Deep Ecology and Its Relation to the Third World-Guha

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This paper will begin with an exposition of the article, “Radical Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique” written by Ramachendra Guha, a sociologist and historian involved in ecological conflict in the East and the West. In this article, he refers to American environmentalism as “deep ecology”, a modern theory founded by Arne Naess. Guha’s argues that based on a comparison of the concepts of deep ecology and other cultural environmentalisms, deep ecology is strictly rooted in American culture and thus, leads to negative social consequences when it is applied to the Third World.

This argument will be achieved by first defining deep ecology and its principles.

Next I will offer Guha’s critique of deep ecology which consists of four points and then, I will identify the factors that differentiate it from other social and political goals belonging to other cultural environmental ethics. After this, I refer to David M. John’s “The Relevance of Deep Ecology to the Third World: Some Preliminary Comments,” to object to Guha’s critique as an accurate description of deep ecology.

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Finally, I will respond to this objection using Guha’s “Deep Ecology Revisited,” arguing that Guha’s critique concerning that deep ecology leads to negative social consequences on the Third World is accurate.

First, according to Naess, deep ecology is the second of two ecological movements, the first being “shallow ecology”. This concerns a fight against pollution and resource depletion in order to protect the health and wealth of society. In view of this, shallow ecology only values the environment in so far as its destruction has an effect on human welfare.

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Hence, humans are extrinsic and superior to nature and nature is only of instrumental value to us. However, this ecology exclusively concerns developed countries. In contrast, deep ecology is a branch of ecological philosophy that questions how anthropocentric attitudes such as our need for consumerism and materialism negatively impact the environment. Accordingly, it preaches that the environment should be intrinsically valued. This notion originates from biocentrism; the belief that the non human world is of equal importance because of its intrinsic relation to humans.

In other words, since humans are not extrinsic to the non human world and thus, since we are a part of this intrinsic relation which defines the beings within this relationship, to eliminate it would lead to a change in the beings as such. This is because by not acknowledging our existence as part of this intrinsic relationship we are alienating ourselves. And so, to encourage such a relationship deep ecology integrates Eastern religious traditions with the goal of communicating human’s mystical connection with nature. Having established this, I next provide Guha’s analysis of deep ecology. In order to present a fair argument of deep ecology Guha critiques it as a partisan of the environmental ethic of India due to its similar ecological diversity. Guha’s criticism is founded on the current American ecological and social issues which he states are preventing deep ecology to succeed. His critique consists of four points: the first states that the two fundamental ecological problems are not related to the distinction between anthropomorphism and biocentrism, deep ecology’s fundamental point.

Guha states that deep ecology’s misguided motivation to preserve biotic integrity over the preservation of human life does not address first, the overconsumption by industrialized world, including the small wealth population in the Third World and second, the growing militarization. The second states that the emphasis on wilderness encouraged by deep ecology causes negative effects on the Third world. Guha states that because the majority of the population in India is involved in agriculture and thus, find it necessary to have a balanced relationship with nature, the actions taken by deep ecology to preserver wilderness areas is leading to the natural resources of the agricultural population to be lost to the rich and thus unattainable by the poor. Guha identifies that the American method of wilderness preservation means to displace entire agricultural villages, without their consent. This is done in order to transform the wilderness into touristic areas to generating profit from the higher classes. In other words, in Roderick Nash’s opinion, wilderness preservation benefits the rich, the urban and the sophisticated.

Also, this transformation of wilderness areas is achieved through financial battles between funding institutions, technology and political strategy. For this reason, whatever negatively affects the agricultural class is dismissed. According to this, Guha argues that issues like the one previously mentioned originate and are supported by the preoccupation of wilderness preservation’s aspect of deep ecology. Third, this American movement integrates Eastern religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism yet only uses what it needs from these traditions in order to make deep ecology a universalistic philosophy. Thus, Guha states that the Eastern traditions are used to communicate a Western ideology. Mainly, to communicate human’s spiritual dependence with nature through a deep ecological consciousness. Finally, deep ecology is limited since it does not thoroughly address the variety of environmental issues.

Rather, according to Guha, it seems to be a branch of the wilderness preservation movement instead of it own environmental protection movement. This is because, like one of the characteristics of the wilderness movement, deep ecology aims at providing modern society with an escape from the hectic societal environment and to integrate this into American culture. This type of exposure to wilderness is merely an extension of the many desires that are inherent in the American culture to which society is dependent. In other words, wilderness has become part of the consumer society, the same society that deep ecology claims to aim to reconceive. Guha refers to this as a consequence of economic and political dominance. This dominance leads to wilderness being a manifestation of American nationalism. Admittedly, the American national park system is one of America’s defining characteristics.

Hence, Guha states that Western civilization is the ideal medium for both wilderness and civilization to live in conjunction yet this medium dismisses its economical and social consequences. In contrast, Guha compares deep ecology to the German environmental movement known as the Green program. He states that the Green has realised that the American economy has a direct negative effect on the Third World. This is due to the industrialization, militarization and the American history of subordination beginning with colonization. This has lead to a distorted distribution of resources in the world and as a result has increased the lower class population. The Green responds to this issue with the theory of a “no growth economy” through a re-evaluation of the consumerist ethic concerning self-limitation. However, this is not an easy change since it requires a new political and economical system which will still be fundamentally grounded in cultural values.

For example, both German and Indian environmental movements greatly value social justice concerning social and ecological concerns involving work, lifestyle and most importantly, do not emphasis wilderness preservation. Therefore, from this Guha concludes that two differentiating features from the German and Indian environmental movement is: one, environmental change is for the aim of survival rather than an improvement in quality of life. That is to say, that it is a necessary treatment instead of a superfluous enhancement. Two, as a result of this needed treatment there is an eqyal emphasis on economic and political distribution. And so, the notion of deep ecology that believes wilderness preservation is more important than an all encompassing environmental preservation movement, originates from a Western worldview, more specifically from American culture.

Thus, the pursuit of colonialism and capitalism, which leads to social and economic inequalities, as demonstrated previously, must be revaluated if deep ecology is to succeed in thoroughly addressing environmental issues beyond wilderness preservation. Next, in reference to David M. Johns, even though he agrees with some points raise by Guha he argues that deep ecology is in fact its own movement and it does not strictly focus on wilderness protection. This being the case, deep ecology has the right approach for an environmental protection movement. Furthermore, unlike Guha, Johns argues that deep ecology’s distinction between anthropomorphism and biocentrism is relevant concerning the world’s two fundamental ecological issues: the overconsumption of the industrialized world as well as growing militarization. Johns begins by stating that wilderness is a good place for deep ecology to starts making changes as an environmental movement.

He supports this by listing two points that justify wilderness preservation. The first claims that since the Earth can support a limited amount of biomass-the living matter per unit-we must ensure that not all of it consists of humans, thus leaving room for nonhuman life. The second claims that as humans we do not have the right to alter nature’s ecosystems in so far as our actions lead to its destruction or alteration of its natural balance. However with that being said, all human societies with the exception of small groups pose a threat to the natural environment therefore, wilderness preservation is necessary; otherwise, an unhealthy environment has a direct effect on its inhabitants, human and nonhuman.

Furthermore, this notion correlates with deep ecology’s belief that nature must be intrinsically valued therefore, its preservation is required, especially when many ecosystems are in need to reparation. Moreover, Johns asserts that it is deep ecology’s priority to achieve a coexistence of humans and nature in an ecosystem. However, as Guha argued, it is also necessary to change our lifestyles for this to be possible; nevertheless, we must first begin with repairing the damage done on the environment. Next, according to Johns, the irrelevance of the distinction between anthropomorphism and biocentrism is not entirely true. In so far as humans approach nature from a biocentric attitude their actions towards nature will reflect this. The same applies for an anthropocentric attitude towards nature. Based on this notion, Johns argues that a biocentric world view will thus positively affect one’s choice in lifestyle and actions which in turn will limit human consumption and militarization.

However, as mentioned by Guha, such a change can only be accomplished through a collective biocentric world view and not achieved by individuals who choose this world view. Hence, a restructuring of the American economic and political systems is necessary. Seeing as limit in consumption depends on a biocentric view, the human species will limit its consumption based on its intrinsic value for the nonhuman world. In contrast, an anthropocentric worldview would encourage the value of one’s own human species. According to the Western culture, quality of life is determined by consumption. If we propose that everyone aims at living the best possible quality of life, this leads to everyone to consuming excessively. This is due to the economic and political dominance present in Western capitalism which functions on this notion. Capitalism cannot grasp the understanding of overconsumption as seen from the biocentric view since a maximising in consumption is what it consist of.

The same logic applies to limiting militarization. A biocentric world view will affect the decision concerning if war is a solution and thus will determine if natural resources and financial funding for such action are needed. Here we are limiting the funding of war which can be applied to the treatment of ecosystems. We are also preventing further damage to the nonhuman world by preventing the extraction of natural ressources. Once again, this is only possible because from a biocentric view, it is important to consider the non human world’s relation to our actions. In short, Johns agrees with Guha’s claim that an emphasis on wilderness preservation which leads to a dismissal of other environmental issues will be an unsuccessful environmental movement however; a biocentric worldview will naturally lead to a collective economical and political change such as a limitation in consumption and militarization. Nevertheless, Johns does not directly address the negative social consequences that deep ecology’s emphasis on wilderness preservation has on the Third World.

With reference to Guha’s “Deep Ecology Revisited” I argue that his critique concerning this is accurate. In Guha’s “Radical Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique,” he states that the preoccupation with wilderness preservation is in a large part due to biologists. In “Deep Ecology Revisited” Guha states that the because of a Westernized, developed background, the biologist believes that he has the authority to tell a native from the Third World that it is justifiable to displace one from one’s land in order to preserve it and claim that such authority also entitles the biologist to declare it as Western territory. Guha follows with an example from Raymond Bonner’s ”At the Handof Man” which talks about the imperialist manifesto of Westerners such as, some biologist who have done this in Africa.

Bonner writes that Africans have been manipulated, ignored and dominated by white Westerners. He states that the Westerners are creating parks that benefit other white people such as tourists which Africans, although they are not interested in the parks, are directly affected from the removal of their land. They are also affected by the indirect economic cost-government revenues from the park’s construction. Based on this example, Guha is right to claim that the wilderness protection movement is directly the cause of drastic consequences, such as poverty in Third world countries. What justifies these actions is not only deep ecology’s interest in preservation but also, an opportunity for economical growth for the American economy. The construction of an American park in other countries such as in Africa, imposes American culture on the African people.

Thus, the people have not only lost their land and homes, but their right as the people of the land has been removed. In conclusion, Guha is right to argue that deep ecology, being culturally rooted in American culture, does claim to be a universal environmental movement yet, when it is applied to other countries such as the Third World it does provide a solution to environmental issues. Rather, it emphasises wilderness preservation which economically benefits the American economy while negatively damaging a country through the harm of its people and its people’s culture.


Guha, Ramachandra, “Deep Ecology Revisited”, In The Great new Wilderness Debate, (Athens, Georgia: Georgia Press), 1998. pp.271-279. Guha, Ramachandra, “Radical Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique”, In Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application, Sixth Edition, Pojman, Louis P., and Paul Pojman, Towson University: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2012. Johns, David M., “The Relevance of Deep Ecology”, In The Great new Wilderness Debate, (Athens, Georgia: Georgia Press), 1990. pp. 246-270.

Naess, Arne, “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecological Movement”, In Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application, Sixth Edition, Pojman, Louis P., and Paul Pojman, Towson University: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2012.

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Deep Ecology and Its Relation to the Third World-Guha. (2016, Dec 30). Retrieved from

Deep Ecology and Its Relation to the Third World-Guha

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