What is

Deep Ecology? 


Text by Jenny O'Hare

Artwork by Siobhán O'Callaghan

In its essence, Deep Ecology recognises the interconnected nature
of all of life.
It is an awareness by us humans of the intrinsic part we play within Nature, but also an acknowledgement of
the greater interactions occurring between life
at all levels. 

In the early stages of its emergence in the 1970’s, the concept of Deep Ecology had to work to state that humans were perhaps not the dominant player on the great stage of life, or perhaps that they should not be viewed as such. It was a shift from an ego-centric view of life to an eco-centric one. 

Ecology itself is the study of the relationships between organisms and their environment. It is a largely mathematical science which collects data on species, their behaviour, their habitats, and then analyses whole ecosystem functioning. It is a measure of the physical interaction of life. Before the birth of Deep Ecology, very little regard had been given as to how it is that human behaviour and interaction could affect whole ecosystems. Deep Ecology aimed to guide us in our interactions with the rest of the web of life. 

How might this be achieved? by going deep, of course. 

Humans have always had an essentially intrinsic relationship with the rest of the living world. We are deeply embedded in the web of life, and rely upon the Earth and its systems for our very existence and survival.


As we began to quantify and qualify ecological interactions, the greater philosophical question of how we might interact with the world naturally followed. What this arose from was the deep experiences and questioning of many. One man in particular, lecturer and philosopher Arne Naess, spent much time in great vast wilderness landscapes which inspired within him deeper questions of our role on the planet. This followed the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which documented the adverse effects of pesticides on the living world. Our ‘progress’ as humans was birthing both potential destruction and strong moral opposition to that which separated us from the rest of life. From deep experience and deep questioning arose a deeper commitment to the ecology of life, and so Deep Ecology was born.

Deep Ecology combines our rational scientific reasoning with values informed by our intuition, by our feelings and by qualities that we identify or wish to inhabit. It asks questions like “How should we live in relation to the facts of Ecology”, and “What is our role within the biosphere?”. Deep Ecology has evolved over time, as might be expected from such broad and reflective enquiries. It now tells the story of us humans as members of a living world - a world that is full of meaning, a world that has been revealed to us by science, but which goes much deeper than science can perhaps tell, towards the core of mystery. Deep Ecology admits a world full of feeling, one which offers itself to us on myriad levels, and invites us into a deep sense of belonging. How are we to respond to this belonging? 

In this sense, Deep Ecology can also be said to be deeply personal. Because it extends itself to include a vast living biosphere, each individual's reflection on their experience of being part of that biosphere will be unique.


How we interpret a living world will be shaped by our experiences of that world, be they deep or otherwise. Hence the birth of the movement itself - to share in and create value around what it means to be part of Earth's ecosystems, to help guide us in valuing our interactions with a living world. 

An essential part of the Deep Ecology movement or process, is the concept of the ecological self. This is the self which is realised as part of the greater whole. It is a sense of self which is broadened to include all of the rest of life as elements of that self.  The ecological self is recognised not just as a physically interconnected part of the planet, but also as intellectually and energetically or spiritually entwined. The ecological self encompasses the totality of our experiences. When we cultivate our sense of ecological self, we no longer think or act “as if” the world around us is alive, and worthy of our consideration, rather we think and act with the very wellbeing of that world in mind. Cultivating our ecological selves broadens our scope of care far far beyond ourselves. So too does it broaden our scope of influence (influence flowing both to us and from us), and likewise our scope of responsibility. Ultimately, our ecological selves may recognise and feel a much broader and deeper sense of belonging, and allow us to find our place in the family of things. 

This expanded sense of self is a doorway through to our very own Deep Ecology, a personal experience which is ever interacting with the greater ecologies all around us. When we share in these ecologies, we may begin to know all the better how it is that we are to move through those worlds. 

Would you like to learn more
about Deep Ecology?

The following books are our personal recommendations for discovering and learning more about Deep Ecology, Nature and Culture.


Greening of the Self (Paper)

by Joanna Macy


Soil and Soul: people versus corporate power

by Alistair McIntosh


The Ecology of Wisdom

by Arne Naess


Braiding Sweetgrass

by Robin Wall Kimmerer


Silent Spring

by Rachel Carson


Spiritual Ecology; The Cry of the Earth

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee



(selected Essays)

by Mary Oliver


The Spell of the Sensuous

By David Abram

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