Deep ecology - healing our relationship with the natural world

The concept of deep ecology is the idea that humans not only need to change our behaviours towards the natural world, but our relationship to it.

Coined by eco-philosopher Arne Nas in 1973, deep ecology is a concept First Nations communities around the world know intimately. It’s likely why 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is on Indigenous land.

Nas claimed that there are two strands in the environmentalist movement; shallow ecology and deep ecology:

Shallow ecology

Is the concern with addressing negative environmental impacts only to the extent that they meets human interests. For example, fossil fuel companies can continue an inherently unsustainable activity at an arbitrarily ‘sustainable’ rate.

Deep ecology

Believes that shallow ecology doesn’t go far enough because it neglects the underlying causes of environmental problems. The cultural and ideological dimensions that underly it.

The general attitude in our society is that nature is an object we can use. It’s this attitude that deep ecologists believe is the root cause of environmental problems. So to solve them, we must shift in consciousness. This isn’t only beneficial for the environment, but healing for ourselves as well.

Before I knew there was a word for it, I found that this philosophy instilled purpose, belonging, healing, natural optimism and energy in my own life. My gateway into this concept was through exploring ways to heal the nervous system almost 10 years ago. Back then it wasn’t as well documented as it is now, but I was lucky to stumble on some articles pointing to Vitamin D and nature as an effective and free healing modality. Ever since, I’ve sought a life close to nature.

Years later, I had the honour of interviewing environmentalist Helena Norberg-Hodge. She reinforced this idea that healing ourselves is also healing the earth. Her philosophy comes from 14 years spent living on and off in Ladakh, India. She watched it go from a healthy region with naturally upbeat and thriving community to experiencing the first unemployment, homelessness, pollution and suicide it had ever seen after exposure to western influence.

This is testament to our urgent need to get back to nature to solve not only the climate crisis, but the health crisis. Healing the earth heals ourselves.

Here are a few ways we can apply the philosophy of deep ecology into our own life:

  1. Realise we’re part of nature. The western relationship to nature is influenced by Christianity and the positioning of humans in The Old Testament that God made mankind in his own nature and gave them dominion over earth. In remembering we’re part of nature, we can reach the successive conclusion that any damage we do to the natural world, we’re ultimately doing to ourselves.

  2. Viewing ourselves as citizens and custodians of the earth first. This world view is one held by most Indigenous cultures around the globe. The idea that we’re custodians of the natural world. This sense of purpose and belonging is both personally healing and transforms our awareness to the degree that we can’t help but shape our daily behaviours.

  3. Appreciate the gifts nature gives us. While working on a permaculture farm in remote Belize back in 2015, I discovered just how much time and care it took for the seeds I sewed to harvest. Digging yams out of the ground that took months to grow gave me a deep appreciation for food that I hadn’t experienced before. Realising how much time it takes for the earth to produce its gifts (or what our economically driven world calls ‘resources’) helps us appreciate the preciousness of the things we buy and take our purchases less lightly.

  4. Establish reciprocity. We bottle water and sell food, yet nature gives us these things for free. If we continue to deplete nutrient rich soil with mass agriculture and deplete the bee populations that pollinate our food — the earth’s natural abundance won’t last. Although I find hope at least in knowing that the natural world will always keep surviving even if we humans don’t. This term of ‘reciprocity’ is a concept I first learned from Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous Botanist of the Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma and author of Braiding Sweetgrass. Reciprocity is the idea that we must not only take from nature sustainably, but give back to it so that the cycle of reciprocity can continue.

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