Worldview Matters

How deep is your ecology?

Posted Jan 25, 2013

Coal Power Plant

Coal Power Plant

Throughout history people have refused, even in the face of scientific evidence, to change beliefs that were founded on false principles. For example, in the 16th century most people refused to believe that the earth orbits around the sun; Galileo was convicted of heresy for defending this view. Today, even in light of scientific evidence to the contrary, many people refuse to believe that humanity is causing ecological destruction on an unprecedented scale or that this destruction will have consequences for our children and grandchildren. For example, many people refuse to believe that human activities, primarily burning of fossil fuels, are causing global climate change.

Although in the 20th century, quantum physicists and ecologists demonstrated that everything is interconnected and that humans depend on the earth, many people continue to act as if destruction of the environment does not have consequences. Like in the 16th century, in the 21st century a shift in worldview, a paradigm shift, is necessary.

David Korten wrote about this in “Religion, Science and Spirit: A Sacred Story for Our Time,” in which he described a cosmology in which creation is an expression of an integral spiritual intelligence. This cosmology incorporates wisdom from ancient indigenous teachings and contemporary spiritual sources, as well as from scientific advances and ideas such as living systems theory.

Deep ecology also incorporates this worldview. Deep ecology is a paradigm in which the self is seen as part of an interconnected web of life that includes the entire planet, which is viewed as a living, spiritual entity.

Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology

According to Capra (1995), in deep ecology the world is seen as "a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic values of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life. Ultimately, the recognition of value inherent in all living nature stems from the deep ecological awareness that nature and self are one"(p. 20). This is in contrast to scientific materialism, which views humans as separate from and entitled to power over nature.

Naess (1995) further developed the philosophical aspects of deep ecology. For example, in the deep ecology paradigm, living nature includes entities such as mountains, rivers, and ecosystems. Humans, as part of the web of life, have the right to consume other parts of the web of life only to the point of satisfying “vital needs” (p. 68). According to the principles of deep ecology, humans have the same right to exist as the other entities in the web of life; however, humans do not have the right to exploit nature to satisfy desires based on greed or for other selfish reasons.

Deep ecology is akin to general systems theory in that everything affects everything else through multiple feedback loops. Each action ripples through the interconnected systems, which are parts of larger systems, each a whole in itself and each making up part of a larger whole. In Naess’s (1995) ecosophy, although the concept of the Self expands to include the web of life, each individual expression within the web is also valued, as described in his term “Maximize diversity!” (p. 81). This philosophy values cooperation, egalitarianism, and self-determination.


Capra, F. (1995). Deep ecology: A new paradigm. In G. Sessions (Ed.). Deep ecology for the 21st century: Readings on the philosophy and practice of the new environmentalism (pp. 19-25). Boston: Shambhala.

Naess, A. (1995). The deep ecological movement. In G. Sessions (Ed.). Deep ecology for the 21st century: Readings on the philosophy and practice of the new environmentalism (pp. 64-84). Boston: Shambhala.

About the Author

Sandy Olliges, M.A., teaches academic writing at San Jose State University. She is a former Environmental Manager for the NASA Ames Research Center.

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