Shallow vs. Deep Ecology

The following post is based on a movement by Arne Naess that describes the difference between shallow and deep ecological movements.  Please read the original piece written by Naess here.

What is Shallow vs. Deep Ecology?

Arne Naess, a Norwegian professor, draws a definite line between two areas that he calls Shallow Ecology and Deep Ecology.  Shallow Ecology is a movement which simply promotes conservations strategies against pollution and the depletion of resources.  Deep Ecology is a movement that promotes “ecological wisdom,” which is the understanding of the reason for the Shallow Ecology movement by acknowledging the inherent value of all forms of life.

Examining Shallow vs. Deep Ecology differentiates those who want to help save the environment without true understanding from those who are ecologically wise.

What is Deep Ecology?

Deep Ecology practices biospherical egalitarianism “in theory.” Ideally, we should give respect and equal rights to all forms of life, but this is just not realistic. Some plants and animals must take the brunt of our human needs, since we do need to eat and use various parts of land in our human life. Deep Ecology takes into consideration human needs but calls them to spare as much life as possible by living a life that is mindful to the value of all non-human life.

Deep Ecology supports a principle of diversity. Co-existing and cooperating with our non-human counterparts leads to prosperity and growth among forms of life. The diversity among the species and within the species offer many life-enhancing behaviors, characteristics, and ways of life to be brought together.

This principle reaches beyond relationships between different species; it extends over human to human relationships, as well. Deep Ecology recognizes that with diversity comes different classes, which can be divided in “the exploiters” and “the exploited.” These divisions are not diversity in a positive sense; they are diversity driving species apart and eliminating a relationship that shows value to other forms of life.

Making a Difference with Deep Ecology

Sometimes, when humans commit to making a difference, they only take into consideration the issues of pollution and resource depletion, rather than looking at the bigger picture. Looking at the bigger picture means to see that the problem causing these issues needs to be resolved before a movement towards minimizing pollution and conserving resources will be successful.

This problem is that humans do not always understand the responsibility we have to our Earth and are not always aware of important principles, such as biospherical egalitarianism or the principle of diversity.

Due to a state of human ignorance, the complexity of our biosphere makes it difficult to understand if not broken down into proper divisions. Humans must be completely interactive with their thoughts when thinking of all forms of life and their inherent values, and must think deeply about what these things mean, rather than how they make us feel.

We must live lives full of deep and intentional thought processes in order to avoid the overwhelming complexity of the world we live in to muddle our minds into a complicated mess. In order to be sure that the message of the Deep Ecology movement is not conveyed improperly, it is most effective to promote it on a small-scale level and build up from there.

Many conservation efforts are made by centralized organization, such as the United States’ federal government.  To break this down, concepts must first be introduced on a smaller scale, such as local organizations or even in the family unit. To infiltrate society with the uncommon ideas of the Deep Ecology movement, small scale systems must be made aware first so that the systems come together and ecological wisdom can become common knowledge across the larger system, society.

Want more on Arne Naess’s philosophy? Buy his books The Ecology of Wisdom and Life’s Philosophy: Reason and Feeling in a Deeper World.

The Importance of Deep Ecology

The importance of the Deep Ecology movement has become very prevalent in my life recently, and more specifically in my home.  My parents and siblings have a very backwards mindset when it comes to topics revolving around ecology.  For example, my parents do not believe in climate change and tell my younger siblings that global warming is not real.

My family wastes an absurd amount of energy which breaks my heart. They do things like refusing to recycle, turning a light on when walking past a room, run water with no purpose and take ridiculously long showers.  I have talked to them about these issues but I often get the response of “it is my house so I will use all of the electricity I can pay for,” “us turning the lights off is not going to make a difference,” or “it doesn’t benefit me to conserve energy.”

They say these things because they do not know the harm that humans have done to the world.  They say these things because they do not care about the state of the Earth in the future, because they feel that it will not affect their lives. I believe this ignorance comes from a lack of proper ecological education. If my parents learned what I am learning now back when they were in school, they could have taught my siblings and I about how our beautiful planet is suffering because of our actions. I would love to say that my generation will be the one to make a change because we are educated. The harsh reality is that Environmental Ethics and classes of that nature are simply not deemed important, and therefore, are not made mandatory for students. I fear that by the time these issues are made important by society, it will be too late.

We first must educate the people on why we should care about the Earth before we will be able to convince them to care about the Earth. This is how we bridge the gap between shallow and deep ecology

More Posts on Environmental Ethics

If you liked this post on shallow vs. deep ecology, check out some of my additional reflections on environmental ethics:

What are your takeaways on shallow ecology vs. deep ecology? What do the two mean to you?



  1. Hi Emily! You are a great person for the conciousness of what conserving energy means and how the actions affect mother earth and contributes to global warming. I hope young people will have the interest such as you, the world would be a better place!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you I’m an old hippie celabrated earth day recycle have a vegie garden but I really do get dismayed by how little progress we have made including my wife and I in really caring for our enviorment. Post Covid hoping to find way to help educated people. thinking of taking Fritjof Capra’s course on the book “the Systems View of Life (co authored w P.L. Luisi). Keep up the good work

    Liked by 1 person

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