Deep ecology, a movement initiated by Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss in 1972, posits two main ideas. The first is that there must be a shift away from human-centered anthropocentrism to ecocentrism in which every living thing is seen as having inherent value regardless of its utility. Second, that humans are part of nature rather than superior and apart from it, and therefore must protect all life on Earth as they would protect their family or self.
Although it built on the ideas and values of earlier eras of environmentalism, deep ecology had a significant influence on the larger movement, emphasizing philosophical and ethical dimensions. Along the way, deep ecology gained its share of critics as well, but its fundamental premises remain relevant and thought-provoking today in this era of dual biodiversity and climate crises.
The Founding of Deep Ecology
Arne Næss already had a long and distinguished career as a professor of philosophy in Norway before concentrating his intellectual energies on an emerging vision that would become the philosophy of deep ecology.
Previously, Næss’s academic work explored relationships between people and larger social and natural systems—a holistic conception that Næss credits in part to the 17th century Jewish Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, an Enlightenment thinker who explored the presence of God throughout nature. Næss also drew inspiration from the Indian human rights activist Mahatma Gandhi and from Buddhist teachings. Næss was a longtime supporter of human rights, the women’s movement, and the peace movement, all of which informed his ecological philosophy and its evolution.
Perhaps Næss never would have been drawn to the intersection of ecology and philosophy at all if it hadn’t been for his love of the mountains. He spent significant portions of his life in the Hallingskarvet range of southern Norway, marveling at their vastness and power, and contemplating Earth’s intricate systems. An accomplished mountaineer, he also led many climbing expeditions, including the first to reach the summit of Pakistan’s Tirich Mir in 1950.
In 1971, Næss joined two other Norwegians on what they called an “anti-expedition” to Nepal, in part to support local Sherpas protecting the sacred mountain Tseringma from mountaineer tourism. According to the philosopher Andrew Brennan, this was the moment in which Næss experienced a breakthrough that led to a new environmental philosophy, or, as Næss referred to it, “ecosophy.”
The influences of earlier environmental advocates and philosophies are apparent in Næss’s work. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold all contributed to the ideal of a non-human-centered world, the importance of preserving nature for its own sake, and an emphasis on a return to a perceived simpler way of life, less dependent on material things that contribute to pollution and destruction of nature.
But for Næss, the crucial inspiration for deep ecology was Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” for its emphasis on urgent, transformational change to stem the tide of planetary destruction. Carson’s book provided an important impetus for the advent of modern environmentalism that sought limits on the rampant destruction of the Earth’s systems, particularly those posed by intensive agriculture and other industrial technologies. Her works drew clear scientific connections between human well-being and ecosystem health, and this resonated with Næss.
How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires
As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.
Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.
Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church
In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire.
The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.
As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.
Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.
“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”
Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.
“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”
Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?
Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.
Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?
Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.
“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”
Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises
Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.
At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.
New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.
The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.
But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.
In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”
Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?
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