If the arguments of the previous lecture are correct, recent trends in ecology do not support the idea of biotic communities as cohesive wholes or that they exist in a delicate balance. Perhaps this trend away from essentialism would have surprised Leopold. He might not have expected, for example, that the removal or introduction of certain species have only modest effects on the community. Nor was he aware of the extent to which abiotic factors determine community composition. Leopold also lacked information about species turnover rates over tens of thousands of years.
Logically, there appear to be three options for contemporary environmentalists. The first is to revise environmentalism so that it no longer depends on holism, nature’s balance, or other outmoded ideas. Perhaps there are other (better) reasons for conserving biotic communities that do not conflict with ecological science. The second option is to show that ecological science and environmentalism are not in fact in conflict. For example, perhaps the land ethic (or something similar) can be derived from an abiotic account of community structure, or a populationist account of communities. I will set this option aside for now. The third altermative is to reject the authority of ecological science. This has been a popular theme in the writings of some envrionmentalists. In this lecture I will consider one of the more popular versions of this approach. When faced with a conflict between environmental convictions and scientific claims, Deep Ecologists question the authenticity of science.
The leading proponent of this movement, Arne Naess, is quite frank about this stance. As he explains in a 1985 article, “Deep Versus Shallow Ecology”:
The term deep is supposed to suggest the fundamental presupposition of values as well as facts and hypotheses. Deep ecology, therefore, transcends the limit of any particular science of today, including systems theory and scientific ecology.” (219)
From this statement we...