Harmony with Nature: Deep Ecology

by Delphine Burns


Courtesy of Delphine Burns

You sit thoughtfully while birds chirp and clouds drift calmly past. Closing your eyes, you listen to the delicate ebb and flow of the waves caressing the delicate shoreline. Inhaling, the fresh, fragrant air tickles your nose and your senses simultaneously. Feeling one with the surrounding atmosphere, peace envelopes you as you finally make time to enjoy nature. How wonderfully liberating it feels to enjoy the earth’s spectacular offerings.

Regardless of whether you’d use flowery words and poetic imagery to describe your interactions with nature, nearly everyone has positive experiences with it. Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly “outdoorsy,” most people have at least one small hobby they enjoy doing outside.

Although we live in a westernized society in which nature’s role is most commonly to supply us with material goods for consumption and trade, occasionally individuals still take time to appreciate nature’s raw, subtle beauty.

Wikipedia defines deep ecology as “a contemporary ecological and environmental philosophy characterized by its advocacy of the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, and advocacy for a radical restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas.”

When we discussed deep ecology recently in Environmental Analysis, I felt connected to the philosophy. I felt that to an extent I definitely identified with these principles. However, upon further discussing it, people brought up the point that it’s difficult to actually live and act on these principles in today’s society. This brought to my attention the large disconnect between humans and their natural resources in this day and age.

For example, in simpler times when humans relied simply on building fires for heat, these individuals certainly felt respect and appreciation for the fire and its warmth. However, today we have electric fireplaces and heating systems, separating the resource from its dependents. We don’t think about our gratitude for the fire and the warmth we are receiving. We don’t consider this, because we don’t feel we have to.

It’s like this with nearly all our resources. We don’t typically stop to think that we’re grateful to the cow for our milk, or that we are grateful to the tree for our paper. It’s not necessarily that we are unappreciative, but more that these thoughts never even cross our minds. We’re so busy consuming and quickly moving from one resource to the next that we don’t stimulate our minds with questions about these resources’ origins or how we connect to them.

This presents difficulty in practicing deep ecology. If we don’t even think about the resources we are consuming, then how can we ever begin to think of each resource’s intrinsic value? We forget that even though we are more sentient than other beings, they have a life to live as well. It seems animals and plants are automatically categorized as resources, not as beautiful, living beings.

I’m not saying that I’m wonderful at practicing deep ecology, either. I just think maybe we should start recognizing and appreciating intrinsic values of nonhuman organisms, and this starts with basic appreciation. It’s so easy to discount and exploit them that we do it unintentionally. Starting a conversation about the deep ecology philosophy is beneficial, and maybe can help us take strides toward both conservation and preservation of resources. This isn’t a plea for any drastic lifestyle changes, but perhaps some gradual ones. If we don’t take time to care for and enjoy the beauty, it may slowly vanish. If we don’t appreciate our resources, we can never appreciate them for their fundamental value. Make deep ecology food for your thought.

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