995. Deep Ecology for the 21st Century. Boston, Shambhala.

Shiva, Vandana. 1993. Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity, Biotechnology and the Third World. Penong, Third World Publishing.

Snyder, Gary. 1990. The Practice of the Wild. Berkeley, North Point Press. 

Spretnak, Charlene. 1997. The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature, and Place in a Hypermodern World. Reading MA, Addison-Wesley.

Some Websites relevant to the deep ecology movement
From cross-cultural, ultimate philosophies to specific practical actions

1. The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy is at:

2. Ecoforestry information is at:

3. For The Turning Point Project see: Note: Their ad campaign on changing to ecologically responsible practices is at:

4. For more on international trade and globalization see the International Forum on Globalization at:

5. The Natural Step approach to changing business practices started in Sweden. Read more at:

6. For more on redefining and measuring progress, see:

7. In Atlantic Canada local redefining of progress is described at:

8. Bill Devall’s website of deep ecology movement material is at:

9. Ted Mosquin’s ecocentrically oriented website is at:

10. For the Wildlands Project see:

11. The Institute for Deep Ecology is at:

12. The Earth Institute is at:

13. The Land Institute is at:

14. Ecopsychology is located at:

15. For more on natural capitalism see:

June 23, 2010 Posted by | ekoloji, ekolojist akımlar, türcülük, doğa / hayvan özgürlüğü | Leave a comment

The Roles of Biodiversity in Creating and Maintaining the Ecosphere – Ted Mosquin

This is a revised and updated text of: “A Conceptual Framework for the Ecological Functions of Biodiversity,” Global Biodiversity, 1994, vol. 4(3): 2-16. This updated version has also been published as Chapter 6 of a book entitled: Biodiversity in Canada: Ecology, Ideas, and Action, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ontario, 1999, [ISBN 1551112388] $29.95. Stephen Bocking (Ed.). Stephen is a professor at Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario. The book contains 18 chapters by 16 authors; it explores the nature of biodiversity, addresses political, legal, economic, social, biological and ecological issues and challenges associated with the conservation and use of Canada’s biodiversity. More information about the book can be found at Inquiries about the book should be sent to Stephen Bocking: This article considers biodiversity in the Earth’s Ecosphere as a whole and not only that part contained within the political borders of Canada.

This article considers several intriguing questions: First, what specific functions of ecosystems and their organisms have enabled the unfolding and evolution of such a complex, astounding, and harmonious variety of life in the many marine, freshwater and terrestrial regions of the Earth? Second, which of these functions of biodiversity have been most instrumental in creating the Ecosphere that humans encountered when they first arrived on the scene?

By Ecosphere I mean the whole living Earth – a deep magma/solid rock/soil/ sediment layer, an atmospheric layer, a water layer, the biotic communities at the surface, together with their contained assemblages of organisms – the biotic communities that have evolved and within which organisms are intricately linked. When left to operate in its timeless old-fashioned way, the Ecosphere has proved itself to be an intensely stable and generative system, but necessarily supported by an external source of energy, the Sun.

This article identifies and describes 18 functions of biodiversity. Together, they illuminate the seemingly mysterious and miraculous workings not only of ecosystems and their individual species but of the Ecosphere as a whole.

Imagine yourself walking in a natural forest, native grassland or perhaps snorkelling through a rich marine kelp bed or coral reef, and reflecting on the following sorts of questions: What ecological processes are going on here? Which organisms are carrying them out? Which organisms are relatively independent and which are symbiotically linked to others? How does energy flow among these species? Who is doing the re-cycling? What systems of communication mediate processes such as reproduction and dispersal? Who is producing the oxygen? How did it come to be that such harmonious and cooperative communities have come to exist and be so pervasive in all ecosystems? Then imagine yourself in a corn or potato field or in a salmon holding tank at the edge of the sea. Again ask yourself the same questions, but also ask which functions are completely absent or are only present due to human management.

By describing functions of ecosystems and organisms, readers will be better able to assess and reflect upon the deeper values of different parts of biodiversity and of the Ecosphere. This article should also help to develop an ecocentric valuation perspective on nature, one that emphasizes nature’s value as something other than simply a source of economic commodities for humans. It will help to expose the narrow, selfish and Earth-destroying argument that “capricious nature” offers no guidelines for our conduct, and that therefore ecosystem management must respond only and exclusively to what people want.(1)

For 3.5 billion years organisms and ecosystems have been integral elements of the evolution and gradual emergence of the Ecosphere. Organisms and ecosystems together created the Ecosphere (with essential energy from the sun) as humans found it. We are ourselves one consequence of the workings of the highly stable and complex functioning of the emerging Ecosphere. But what exactly are these functions? What are the linkages between them and to what extent are they mutually exclusive?

Ecospheric functions are those processes that organisms and ecosystems perform or participate in, and that provide products and/or consequences for themselves, for other species and ecosystems in the community or region, and often in more distant lands. They are natural processes that have evolved in organisms and ecosystems, and that have enabled major new kinds of life forms to thrive, new functions to evolve and more complex ecosystems to exist.

This article considers the value of ecospheric functions to the Ecosphere as a whole, not merely their utility to humans. This is in sharp contrast to the purely anthropocentric approach to valuing “nature’s services,” described by other authors (see Table 1).(2) The values of nature identified by these authors are an anthropocentric subset of the 18 “intrinsic” functions described here. Defining ecospheric functions as “ecoservices” assumes that only humans have a high value and that wild species and ecosystems are valuable only if they have commodity or instrumental value (i.e. are “of service”) to humans.

Reproduced in Table 1 are two lists of “ecosystem services” that are examined (and/or priced) in two of the above referenced publications for readers to contemplate.

These two lists should be compared with the functions listed in Table 2. Since humans evolved within the planetary Ecosphere, it is not surprising the some anthropocentric functions listed below are similar (several are identical) with the all-inclusive ecospheric level functions described in this article.

Table 1: Two Anthropocentric Approaches to Valuing “Nature’s Services”
Source: Costanza et al. “Value” Source: Daily, Nature’s Services.
1. Gas regulation (regulation of atmospheric chemical composition) 1. Purification of air and water
2. Climate regulation (global and local levels) 2. Mitigation of floods and droughts
3. Disturbance regulation (storm protection, flood control, etc.) 3. Detoxification and decomposition of wastes
4. Water regulation (provisioning of water for agriculture, industry, transport. 4. Generation and renewal of soil fertility
5. Water supply (provisioning of water by watersheds, reservoirs, aquifers. 5. Pollination of crops and natural vegetation
6. Erosion control & sediment retention. 6. Control of the vast majority of agricultural pests
7. Soil formation (weathering of rock and accumulation of organic material) 7. Dispersal of seeds and transportation of nutrients
8. Nutrient cycling 8. Maintenance of biodiversity, from which humanity has derived key elements of its agricultural, medicinal and industrial enterprise
9. Waste treatment (recovery & breakdown of toxics, nutrients, etc.) 9. Protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays
10. Pollination (provisioning of pollinators for reproduction of plants) 10. Partial stabilization of climate
11. Biological control 11. Moderation of temperature extremes and the force of winds and waves
12. Refugia (habitat for harvested species) 12. Support of diverse human cultures
13. Food production (production of fish, game, crops, nuts incl. subsistence farming and fishing) 13. Providing of aesthetic beauty and intellectual stimulation that lift the human spirit
14. Raw Materials (production of timber, fuel or fodder)  
15. Genetic resources (sources of unique biological materials for agriculture, medicine, and the like)  
16. Recreation (providing opportunities for recreational activities)  
17. Cultural (providing opportunities for non-commercial uses)  

The notion of intrinsic value recognizes that objects, whether species, individuals or things have an innate worth, regardless of human benefits.(3) When human wants are overvalued, the Earth is devalued, taken for granted, and abused as a mere commodity – to the long range detriment of other forms of life. Thus, this article does not ask the question: What do organisms do for people? Rather, what have wild organisms and ecosystems done (and what are their modern-day descendants continuing to do) to create the world as humans found it? Viewed in this logical and truthful way the anthropocentric perspective is revealed as a narrow and selfish ideology.

Palaeontology has revealed that wilderness ecosystems and wild species have lasted for eons. Such systems represent the normal environments, or norms of the Ecosphere. All organisms within wilderness systems represent the end-products of evolution within these norms. The survival of natural or wild ecosystems with their “normal” species therefore provide the only known standards against which the success or failure of biological resource management (in forestry, agriculture, fisheries) and economic development can be judged. Agriculture, for example, is a major and drastic deviation from planetary norms, and economic development is laying waste to all parts of the Earth. Thus, “hunting and gathering” cultures are entirely within the norms of the Ecosphere while modern industrial agriculture is destroying these norms. These norms can provide guidance for human conduct, by indicating what is stable, time-tested and normal, rather than what is merely what people want. The only alternative norm is that created by our own technologies, and, these have not been tested for their long-term stability. However, enormous damage is being done by the blind belief that technology is intrinsically good, while natural systems and species are mere commodities, to be cared for and nurtured if and only if they are of instrumental value to humans. The postmodern/hypermodern ideology which says “Adapt to humanity, serve humanity–or die” is drastically altering all of the normal ecospheric functions of our planet.

Many of the functions of organisms and ecosystems described in this article have been widely explored.(4) This article deals with those functions that can be described as ecocentric: they describe what ecosystems and their species do and have done to cause the world to come to be the way it is.

The Meaning of Biodiversity

In this article the broadest possible, most inclusive meaning of biodiversity is adopted. Biodiversity has been described as “the variety of life and its processes in an area”.(5) To this we can add “the popular way of recognizing the ecological concept that everything is connected to everything else”.(6) The four key words in these definitions are variety, processes, connections and area. The inclusion of ‘area’ is essential because it is only in a physical context that variety, processes and connections have meaning. “Area” is also essential when we are talking about conservation, preservation or restoration of biodiversity. It is, after all, the only real proof of loss or gain of biodiversity is what is actually happening to ecosystems and their organisms on the ground and in fresh and marine waters.

But while this description provides a general insight into why biodiversity should demand our concern, it is not adequate for scientific analysis of the basic parts of biodiversity. We need a more rigorous definition.


1. Genetic variation.
Genetic material in all individuals of all living things.2. Taxonomic variation. Taken together, all taxonomic groups in nature– subspecies, species, genera, families, orders, classes, phyla, and the five Kingdoms.

3 Ecosystem variation. Ecosystems, i.e. three-dimensional (volumetric) spaces on the surface of our planet where organisms dwell, including all “abiotic” matter therein, from the deepest rocks and oceans to high up in the atmosphere with inputs and outputs of energy from and to adjoining ecosystems. 

4. Functions, or “ecoservices.” The specific processes that organisms and ecosystems carry out that affect themselves, their immediate neighbours and surrounds, communities in which they live, and the Ecosphere as a whole. Functions describe what organisms and ecosystems actually do (and their ancestors have done) to have enabled the emergence and evolution of the Ecosphere. 

5. The “abiotic” matrix. The enveloping rock, soil, sediment, water and air that organisms and ecosystems have participated in creating and within which all are embedded. 

Table 2 outlines the scientifically definable and inseparable parts of biodiversity: genes, taxonomic groups, ecosystems, functions and abiotic. Three of these parts (genes, taxonomic groups and ecosystems) are widely recognized and reviewed in the literature.(7) As the meaning of these three components is widely understood they will not be further reviewed here. But failing to consider functions and the abiotic component produces a simplistic and highly misleading notion of the meaning and importance of biodiversity. In particular, the abiotic (inorganic, inanimate, physical, etc.) part is essential, as the life-giving water/air/soil/ sediment/mineral environment within which organisms and ecosystems evolved, in which they are inextricably embedded and without which they cannot live.(8) Fish could not have evolved without water, birds without air, or trees without soil.

Framework for the Functions

Table 3 identifies 18 ecospheric functions of organisms and ecosystems. The functions are organized into four groups of increasing complexity: starting with those carried out mainly by individual organisms; those performed by small numbers of very different species; and those which are the result of hundreds or thousands of different species working together at the community, region or landscape scale.

The least complex function is primary production (Function 1). It mainly involves organisms operating independently – although, of course, within the abiotic part of the Ecosphere and with the energy of the sun. The most complex functions are those of stability and harmony (Functions 17 and 18). These depend on most if not all of the other functions. The functions contributing to “ecosystem level” biodiversity may include very different combinations of functions depending on the particular ecosystem. Generally, the table illustrates that the more complex a function, the more it relates to, even depends upon, other functions.

Functions are best appreciated in terms of long-term evolutionary processes. When an unique process (here called a function) originated, it made possible the evolution of other novel things or functions. Thus, as the framework illustrates, the complexity of nature has increased, as new functions have been made possible by the evolution of other functions. One could think of this increasing complexity through time as a kind of ‘law of ecospheric functions.’ If one were to suggest a general rule it might be that: “All ecospheric functions except primary production are derived from and dependent upon pre-existing functions.” It appears highly probable that these functions enabled the Ecosphere to evolve, persist and become ever more complex (and stable) over several billion years.

Obviously, for areas heavily altered by human activities, the number of functions are greatly reduced or impaired while one or two may be vastly expanded. For example, primary production in a corn field is achieved at the expense of the many functions that were carried out in the natural prairie or forest which the cornfield replaced. As well, the variety and total number of functions would vary greatly in different areas and climatic zones. Additional reconsideration of numbers of species involved in these functions as well as a further review of the biological and ecological literature could result in an improved classification, particularly as the activities of taxonomically little known groups of organisms are studied in soils and in freshwater and marine ecosystems.

Ecospheric functions are sometimes referred to as “ecoservices”. This term should not be misunderstood. All organisms “service” themselves in addition to carrying out functions which incidentally benefit other species or the community. Herbivores did not evolve only to provide a service to carnivores. Yet herbivory is a necessary service to carnivory, since only after herbivory originated (independently in a great many different animal taxonomic groups), were carnivores able to evolve.

TABLE 3. A FRAMEWORK FOR THE ECOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS OF BIODIVERSITY (adapted from Mosquin 1994; Mosquin et al. 1995)
1 Primary production – creation of many kinds and forms of biomass though photosynthesis and (around deep sea vents) chemosynthesis
2 Oxygen production – by oxygen-producing bacteria, algae and plants 
3 Sequestering of carbon dioxide
4 Herbivory – the eating of primary producers by bacteria, protozoa, fungi and animals.
5 Carnivory – the eating of protozoa, fungi and animals by protozoa and animals 
6 Control of soil erosion
B. FUNCTIONS INVOLVING INTERACTIONS AMONG LOW NUMBERS OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF ORGANISMS (These functions are carried out by usually very unrelated species in an area, often in immediate proximity, or from time to time).
7 Population moderation – a powerful and essential aspect of herbivory & carnivory – includes diseases, parasitism upon over-abundant species.
8 Seed & spore dispersal (plants); migration & larval dispersal (animals).
9 Symbiosis (mutually beneficial, intimate, co-evolved associations – extremely widespread and variable in nature). Examples:
a. nitrogen fixation (esp. bacteria and algae in higher organisms; lichen partnerships) 
b. pollination involving insects, birds, etc.
c. mycorrhiza (fungi & plant roots)
d. enable food digestion (bacteria & fungi in animals)
e. “fish cleaners” on coral reefs
f. dozens/hundreds of others
C. COMPLEX FUNCTIONS INVOLVING INTERACTIONS AMONG LARGE NUMBERS OF DIFFERENT ORGANISMS (these functions represent an increased level of complexity and some might better be included in ‘D’ below)
10 Soil and sediment creation/bioturbation
11 Moderation of macro & microclimate
12 Decomposition (primary & secondary detritivory; including digestion, mineralization of organic compounds, fermentation, etc.)
13 Maintenance of 3-dimensional, structures – (consequences of multicellularity – trees, shrubs, herbs, kelp, larger animals, forests, soils; creation of “habitat”)
14 Communication (both intra- and inter-specific) – i.e. sight, sound, taste, smell, touch via colour, shapes, pheromones, mimicry, camouflage, bioluminescence, radar, etc.
D. ECOSYSTEM FUNCTIONS AND PROCESSES (dependent upon most or all of the above contributory functions of organisms)
15 Food webs and chains (trophic structure)
16 Biogeochemical nutrient cycling and transport – via individuals, local and sectoral ecosystems and the Ecosphere as a whole) 
17 Stability (consequences of complexity, connectedness, keystone species, deceptive “redundancy,” generalist behaviour, trophic structure, succession and some others) 
18 Harmony (combinations of form, movement, structure, and functions resulting in a proportionate, orderly, cooperative condition – pervasive in individuals, natural ecosystems, and ultimately in the ordered and harmonious functioning of the Ecosphere as a whole. 

Ecospheric functions are “polyphyletic,” meaning that similar functions (e.g. nitrogen fixation, decomposition, carnivory, symbiosis, similar food webs, communication) arose repeatedly in different phylogenetic groups. Thus, in all ecosystems there was a consistent increase in complexity and harmony. We do not understand why evolution causes the emergence of similar functions in dozens of entirely different groups (12). One must conclude that within entirely different taxa, innate processes are at work which make possible the emergence of parallel functions in different groups.


Primary Production – Function 1

Primary production is the capture of energy from sunlight through photosynthesis and associated production of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and other organic compounds needed by all herbivores. A second group of primary producers that live near deep sea vents relies on chemosynthesis to capture energy from sulphur compounds. But it is not primary production as such that is responsible for the megadiversity of herbivores, carnivores and detritivores. Rather, it is the sheer variety of organisms engaged in primary production, the stupendous variety of carbohydrates, proteins and fats produced, and the great diversity of forms in which biomass is produced. Some primary producers are photosynthetic bacteria which feed protozoans, which feed microinvertebrates which feed larger invertebrates and vertebrates as in aquatic ecosystems. Other primary producers are so large and diverse (trees, shrubs, herbs) as to create habitat (both within themselves and as 3-D ecosystems [Function 16]) for all manner of terrestrial life.

Taxonomic groups which perform this function include cyanobacteria, chloroxobacteria, archaebacteria, all algal phyla, lichens, mosses, and all (except saprophytic) vascular plants. Primary production can sometimes be greatly increased through symbiotic associations among organisms (11)

Oxygen Production – Function 2

All free oxygen in the air, water and soils has been slowly generated over billions of years, first by photosynthetic bacteria, then by algae and eventually also by higher plants. This has had two entirely different beneficial results. First, all the free oxygen found today is necessary for the life of aerobic biota and for decomposition (Function 13). Second, this oxygen is the source of Earth’s protective ozone shield. Free oxygen is produced by the same taxonomic groups engaged in photosynthetic primary production.

Sequestering of Carbon Dioxide – Function 3

Many different life forms contribute to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, soils and waters through mechanisms such as the precipitation of calcium salts, the amassing of organic deposits or of living biomass. While stress here is placed on CO2, the role of living things in removing other compounds, particularly toxic substances from ecosystems, and adding them to accumulating muds or sediments is not insignificant. Taxonomic groups that sequester large amounts of CO2 include marine cyanobacteria, algal protoctists such as charophytes, chrysophytes (make limestone plates & ooze), protozoan protoctists such as Globigerina (which deposit massive layers of CO2 in the form of marine chalk and limestone), hydroids (which create coral reefs), mosses, forbs and woody plants (that deposit peat in fens, bogs and marshes), and trees, shrubs and herbs (that tie up biomass in plant tissue).

Herbivory – Function 4

Herbivory is the function of animals eating primary producers. The repeated emergence of this function early in the history of life on Earth and among different groups of animals has made possible the diverse world of herbivores. Taxonomic groups where herbivory is the sole or dominant function are the filter feeders: protozoans, rotifers, many molluscs and many crustaceans. Among non-filter feeding herbivores are nematodes, millepedes, most insects, symphylids, springtails, waterbears, kinorhynchs, many echinoderms, many fishes, amphibians (tadpoles), some reptiles, many birds and mammals.

Carnivory – Function 5

Carnivory is the eating of herbivores and other carnivores. Without it, trophic structures (Function 15) would be far simpler. Harmony in nature (Function 18) would also be much diminished. Taxonomic groups where carnivory is dominant are filter feeders: protozoans, sponges, hydroides, combjellies, various worm groups, molluscs and many crustaceans. Among non-filter feeders, carnivores include spiders, many insects, all centipedes, all lampreys, sharks, most bony fishes, amphibians (adults with one exception), most reptiles, many birds and many mammals.

Both herbivory and carnivory constitute a kind of “superfunction” in which organisms eat other organisms. Predation is not considered to be a function but only part of the mechanism through which the carnivory function is performed. Herbivory and carnivory (including filter feeding) are inextricably linked to the detritivory (decomposition) function, since food needs to be digested to provide energy for living.

Control of Erosion – Function 6

The control of soil erosion, especially in terrestrial ecosystems, is a particularly powerful enabling function of vascular plants, since it can transform associated plant, animal and microorganism biodiversity. Aquatic vascular plants and some algal phyla also play an important role in estuaries and in riverine and lacustrine sites in reducing erosion. In shoreline marine areas, kelp beds and seagrass beds reduce loss of enriched sediment. In terrestrial regions, we may see extensive root growth, accumulation of an organic soil layer, litter accumulation and recycling and retention of nutrients. In such circumstances, soil builds up faster than wind and/or water can carry it away. The consequence for biodiversity is the evolution of more complex and diverse ecosystems.

Population Moderation – Function 7

Population moderation refers to the limiting of runaway population increases or “blooms” of individual species. This function has commonly been described as maintaining the “balance of nature.” The cyclical dynamics of predator/prey relationships and plant/herbivore relations, and diseases of humans provide examples of this function. Parasites often are major factors in controlling population. Humans are unique in that we have controlled numerous diseases, parasites, and predators on our own species to the extent that feed-back mechanisms limiting our populations have largely ceased to operate. At least in the short term, humans have escaped from the norms of the Ecosphere. This has grave consequences for the health of the Ecosphere. Taxonomic groups important in this population moderation function include viruses, many phyla of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, many invertebrates, many herbivores and many carnivores.

Seed, Spore and Larval Dispersal; Migration – Function 8

This function is the spreading of propagules or reproductive animals to new areas where they might complete their life cycles or otherwise reproduce. This function enables individuals to reach the optimum range within which a species can survive and adapt. Dispersal is a characteristic function of all organisms and facilitates the emergence of new adaptive variants. This function is also critical to re-colonization and restoration of natural ecosystems where they have been destroyed or highly modified. Successful long distance dispersal or migration of organisms has also been essential to the evolution of the world’s unique endemics on remote oceanic islands or in similar terrestrial ecosystems in different parts of the world.

Symbiosis – Function 9

Symbiosis is the mutually beneficial, co-evolved association of a species with other (usually very unrelated) species. The degree of interdependency varies greatly. It may involve cooperation among three or more species. Symbiosis is one of the most powerful functions of the Ecosphere because as unrelated organisms began to depend on each other, wholly new kinds of life forms originated. There are tens of thousands of co-evolved symbiotic systems in all ecosystems in virtually all phyla (14). In the dawn of life symbiosis brought many submicrocopic organisms together permanently and, over eons, shaped the world of life as we know it today. In fact, all individual cells of “eucaryotes” (algae, protozoans, fungi, animals and plants) are permanent symbiotic systems, indicating that ecological functions operate even at the cellular level. The loss of any species, however small, may decrease the possibilities of new forms of symbiosis, and new life forms, tomorrow.

Mycorrhizal associations are widespread between fungal hyphae and vascular plant roots, in which fungi enable more efficient mineral absorption by the root hairs. In temperate forests some 80 to 90% of higher plants have roots associated with fungi.(15)

Lichens combine a green algae and/or a nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria with a fungal partner. The algae or cyanobacteria provide nutrients to the fungal host, and in return receive living space.(16) Some lichens contain both algal and cyanobacterial partners. Symbiotic associations are found between coelentrates and algae growing in their cells; between bacteria and echinoderms; between bacteria, protozoans and/or fungi living in the gut of animals (essential for food digestion); between ants and aphids, and ants and fungi.

Bioluminescence is the emission of cool chemical light by some groups of organisms such as plankton, many deep water fishes, some shallow water fishes, squids and fireflies. It is a unique kind of symbiosis. While in some cases the organism produces the light itself, in many species the light is emitted by phosphorescing bacteria which the host shelters and nourishes. In oceanic waters bioluminescence caused by bacteria occurs in fish species that live in the darkness up to 500 metres deep. For fish the light enables them to recognize species and mates (a form of communication), attract prey, camouflage their silhouettes from prey species through “countershading”, and startle and distract predators.(18)

Symbiosis is also evident in pollination, in which an enormous variety of insects, birds and bats are adapted to pollinate tens of thousands of different species of flowering plants, and where plants have responded by evolving floral fragrances, reflectance spectra, flower forms, markings, and flowering-time sequences.

The biological complexity of pollination is underlined by the many forms that are mediated by the abiotic matrix of biodiversity, namely wind and water, both of which are the active agents of pollen transport between many plant species. In Canada, most trees, many shrubs, grasses, sedges, cattails and many forbs are wind pollinated. Water carries pollen in marsh plants such as the water shield, Brassenia schreberi, American eel grass, Vallisneria americana, the many species of Potamogeton, and others.

Impairment of many elements of symbiosis, through habitat fragmentation, pollution, pesticides, and other human activities has already caused extinction of thousands of races and species worldwide.

Soil and Sediment Creation/Bioturbation – Function 10

The growth of roots and fungal hyphae, and tunnelling by worms and other soil invertebrates builds, aerates and maintains soils. Soils are ecosystems created and maintained by a great variety of living organisms, present by the tens of thousands in each cubic centimetre of soil and sediment. Countless biochemical processes take place here, including decomposition, and recycling of carbon and nutrients. Many animals live in freshwater and marine sediments and help bring about a constant mixing of sediment and nutrients from deeper layers. Taxonomic groups that have major roles in carrying out this function include bacteria, cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, numerous invertebrate phyla including arachnids and insects, as well as plants (roots, leaves, dead trunks).

Moderation of Macro and Microclimate – Function 11

Macroclimate – the prevailing weather in a region, as well as meteorological conditions over a period of years – is an ‘abiotic; factor that powerfully determines biodiversity in a region. The distribution of major ecosystems such as tundra, boreal forest, prairie or west coast rain forest is determined by macroclimate. However, once vegetation is firmly established, it can itself then affect the macroclimate, both locally and in distant area. Ground cover (vegetation, snow, water, soil) greatly influences albedo (the percentage of sunlight reflected from an area) and this influences air temperature. In addition, transpiration from forest canopies and ground vegetation can significantly increase atmospheric humidity, affecting rainfall and determining the kind of biodiversity present. Air temperature and rainfall in more distant regions can also be affected.

In terrestrial ecosystems, plants have a profound effect upon ground level climate, as do macroalgae and eel grass in intertidal ecosystems. Trees, shrubs, forbs, grasses and mosses, through effects on shade and humidity, moderate the microflora and fauna of an area. In areas devoid of plant cover (such as deserts or cultivated fields), extremes of light intensity, humidity, temperature and wind can greatly affect the local flora and fauna. In deserts, uniquely adapted floras and faunas evolve in response to both macroclimate and microclimate.

Decomposition (Primary & Secondary Detritivory) – Function 12

Decomposition (detritivory) is the natural recycling of residues of life. Most decomposers require oxygen (function 2). Next to primary production, decomposition is the most important ecological function of organisms. A very wide range of life forms participate in decomposition: from bacteria to protozoa, filter feeders, humans and scavenging biota in all ecosystems, and also within many larger organisms (i.e. digestion). Fermentation is a specialized method of decomposition.

Primary detritivory is the absorption of free organic molecules as food. Bacteria obtain all their food this way, as do two phyla of marine worms. They metabolize these molecules to create nutritive blocks (called plaques) that are eaten by multitudes of protozoa and other plankton (functions 2 and 3). These, together with photosynthesizing algae and cyanobacteria (function 1) are the primary “pastures” for all freshwater and marine food chains.

Secondary detritivory is the “digesting” of animal and plant tissue and its degradation into simpler organic compounds. All filter feeders are secondary detritivores because they cannot discriminate between living planktonic organisms and floating dead tissue biomass. Life on Earth could not survive without primary and secondary detritivores because there would be no way of cleansing the Ecosphere of the “products” of life. Indeed, oil and coal may have been deposited only because the detritivory function had not yet by that time been perfected by the evolving Ecosphere.

Many bacteria have developed a very powerful ecological function: that of ingesting organic molecules (toxics, oils, etc) and reducing a portion of them to less harmful substances and minerals. Mineralizing bacteria, since they metabolize toxic organic compounds (and return part of the molecule to harmless mineral matter) can be amazingly abundant in many ecosystems, and play an influential role in detoxifying soils and waters in local and regional ecosystems and the Ecosphere as a whole.

Creation and Maintenance of 3-D Ecosystem Structures – Function 13

The capability of different phyla to evolve multicellular structures is the basis for this function. During the history of life on Earth, the emergence of multicellular organisms has profoundly affected associated organisms and made possible the 3-D structure of ecosystems such as forests, tundra, prairie, kelp beds, submergent freshwater plant beds, coral reefs, and others. As well, most larger organisms provide homes for various biota, such as wood boring insects, cavity nesting birds and animals, and fish seeking the protection of coral reef structures. As a consequence of multicellularity, entire assemblages of life forms, in all major groups have been able to evolve in, and depend on these structures.

Marine taxonomic groups that dominate in this function include tall sponges, macro algae (green, red and brown), and large sea animals; in terrestrial areas they include herbs, shrubs, trees, and large land animals; in freshwater areas all submergent vegetation and larger animals play roles. The 3-D structures can be submicrosopic: even single celled organisms often have parasites, or have parasitic symbionts living within them. 

Communication – Function 14

Communication is an ecological function because it has a profound effect upon the substance, nature and quality of species and ecosystems. This is a widespread and essential function of all complex life forms. A diverse array of methods of contact between individuals of the same species and between different species have evolved and are now intrinsic to ecosystem processes.

Simple chemical sensory abilities enable more primitive organisms to communicate for purposes of reproduction or finding food. Among higher forms of life, communication includes the use of taste, sight, touch, sound, radar (bats), sonar, the sending and detection of electric currents and other specialized methods. Sight (between organisms and between organisms and their surroundings) influences all manner of activity: courtship, parenting, food gathering, migration, herding, flocking and escape from carnivores. The capacity of some to perceive colour has had stupendous impact upon the evolution of colour in birds, fish, mammals, and colour-perceiving insects like pollinating bees. Flower colours have evolved in response to the capacity of pollinating insects to see colour. Intricacies of mimicry, widespread among insects, is the result of the ability of insect-eating birds to perceive differences not only in the shape of their food but in its colour, taste and behaviour. Pheromones released by female insects ready to mate attract males from more than a kilometre away. Substances released from injured skins of minnows alert other minnows to the possible presence of a predator.

The evolution of the ability to use sound in communication has also produced what can only be described as a wondrous diversity of bird, animal and insect sound and song, enriching the harmonies and beauty of natural ecosystems beyond the bounds of human imagination. Much of the communication taking place in nature cannot even be sensed by humans, except through scientific instruments. For example, ultraviolet light reflected by many specialized flowers can be seen by some pollinating insects. In the sense that communication is the product of the evolution of biodiversity, there can be little doubt that much that is beautiful and meaningful vanishes as biodiversity is reduced.

Food Webs and Chains (Trophic Structure) – Function 15

The movement of energy through organisms in a community defines its trophic structure. It is considered as a separate ecological function because it enables species to utilize many trophic pathways, and to shift from one to another depending on what has been closed off by factors such as extirpations or habitat destruction. All food webs begin with primary production (function 1). Most bacteria and all fungi, protozoans and animals cannot manufacture their own food and hence are always at higher (dependent) trophic levels.

Food webs are usually not discrete. Among plants and mammals, for example, a variety of primary producers are usually eaten by herbivores which are then eaten by a number of omnivores and vertebrate carnivores. Humans regularly shift from eating algae to wheat to fungi to meat, consuming snails here and grasshoppers there, corn in one area and bowhead whales in another. Some species, however, are more limited when it comes to finding alternate sources of energy.

Trophic structure among micro-organisms and invertebrates can be incredibly interlinked and complex: many invertebrates are filter feeders, and most will ingest any bit of organic material whether it be phytoplankton, bacteria, other zooplankton, or detritus. In these circumstances there are many interlocking levels and ‘feedback’ webs, because consumers are neither 100% herbivorous grazers nor 100% carnivorous predators. Movement through complex food webs is analogous to the way information can travel through the Internet.

Biogeochemical Nutrient Transport and Cycling – Function 16

This function describes the physical transport of nutrients (phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen and trace elements) via living tissue and the “abiotic” part of the Ecosphere. This is an ecological function because of its effects upon the distribution and occurrence of ecosystems and the abundance of many species. Organisms that carry out this function include fungi (through hyphae in soils), plants (through root systems and leaf dispersal), and mobile animals (through animal droppings and upon death).

Nutrient pathways are pervasive and the processes complex. All major elements required by plants and animals move in cycles within the organic part of communities (the biosphere) and in the abiotic matrix of the Ecosphere. All essential nutrients including trace elements are involved, and are recycled and reused again and again. The term ‘biogeochemical’ cycles has been coined to emphasize that both organisms and the ‘abiotic’ part of biodiversity play essential parts in this process. An indication of the scale and evolutionary consequences of these cycles can be provided by the example of calcium: all calcium carbonate of the great limestone deposits of the earth was precipitated from dissolved carbon dioxide by living organisms in marine systems. The importance of carbon fixing organisms becomes more obvious when one considers that it is the near exclusive source of the calcium in the bones of vertebrates and the exoskeletons and shells of invertebrates.

Human activities (through agriculture, industry, and in our homes) add millions of tons of nutrients into waters, soils and the atmosphere causing major changes to ecosystems and species composition.

Stability – Function 17

Evidence of stability as an important ecospheric function has been provided by paleontological and evolutionary research, that has revealed the remarkable staying power of natural communities and many of their component species. Over billions of years a stupendous variety of communities and species have evolved in marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. While most organisms live their entire lives within only one of these three ecosystem types, numerous species have survived and evolved in two, such as amphibians, some reptiles (turtles), anadromous fish, sea birds which nest on land, and so on. Because of the great stability of ecosystems, so many phylogenetically distinct taxonomic groups and communities originated, became ever more diverse, acquired new and parallel functions and extended themselves into all habitable parts of the Earth. At the same time these organisms helped fashion an increasingly healthy and productive Ecosphere, making it ever more possible for a great variety of organisms to thrive harmoniously.

Understanding why the Ecosphere has been so unerringly and increasingly stable has been the subject of scientific inquiry. In recent years the Gaia Thesis has been proposed: that the Earth’s Ecosphere is a system with certain self-regulating features, controlled by the combined activities of the biota and the “abiotic” environment.

That even today’s natural systems change only very slowly (major human impacts excepted) is encapsulated by the phrase ‘balance of nature’ which is widely held to be self-evident, based on lifelong experiences and observations of people living relatively close to nature. To analyse and describe the elements of this emerged stability is a formidable task. Here are some elements of the stability function that can stimulate discussion and thought:

Complexity: This article accepts that increased complexity in naturally evolved ecosystems leads to greater stability. Thus, ecosystems in a climax condition are considered to be optimally stable. Climax communities (left on their own with no human management and no introductions of aggressive alien species) have been extremely stable over eons. Without humans introducing alien species such ecosystems strongly resist invasion, although some naturally evolved ecosystems are vulnerable to randomly introduced alien species. However, the linkage between complexity and stability is rejected by some ecological models which assume that an ecosystem’s complexity should be measured only by the number of its parts. The models do not consider, though, the time it took to evolve the climax ecosystem; nor do they consider how the climax is organized. Two recent authors noted that “stability may decrease or increase with reductions in species number in a given system, and the effect may be different in temperate, tropical, and Arctic habitats”. These authors did not make the vital distinction between those species naturally co-evolved within a system, and aggressive, destructive aliens (such as loosestrife, zebra mussels, carp, chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease and others). In other words, these modelling exercises are hardly relevant to what actually goes on in nature.

Connectedness: The notion that “everything is connected to everything else” is an essential element of stability since species need to meet their requirements in consort with others and through cycles, trophic levels, dispersal and other functions that involve most or all of them either permanently or from time to time.

Redundancy: It has been argued that many genes, individuals or even species in an ecosystem may be surplus to the requirements of the system. A surplus species, for example, would be one whose functions are seemingly identical to those of a certain companion species. Thus, its elimination would not significantly change the characteristics of the ecosystem. Examples would be: the loss of two species among 20 of single celled, free floating green algae in a pond; extinction of one of five species of bumblebees in a meadow (all opportunistic pollinators); or the death by disease of one of ten species of deciduous trees in a forest (all of which provide the principal canopy), as happened with the American chestnut. However, it is highly unlikely that such species are actually surplus to the ecosystem (in terms of functions and potential functions) since genetic and chemical differences may well indicate opportunities to interact uniquely with other species and to secure a more diverse evolutionary future. It has been suggested that redundancy provides long term resilience to ecosystems. If so, this could mean that it is a positive mechanism for increasing diversity and buffering ecosystems against abrupt change, thereby enhancing both short and long term stability.

Generalist Behaviour: Ecosystem stability would be enhanced when an important species such as a pollinating bee would care little as to which flowers were available for nectar and pollen, and so would pollinate numerous plants. Alternatively, when a particular carnivore could exploit many different kinds of prey, its survival would not be jeopardized by extirpation of one of its food species. These are examples of how fluctuations in species numbers are dampened by spreading risk more widely.

Keystone species: A keystone species is one that has a disproportionate effect upon the persistence of other species. Obviously the strength of the effect depends on how many other species are affected. Keystone species include: carnivores (mountain lions, killer whales, sea otters), herbivores (snowshoe hares, caribou), competitors (aggressive exotics, dominant forest trees), symbionts (major pollinators, mycorrhizal fungi of dominant trees), earth-movers (earthworms, pocket gophers); plants which alter the fire regime (producing major fire loads), and system processors (nitrogen fixers like lichens). The presence or absence of these ‘keystone’ species will significantly affect the presence and abundance of certain species, and will help determine the stability or instability of the ecosystem.

Food webs/chains (trophic structure): The varying intricacies and lengths of food webs (from only a few, simple pathways, to extremely complex cycles at many levels — such as occur when filter feeders are involved) may affect stability of a community. Humans have the most complex of all food chains, since they eat thousands of different species in most phyla either directly or by assimilating domesticated animals and plants. Complex webs enable dependent species to survive by shifting to alternate trophic pathways when one or several fail. However, according to some models, webs with more trophic levels undergo such severe fluctuations as to lead to the extirpation of top carnivores. Again, however, we are dealing with models rather than real nature. Obviously, the matter of species richness of herbivores and carnivores generated by complex trophic systems over large landscapes is insufficiently understood. However, since communities and organisms can move while ecosystems are geographically circumscribed, more complex trophic systems would appear to foster more stability rather than less.

Community Succession: Succession is defined as a continuous directional change in an ecosystem at a particular site lasting dozens or hundreds of years and involving both colonization and extirpation of species in response to innumerable factors. Succession occurs, for example, when old fields are recolonized by forest ecosystems. It is the unique genetic traits of each species that determine whether and at what rate it can participate in succession, and return to communities disturbed by human activities, fire, storms, insect herbivory and other events.

The positive effect of natural fires and other local disturbances upon ecosystem stability are also evident within large landscape regions. Repeated fires or wind-throw in ecosystems prone to fire (boreal forest, lodgepole pine forest, prairie) greatly increase their overall complexity by creating numerous successional stages which can support a wider variety of biota. This phenomenon has been described for Banff National Park, where Parks Canada has instituted a fire management policy to encourage biodiversity and maintain a permanent patchy disturbance regime.

Many ecological functions also affect community succession, and act to determine the species present. One example is the mutualistic symbiosis between plants and various soil microbes in forest communities. The presence or absence of mycorrhizal fungi can strongly determine the kind of succession that follows clearcutting and deep soil fire (where the fungal mat has been burned off), or that takes place in an area where one is attempting to restore a prairie after farming has been carried out for decades. Plant species that do not require linkages with mycorrhizal fungi are less constrained successionally since they can invade without the presence of the soil microbes which may take decades or longer to enter a degraded or destroyed ecosystem. Following disturbance, when the community at a site is considered to have reached a near “steady state” (i.e. no apparent net gain or loss of species over a period of time), succession would be so low as to not be perceivable by humans.

Harmony – Function 18

Harmony is the ultimate function of biodiversity: the consequence of the 17 functions already described. Harmony in nature is diverse, pervasive and persistent, existing at all levels necessary to the maintenance of the whole. Harmony emerged slowly in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. We can observe harmony in many aspects of the Ecosphere: animal and plant form (trees, flowers, birds, fish, insects), the obvious grace of animal movement (swimming, flight, running); colours of birds, fish, insects, trees, leaves, flowers; radial or bilateral symmetries of individual animals and flowers. Even the world of microorganisms is full of harmonies of many types. Another aspect of harmony is the innate capacity for hundreds and indeed thousands of life forms to live together “in relative harmony” within a community or larger ecosystem, and to form linkages, co-adaptations, and symbioses. The developmental and physiological harmonies that have evolved within individual organisms is another level of harmony. Wholeness, completeness, health, and integrity are the broader aspects of the innate harmony function in the Ecosphere.

Harmony cannot be separated from the abiotic part of biodiversity: the matrix of rivers, lakes, waterfalls, wind, pounding of oceanic surf, landforms, clouds, and all other “abiotic” conditions (within which organisms and ecosystems evolved and apart from which they cannot survive). Indeed, since the beginning of life, organisms have dramatically changed and shaped the characteristics of the Ecosphere. Harmonies appear to be the ultimate consequence of the workings of the laws of nature. The deeper origins of the pervasive persistence of harmonies in nature may be due to an innate drive of organisms to achieve maximum “self-realization” during the course of their lifetime, a concept described by a number of authors, including Arne Naess, Stuart Kaufmann, Edward Goldsmith and Holmes Rolston,III. (36)

Harmony is distinct from beauty. Beauty has a philosophical and ethical dimension and is a subject of discussion among philosophers and some scientists. Some feel that to include beauty as another function of biodiversity is crossing a fine and dangerous line: unlike other functions, it is too subjective to measure by the methods of science.

Harmony has an obverse side, and this can help to visualize its nature. Thus, “disharmony” or ugliness is created when organisms or ecosystems are reduced to fragments or parts. For example, as the poet Robinson Jeffers wrote, “a severed hand is an ugly thing.” Likewise, a cut-off tree or headless body would certainly not be harmonious entities.

At the level of ecosystems, harmony is reduced and violated when a road is cut through a previously natural forest, when a fully developed old forest is clearcut, when a river is toxified by a sewer or pulp mill, when an oil spill baths a rich intertidal shoreline, or when a coral reef disintegrates due to global warming or runoff of fertilizers from nearby human activities.


The ecospheric functions of biodiversity are far more pervasive, diverse and complex than generally realized. When ecosystems are left undisturbed by humans, they exhibit an inherent self-organizing capability. Over billions of years life forms and ecosystems became ever more complex, leading to the emergence of a stable and harmonious Ecosphere.

By identifying and classifying these ecological/ecospheric functions, one can better comprehend the creative, secure and resilient path that the Ecosphere has sustained and amplified since the beginnings of life. Certainly, the Ecosphere has been super-stable and resilient, gaining in diversity, complexity and internal harmonies over several billion years, interrupted by abrupt extinctions caused by several big comets – events from which the Ecosphere was able to recover. That, given time, complexity begets increased complexity and increased stability is a remarkable phenomenon of our Ecosphere.

By identifying ecocentric/ecospheric functions we can also provide a tool for ecologists, naturalists, environmentalists, ecophilosophers, wildlifers, foresters and others who, like myself, have been troubled for years by the imprecise definitions of some widely used ecological terms such as ecological processes, ecological functions, land health, ecological integrity, environmental quality, and ecological complexes. Perhaps these functions could be of value to economists as well, although it is hardly conceivable that price tags can be placed on any of them. However, price tags have been put upon some of the “goods” produced through the workings of these functions.

Today, some writers view the value of the functions of the Ecosphere through anthropocentric eyes, asking only, “what good is nature for humans?” Instead, they should ask: “What do natural systems do and what have they done to create and secure the permanence, health, balanced productivity, and beauty of the world into the indefinite future?” We live in times when the time-tested functions of the Ecosphere are being thoughtlessly and brutally modified by those who consider nature to be nothing but a source of commodities to be valued only if they serve humanity’s selfish wants and needs.

An extensive literature now exists on the toxification and destruction of ecosystems, and the continuing overexploitation of species and ecosystems which carry out irreplaceable ecospheric functions. The commodification of nature remains official government policy, while an extensive greenwash literature provides cover for reams of destructive federal and provincial legislation and policies in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and industry–particularly the chemical industry which manufactures millions of tons of toxics every year, for deliberate dispersal into the Ecosphere.

Securing better insights into the long term consequences of impairment of each of the 18 functions could take an army of researchers. I am not aware of any examples in Canada where policy makers or managers of forests, fisheries, agriculture or of the pesticide industry have carried out such analyses, or even care to. It would be a challenge to determine the scope of and changes to ecospheric functions in almost any area of land or sea. Where to start? How to measure? An insightful comment by Thomas Berry can serve as a general guide to thinking and action; he noted that “the integral functioning of the natural world is taken as the supreme model of managerial success.”

Other Ecocentric Texts

Literature Cited

(1) For this argument see Daniel B. Botkin, Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the 20th Century, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

(2) C. Perrings, “The Economic Value of Biodiversity,” in: V. H. Heywood and R. T. Watson, eds., Global Biodiversity Assessment, (Cambridge: UNEP & Cambridge University Press, 1995); Robert Costanza et al., “The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital,” Nature, May 15, 1997; Daily, Nature’s Services.

(3) T. A. More, J.R. Averill and T.H. Stevens, “Values and economics in environmental management: a perspective and critique,” Journal of Environmental Management, 1996, vol.48(4): 397-409.

(4) Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949); James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1988); Peter Bunyard and Edward Goldsmith, Gaia and Evolution. Proceedings of the Second Annual Camelford Conference on the Implications of the Gaia Thesis, (Bodmin, Cornwall: Abbey Press, 1989); M. Begon, J. L. Harper and C. R. Townsend, Ecology: Individuals, Populations and Communities, (Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1990); Richard C. Brusca and Gary J. Brusca, Invertebrates, (Sunderland, Mass: Sinaur Associates Inc, 1990); Elliott A. Norse, Global marine biodiversity strategy; building conservation into decision making, (Redmond, Wash.: Center for Marine Conservation, 1993); J. F. Grassle, P. Lasserre, A. D. McIntyre and G. C. Ray, Marine biodiversity and ecosystem function, (IUBS, SCOPE, UNESCO. Biology International No. 23, 1992), pp. 1-19; E. Schultze and H. A. Mooney, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function, (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1993); Heywood and Watson, Global Biodiversity Assessment.

(5) H. Salwasser, “Conserving biological diversity,” For. Ecol. Management, 1991. vol. 35: 79-90.

(6) United States. Council on Environmental Quality, Incorporating biodiversity Considerations into Environmental Impact Analysis and the National Environmental Policy Act, (1993).

(7) World Resources Institute, Global biodiversity strategy (Draft), (WRI, IUCN and UNEP, 1991); World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Global Biodiversity; Status of the Earth’s Living resources, (London: Chapman and Hill, 1992); Environment Canada, The State of Canada’s Environment, (Ottawa, 1991); Environment Canada, The State of Canada’s Environment, (Ottawa, 1996).

(8) J. Stan Rowe, “What on Earth is environment?” Trumpeter, 1990, vol. 6(4): 123-126; Rowe, Home place: Essays in Ecology, (Edmonton: NeWest Publishers, & Toronto: Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society, 1990); Rowe, “Biodiversity at the landscape level,” Workshop on Biodiversity, Vancouver, March 1994. All five parts of biodiversity are examined in Mosquin et al., Canada’s Biodiversity, which presents a detailed rationale for this classification together with rationales for the standards or norms against which the state of the five parts of biodiversity can be assessed.

(9) Lovelock, Ages of Gaia; Lovelock, Planetary Medicine; Bunyard and Goldsmith, Gaia and Evolution; Schneider and Boston, Scientists on Gaia.

(10) Paul R. Ehrlich and H.A. Mooney, “Extinction, Substitution, and Ecosystem Services, BioScience, 1983, vol. 33: 248-254; Mosquin, “Conceptual Framework”; Mosquin, et al., Canada’s Biodiversity; Daily, Nature’s Services; Costanza et al., “Value”.

(11) Mosquin et al., Canada’s Biodiversity, Appendix 1.

(12) David L. Hawksworth, “The fungal dimension of biodiversity; magnitude, significance and conservation,” Mycological Review, 1991, vol. 95: 641-655; Hawksworth, “Fungi: the Neglected Biodiversity Crucial to Ecosystem Function and Maintenance,” Canadian Biodiversity, 1992, vol. 1(4), 8 pp.

(13) Schneider and Boston, Scientists on Gaia.

(14) Sibil P. Parker, Synopsis and Classification of Living Organisms, (McGraw Hill, 1982), Vol 1 & 2; Lynn Margulis and Karlene V. Schwartz, Five Kingdoms: An illustrated guide to the phyla of the Earth, (Freeman & Co., 1988); Brusca and Brusca, Invertebrates; Begon et al, Ecology.

(15) Francois Le Tacon, Jean Gargage and Geoff Carr, “The Use of Mycorrhizas in Temperate and Tropical Forests,” Symbiosis, 1987, vol. 3: 179-206; Jeremy Cherfas, “Disappearing Mushrooms: Another Mass Extinction?” Science, 1991, vol. 254: 1458; J. M. Trappe, “Phylogenetic and ecological aspects of mycotrophy in angiosperms from an evolutionary standpoint,” In: G. G. Safir, ed., Ecophysiology of Mycorrhizal Plants, (Boca Raton: CRC, 1987), pp. 2-25; Hawksworth, “Fungal Dimension”; Hawksworth, “Fungi”.

(16) Brodo, pers. comm.

(17) I. Bosch, “Symbiosis between bacteria and oceanic clonal sea star larvae in the western North Atlantic ocean,” Marine Biology, 1992, vol. 114: 445-502.

(18) Don E. McAllister, “The significance of ventral bioluminescence in fishes,” Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 1967, vol. 24(3): 537-554; Frank H. Johnson and I. Haneda, Bioluminescence in progress: Proceedings of a luminescence conference, (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and National Science Foundation, Princeton Univ. Press, 1966).

(19) Nyle Brady, The Nature and Properties of Soils, (McMillan Publ. Co., 1984).

(20) These bacteria are listed in Margulis and Schwartz, Five Kingdoms.

(21) A detailed discussion of trophic structures is presented in Begon et al., Ecology, pp. 798-815.

(22) As discussed in Bunyard and Goldsmith, Gaia in Evolution; Schneider and Boston, Scientists on Gaia; and by Goldsmith in The Way.

(23) Goldsmith, The Way, pp. 324-329.

(24) Robert M. May, Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973).

(25) Schultze and Mooney, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function, p. 507.

(26) see list in Mosquin et al., Canada’s Biodiversity, pp. 64-66.

(27) This is discussed in J. H. Lawson and V. K. Brown, “Redundancy in ecosystems,” in: Schultze and Mooney, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function, (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1993), pp. 255-270; and in Goldsmith, The Way, Chapter 53.

(28) Perrings, “Economic Value”.

(29) Lawson and Brown, “Redundancy”.

(30) W. J. Bond, “Keystone species,” in: Schultze and Mooney, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function.

(31) Begon et al, Ecology.

(32) C. A. White and I. R. Pengelly, “Fire as a natural process and a management tool: the Banff National Park Experience,” Paper presented at the Cypress Hills Forest Management Workshop, October 2-4, 1992, (Medicine Hat, Alberta: Society of Grassland Naturalists); C. A. White, P. Paquet and H. Purves, “Nursing Humpty’s Syndrome: Bow Valley Ecological Restoration,” Paper presented at the Fourth Annual Conference on Ecological Restoration, sponsored by the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas, August, 1992, Waterloo, Ontario.

(33) Hawksworth, “Fungi”; D. J. Read, D. H. Lewis, A. H. Fitter, and I. J. Alexander, Mycorrhizas in Ecosystems Symposium, Sheffield University, (Wallingford, U.K.: C.A.B. International, 1993).

(34) A brief description of the harmony function is provided by R. Augros and G. Stancieu, The New Biology; Discovering the Wisdom in Nature, (Boston and London: New Science Library, Shambhala, 1988), pp.130-155.

(35) James E. Lovelock, Gaia: A new look at life on Earth, (Oxford University Press, 1979); Lovelock, Ages of Gaia; Lovelock, Planetary Medicine; Schneider and Boston, Scientists on Gaia; Goldsmith, The Way.

(36) Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Life Style: An Outline of an Ecosophy, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Kaufmann, At Home; Goldsmith, The Way; Holmes Rolston III, “On Behalf of Bioexuberance,” The Trumpeter, Winter 1988, vol. 5(1): 26-29.

(37) Philip P. Hanson, Environmental Ethics: Philosophical and Policy Perspectives, (Burnaby: Institute for the Humanities, Simon Fraser University, 1986); J. Stan Rowe, “In praise of beauty,” in: Environmental Ethics: Philosophical and Policy Perspectives, pp. 45-47.

(38) Mosquin et al., Canada’s Biodiversity; Costanza et al., “Value”.

(39) Susan Meeker-Lowry, Economics as if the Earth Really Mattered; A Catalyst Guide to Socially Conscious Investing, (Santa Cruz, Calif.: Catalyst, New Society Publishers, 1988).

June 23, 2010 Posted by | ekoloji, türcülük, doğa / hayvan özgürlüğü | Leave a comment

Ecocentrism: the Chord that Harmonizes Humans and Earth – J. Stan Rowe

Published in TheTrumpeter 11:2 Spring 1994, 106-107. Posted here with minor editorial changes.

“Revealing my deepest thoughts to a visitor one evening, I was accused of being against civilization, against science, against humanity. Naturally I was flattered…. With his help I discovered that I was not opposed to mankind but only to mancenteredness, anthropocentricity, the opinion that the world exists solely for the sake of man.” Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire.”

Although Abbey did not directly attempt to counter the anthropocentric argument, logic points to the ecocentric proposition that people exist solely for the sake of the world. The Blue Planet, the global ecosystem, the Ecosphere, is the creative entity that over its 4.6 billion years of evolution has brought Homo sapiens into being along with 20 million or so other species of creatures: miraculous emanations from improbable air, seas, rocks, sediments and soils. All these, together, are relational components of a consummated evolving whole.

The integrity and health of wholes require that their parts serve them. The human body’s heart, arteries, veins and corpuscles either conduce to its well-being or to illness and their own demise. By analogy, corpuscular humanity’s mission is to beautify and keep the Earth. Failing that–and our ability to contemplate different futures endows us with choice–people will be a crippling or death-dealing pox on the world.

The ecocentric argument is grounded in the belief that compared to the undoubted importance of the human part, the whole Ecosphere is even more significant and consequential: more inclusive, more complex, more integrated, more creative, more beautiful, more mysterious, and older than time. The “environment” that anthropocentrism misperceives as materials designed to be used exclusively by humans, to serve the needs of humanity, is in the profoundest sense humanity’s source and support: its ingenious, inventive life-giving matrix. Ecocentrism goes beyond biocentrism with its fixation on organisms, for in the ecocentric view people are inseparable from the inorganic/organic nature that encapsulates them. They are particles and waves, body and spirit, in the context of Earth’s ambient energy.

Ecology, the science of context, attempts to comprehend the systems that surround lesser systems. In so doing it has discovered landscape and waterscape ecosystems, volumes of gas-liquid-solid Earth-space consisting of air layer over water/land/rock layer with organisms clustered near the phase boundaries. Forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems, desert ecosystems, lake and river ecosystems, ocean ecosystems: these are the manifold sectors of the supra-organic Ecosphere, the global ecosystem within which humankind evolved and is embedded.

From the inside, ecosystems are no more apparent to human eyes than is a lake to the fish that swim in it. Enveloped by ecosystems we seem to inhabit a world of fragments, of raw materials and natural resources. Further, because we have viewed our surroundings through the cultural glasses of competitive individualism, many of the fragments appear to be aggressive, hostile and cruel. The Darwinian biologist sees nature red in tooth and claw. Just as Adam Smith needed an “invisible hand” to rationalize competitive economics, so inside-the-system biologists have to invoke phantom fingers to explain ecosystem self-maintenance in the face of dysfunctional aggression and competition. How much more reasonable, taking the outside view, to perceive the Ecosphere evolving in ways that encourage and constrain its parts and their functions to be interdependent contributors to the whole. The hand that shapes organic phenomena, invisible from the inside, is the Ecosphere and its sectoral ecosystems visible from extra-terrestrial and terrestrial space.

Because “environment” means that which encircles something more important, literal “environmentalists” are willy-nilly anthropocentric, placing less value on the surrounding world than on humanity and self. If that causes uneasiness, the central position of the self can be retained painlessly by redefining it as a broad field-of-care embracing Earth. But this is an ineffectual gesture if, when push comes to shove, humanity is always accorded top billing. The question of priorities is critical. Should our loyalty embrace the entire “field-of-care,” or does sympathy fasten first and always on the starving family metaphorically ploughing the “field” into oblivion? The whole field should command our allegiance, say I. It is time to eschew human self-interest and recognize the inherent worth and surpassing values of Earth’s miraculous ecosystems whose workings we do not understand. Anthropocentrism says we know how to control and manage them; ecocentrism says “not yet; maybe never.”

“Objective science” leans heavily on cultural opinions. If inside-the-system biology finds its simplified world shot through and through with self-centeredness and self-interest, we do well to remind ourselves that individuality and self-ness are recent; human constructs, unknown to unself-conscious people, animals, plants, rocks, water and air. Western culture and the science that trails along with it can, if moved, embrace more meaningful concepts of symbiosis, altruism, relatedness and compliance, accepting the over-riding importance of worldly context. The kind of place we will inhabit depends on the answer to the question, “Who on Earth are you?” Are you and your kin the central fact of the universe? If not, what? By our answers we choose what our future “selves” will be.

As heirs to several centuries of rampant individualism culminating today in the frenetic pursuit of self-esteem and personal authenticity, most of us will be burdened throughout our lives with an indissoluble kernel of egocentrism and, by extension, anthropocentrism. This should not deter people of good will from proclaiming the truth that, relative to Earth, humanity is not the center. A few hundred years ago, with some reluctance, Western people admitted that the planets, sun and stars did not circle around their abode. In short, our thoughts and concepts though irreducibly anthropomorphic need not be anthropocentric.

Wherever our sense of greatest importance lies, there also will our ethics be. The attempt to build ethical concern for the Ecosphere from the inside out, by add-ons starting with our selves and the human race, may soothe consciences for a little while, but it will be the kiss of death for wild nature. Aldo Leopold has been the influential exponent of ethics-by-extension, rationalized as an expedient for human survival. Unfortunately this approach only strengthens anthropocentrism, making it certain that land, air, water and other organisms will always in the crunch take second place to the welfare of self, family and friends. More sensible, but more difficult, is the ecocentric ethic that confers highest valuation on the Ecosphere which, by proxy, bestows ethical merit and concern on its subsidiary contents according to their compliance and cooperation. The self finds its ecological values in the welfare of the non-self.

Ecological ethics – guidelines for human behavior here on Earth – are derivative, founded in Earth care. Blessed are those who make sacrifices to preserve and sustain the non-human, human-containing world. Cursed are those who wilfully destroy Earth’s creativity and beauty. If religions cannot incorporate such ethics in their theologies, they too stand condemned.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | ekoloji, ekolojist akımlar, sistem karsitligi, türcülük, doğa / hayvan özgürlüğü | Leave a comment

Ecocentrism and Traditional Ecological Knowledge – J. Stan Rowe

Of what relevance to current industrial civilization are Indigenous Cultures (ICs), those islands of aboriginal society that still persist here and there in quiet backwaters not yet invaded by world trade and commerce? Does Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) offer useful lessons for Westerners seeking harmonious and sustainable ways of living on Earth? Recent discussion of TEK on the Internet (Ecopolitics-l listserver) prompted the following essay.

Anthropologists and sociologists have long had an interest in the flexible ways diverse cultures adapt to the various physical and biological landscapes of Earth. One modern approach is the study of Historical Ecology, tracing patterns of change in cultures as they evolve. The presumption is that cultures are subject to historic selection, responding to what is outside them and within. External forces – varying according to geographic place- are local environmental conditions (soils, water, climate, biota), large-scale environmental change (especially climatic change), and local human actions (cooperation and/or competition with neighbouring societies). Internal forces, the focus of particular interest, are traditional activities and beliefs that determine “the practical engagement of people in the world.” In other words, how a society adapts to its dynamic environment. 

The question is whether, in a world rapidly being overrun by Western Civilization (aka Global Capitalism, Global Corporatism, Global Industrialism), the study of any but our own “practical engagement in the world” has relevance to the current scene. Does the historical ecology of various Indigenous Cultures here and there around the world illuminate our future path?

Affirmative answers point out that much can be learned from the ICs because they have lived sustainably for a long time. Therefore they can teach us the fundamentals of living with one another and with Earth in ways that are relation-based rather than consumption-based, responsibility-based rather than right-based. We look at these aboriginal cultures and marvel at their ways-of-living that seem so wholesome compared to our own. Here apparently is TEK that can be borrowed and used.

We of the “Western Civilization” comprehend most easily the visible parts of other cultures, particularly the activities of daily living whereby tribal people interact with each other and with the ecosystems that enclose them. Anthropological studies detail these observable features: the small population in a close-knit community, the binding rituals, the methods of settling disputes, the foraging habits, medicinal plants, organic agriculture, small but sophisticated technology, reliance on solar power, taboos on over-hunting, and so on. These relatively easy-to-understand habits demonstrate, some say, “the most ecological way to go.” No doubt about it, they do offer useful clues for such marginal activities (in our culture) as gardening and herbal medicine. 

But the essential cultural soul of tribal people – their cosmology and fundamental beliefs about themselves in the world they occupy – is relatively inaccessible and strange to us. Even if a committed student spends long years with a tribe, empathically exploring and then explaining for us the tribe’s belief-system, its relevance to improving or redirecting our industrial society seems minimal or non-existent. What we learn is curious and alien because it does not conform to our understanding of biology, ecology, psychology, evolution, geology, and cosmology, nor to our understanding of sociology, economics, and politics.

Many of us accept and support much of what tribal peoples do in the name of their cultures, admiring and perhaps imitating through Voluntary Simplicity parts of their sustainable life styles. Our difficulty is in accepting their deeply rooted religious or philosophical faiths and beliefs that support them in living the way they do. Without some such radical, binding glue, the communes and other utopian experiments we attempt, even when “love-based,” soon fall apart.

Can we really move toward a sustainable society via the wisdom of Indigenous Cultures with their Traditional Ecological Knowledge or must we develop our own brand-new set of fundamental beliefs about people-on-Earth, beliefs compatible with (or at least not contradicted by) the sciences of our science-dominated culture, beliefs capable of mobilizing the finer feelings of everyone and not just “the grief of the Leftists and the guilt of the Liberals?”

Every effort should be made to preserve cultural diversity globally, and not just because much of academic interest can be learned from remnant ICs. The sound truth they teach is that way-of-living is intrinsically bound up with beliefs, often described as “spiritual,” that give each tribe member a sense of belonging, as well as confirmation that the tribal way of being-in-the-world is good. This we moderns lack and, in fact, the very mention of “spiritual” is off-putting to the many skeptics in our science-dominated world.

Fortunately Fritjof Capra (in his book The Web of Life) has rescued “spirituality” from theological mists and New Age fog. He defines it as a sense of belonging, a sense of connectedness to the cosmos, and therefore (he says) “ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence.”

Knowing that fundamental beliefs and way-of-living are unitary in culture, we who are swathed in Western culture cannot hope to borrow from the most enlightened ICs either their fundamental beliefs nor their way-of-living, let alone both together. To switch Western culture from its present track to a saving ecopolitical route means finding a new and compelling belief-system to redirect our way-of-living. It must be a vital outgrowth from our science-based culture. 

It seems to me that the only promising universal belief-system is Ecocentrism, defined as a value-shift from Homo sapiens to planet earth: Ecosphere. A scientific rationale backs the value-shift. All organisms are evolved from Earth, sustained by Earth. Thus Earth, not organism, is the metaphor for Life. Earth not humanity is the Life-center, the creativity-center. Earth is the whole of which we are subservient parts. Such a fundamental philosophy gives ecological awareness and sensitivity an enfolding, material focus.

A common assumption is that any New Ecological Way must be advanced through some form of communal living. Ecocentrism puts a new interpretation on “community” and “communal living.” The Ecosphere is central and it constitutes the largest “world community.” Its component “geographic communities” are sectoral ecosystems, at various size scales from the regional to the local. Thus “communal living” does not necessarily mean a gathering of humans, although some may want to get together for mutual support. True “communities” are ecosystems, with all their inorganic and organic parts, the latter including humans. A community can be one person, or a family, at home with and caring for a piece of Earth.

Ecocentrism is not an argument that all organisms have equivalent value. It is not an anti-human argument nor a put-down of those seeking social justice. It does not deny that myriad important homocentric problems exist. But it stands aside from these smaller, short-term issues in order to consider Ecological Reality. Reflecting on the ecological status of all organisms, it comprehends the Ecosphere as a Being that transcends in importance any one single species, even the self-named sapient one.

Ecocentrism is a new way of thinking. It proposes an ethic whose reference point is supra-human, placing Ecosphere health before human welfare. It points the way to solving questions that, within humanistic or biocentric frameworks, are virtually unsolvable: the Growth Problem, the Population Problem, the Technology Problem. It gives new and constructive direction to philosophers, economists, scientists, and engineers.

While we cannot adopt holus-bolus any indigenous “beliefs & way-of-living” system, we can hone our ecological awareness, look outward instead of inward, learn to see ourselves as dependent Earthlings and not the center, recognize our interesting partners – 30 million other kinds of creatures – joined with us in a yearly whirl ’round the sun, climb down from our self-erected pedestal and show a little humility. Get “spiritual” in Capra’s sense. Such a new Ecological Knowledge would do wonders for our way-of-living. In time it could become the world’s saving Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | ekolojist akımlar, sistem karsitligi, türcülük, doğa / hayvan özgürlüğü | Leave a comment


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