Saturday, May 2, 2015

Origins of Deep Ecology

Bald eagle perched above nest
under a waxing gibbous moon
Romanticism emphasized emotion as a wellspring of aesthetic experience, particularly the awe felt in the presence of the sublimity of nature.

Tennyson's short poem The Eagle exemplifies the reverence of the Romantics.
The Eagle
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Center of Nature

Poets and artists of the Romantic period (1800-1850) were attuned to the beauty of nature. Romantics viewed humans at the center of nature. From a contemporary perspective, the notion of humans at the center of nature seems ego-centric and naive, but should be seen in the context of the hierarchical mono-theistic dogma of the time.

At One With Nature

Poets and writers in the early 20th century connected natural beauty to metaphorical human organs.
“beauty is a light in the heart.”
Kahlil Gibran
The mid 20th century began a cultural pivot from the center of nature to being at one with nature.
“As if you were on fire from within. The moon lives in the lining of your skin.”
Pablo Neruda
Deep ecology is a contemporary philosophy that recognizes the complex inter-relationships of all living organisms. Deep ecology recognizes the consequences of human consumption as an existential threat to life on earth.

Existential Threat

The population decline of the bald eagle is the quintessential narrative connecting human activity to existential threats. The bald eagle population, estimated to be 3-5 hundred thousand eagles in the early 18th century, declined to 412 nesting pairs in by the 1950s.

The human-generated pesticide DDT interfered with calcium metabolism, making the bird sterile or making the female's eggs too brittle to withstand the weight of a brooding adult.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published in 1962, documented the detrimental impact of indiscriminate use of DDT. Ten years later agricultural use of DDT was banned in the US.
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter."
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring