Deep Ecology: "Nature's defense is no longer altruism, it's self-defense"

Andrea Munizaga's Interview with John Seed

John Seed , famous Australian ecologist, who calls himself an "activist that speaks on behalf of the trees", was visiting Chile. He met with Defensores del Bosques Chileno (Defenders of the Chilean Rainforest) , with Casa de la Paz (Peace House), con GAIA and other ecological groups. He came to "stir the waters a bit" and to explain the principles of Deep Ecology. "If we have the experience of being part of the larger body of Earth" , he says, then defending Nature is no longer altruism , It is trans formed into self defense, he maintains.

* "There is a continual interchange of matter, energy and spirit between a human being and the rest of the world. To know this is something, but to experience it is to feel that I'm not only a 50-year old being, but I have been evolving nonstop during 4,000 million years "

* "I feel as if we were on the Titanic, quickly approaching towards a gigantic iceberg, and the environmentalists are determined to improve living conditions aboard the ship. Of course, there is nothing wrong in that, but the Deep Ecology movement is saying: " hey, look, there is an iceberg ahead of us, we are all going to sink, and it doesn't matter how beautiful is the great Titanic!"

* "Generally we believe that man is the only species created in God's image and likeness. After the victory of rationalism, we have this rooted arrogant illusion that we are separate from Nature. Under the cover of such enlightment, we have destroyed the Earth.

JS, that by one of those amazing chances of the Spanish language has as his name : Juan Semilla (the Spanish Botanical word for seed that you sow in the ground, as oppose to pepita -a seed within a fruit- or grano- grain)., is one of the most famous Deep Ecology activists, a new philosophy of Nature that has guided the ecology movement globally in the last two decades.

Deep Ecology, that defines itself as an open (independent/nonsectarian?) movement, recovers the richness of the different ways ecology can be felt. Its followers, among others, are philosophers, thinkers, students,...........

By itself Deep Ecology does not conduct direct actions. But its philosophy has inspired surprising concrete initiatives. One of then was conducted in the US by a small group of young people belonging to the "Earth First" movement. ...........personifying extinct animals they would speak for them at environmental meetings.

Deep ecology was born in 1972 when Arne Naess coined the questions the structural basis of "progress",............environmental crisis a physical manifestation of the social and cultural problems endemic to development Deep Ecology, says JS "instead of seeing the world as a pyramid with humans on top, envision a web with life at the center. We are only a strand on the web. A leaf on the tree of life. One of ten million species that inhabit our planet. In reality, nothing special"

All of our society's institutions conspire to trap us in this mortal way of seeing the world, says John. "Our language, for example. When we think of the environment as something outside of us, we do not realize that when we pollute the waters, we are also polluting our blood"

"Humanity is responsible for the extinction of 10,000 to 50,000 species annually. If we have the experience of being part of the larger body of Earth, then defending Nature is no longer altruism, it is transformed in self defense."

The Voice of the Trees

In the NSW rainforest, John lived a frightening experience. He tells that he heard the deep cries of hundreds of dying tress. Left IBM.........17 years defending the rainforest.

Q- After a strange day in 1979........Tell me about your experience in the Australian rainforest?

It was the time I was living as a peasant growing fruit trees. With our neighbors we were trying to stop the logging of the forest. There I had an incredible experience. - "buldozer" is Spanglish, "excavadoras" would be more appropriate- ..... I thought that my life's mission to serve the trees, speak on their behalf.

Most people can't hear them...they only see firewood and wood shavings.........they are our brothers. The experience was a connection with a higher intelligence than mine.............we are a new tree species that has learned to think and to log. When we experience this connection, a loyalty and a wish to help the forest by whatever means are born.

Q- Is Deep Ecology a political movement, a life ethic, a philosophical view of the world?

Different persons may have different answers. There is not a partisan politics connected with Deep Ecology. This is not a formal, organized movement. Personally I think that it is a philosophical view and also a spiritual view. As a philosophy, it explains how we are tearing the fabric of life. As a spiritual vision, when we realize that we are part of Earth's body, that Earth is the greater being, we understand that the idea that we are distinct and separate from Nature is false.

"There is a continual interchange of matter, energy and spirit between a human being and the rest of the world. To know this is something, but to experience it is to feel that I'm not only a 50-year old being, but I have been evolving nonstop during 4,000 million years "

Awakening from Oblivion

JS does not answer as to how Deep Ecology began. " Rather than ask me when and how it began, you should ask when it was forgotten" he comments mysteriously.

He tells that it was lost when we started to renounce the rituals through which we have always recognized and affirm our connection with the Earth. When we are convinced that the mind knows every thing and believe that we are superior. In such instance, he says, we start to lose ourselves.

Q- From its beginning, Deep Ecology defines itself as a radical way to imagine the relationship between man or woman and Nature. How radical is this vision?

"I believe that is as radical as when Copernicus or Galileo suggested that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Just like before people believe the sun ................, now people believe that life revolves around humanity. We  think that the world revolves around life. " The movement is radical because it questions the Judeo-Christian foundation of our whole society. For Deep Ecology, Marxism was simply a small Christian heresy. Even though they refuse to believe that white-bearded man created the world 6,000 years ago, as a proper stage for the human drama, still yet the idea that man is the only creature created in God's image was never really questioned. Marxism continued to be part of the Judeo-Christian ethic that believes human beings are the crown of creation and the measure of all beings. It's as essential to Marxism, as it is to Chris tianity, the idea that the world is divided in two: human beings and resources for human beings.

Q- what is Deep Ecology's mission today? How is it expressed?

The interesting aspect of Deep Ecology is that it celebrates a diversity of worldview and spiritual practices. Some are from a Buddhist perspective, others Christian, others Asian. As long as they have a biocentric worldview, they remain part of Deep Ecolo gy. I think that the environmental movement as a whole it has slowed down a bit. In spite of the scientific warnings, the ozone layer disappears and the environmental problems continue to live with us. Each day 100 species of plants and animals become extinct and the environmental movement in its actual form is not capable of facing the crisis.

I believe the work of Deep Ecology at this time is to increase the passion and strength of the environmental movement. The environmental reformist says: " hey, here our society is okay....we have some small problems: the battle against pollution, recycling, etc". These are all necessary actions, of course, but insufficient if we do not question the basic beliefs of progress. What is progress? The whole world works 16 hours daily and there is no time to answer these questions. The life supporting systems of Earth will start to fail in one or two more human generations.

The water, the air, the elements on which our lives and the ones of other species are based on are being irreversible altered. I believe that only be asking ourselves deep, fundamental, philosophical and social questions can be obtain true results. I feel as if we were on the Titanic, quickly approaching towards a gigantic iceberg, and the environmentalists are determined to improve living conditions aboard the ship. Of course, there is nothing wrong in that, but the Deep Ecology movement is saying: "hey, look, there is an iceberg ahead of us, we are all going to sink, and it doesn't matter how beautiful is the great Titanic!"

The Meeting of All Beings

The "Council of All Beings" is another initiative of the Deep Ecology movement. Inspired by the sacred rituals of indigenous peoples, it rescues the celebration of life. John seed and Joanna Macy, professor at the Institute for Deep Ecology in Boulder, CO, created it. He has conducted the council in Australia, USA, Japan and Europe. Deep Ecology integrates the ritual dances of the original nations in order to enrich the experience that men and women have with Earth... Deep Ecology recognizes that human beings of the indigenous societies of the world that do not dedicate themselves to the destruction of their surroundings, have ways if connecting the human being with the experience of being part of Earth. In other words, the illusion of human superiority is not permitted in such societies. On each day, each week, each month, each equinox, each solstice, each harvest, each new and full moon they celebrate ceremonies and dances, which allow them to remember who they really are. Deep ecology tries to rescue these values that have been oppressed by the Judeo-Christian society with its inquiries, with its rational science.

Q- Why do you state that the difference between man and Nature is only an "illusion" ?

Simply try to stop breathing for three minutes and you will know the answer. If you want a deeper answer, look at your toenails and realize how similar they are with ones of other creatures. ("criaturas" can mean creatures, but in general/common usage it refers to babies; "animales" (animals , as vs. plant) , "especies" (species) or "seres" (beings) are good alternatives)......our blood is very similar to our fellow non- humans.....when the human embryo develops the vestiges of a tail are noticeable. Water and other substances circulate constantly between our body and the environment. We do not exist on Earth, we exist in the Earth and we cannot live three minutes without it.

Q- What is the Council of All Beings?

The Council of All Beings is a way to translate Deep Ecology to an emotional, psychological and spiritual experience. The COAB is the kind of spiritual ritual in which the participants experience ending the illusion of separation, it is a very joyful thing, people are happy. They feel they are returning home, a home that has been stolen from us since a few hundred years ago, when the rituals and the ceremonies were removed from western society.

Within the Council itself we learn how to speak to a non-human being, we make a mask to represent this ally from the non-human world and allow that this being speak through us. At the beginning is difficult, because we don't come from a society where that is natural. In our society we think that we are the only ones that have intelligence.

The principles of the New Development

In 1984, Arne Naess and George Sessions created eight principles that define the basic platform of the Deep Ecology movement. They suggest that the flourishing of life has an intrinsic value; the wealth and diversity of different life forms contribute to the realization of these values; and that human beings have no right to diminish this wealth, except when it entails of essential needs.

Man , they say, is excessively interfering with non-human life, and the flourishing of life requires a substantial decrease of our population. The course of action of human beings with respect to nature must change and these changes will have consequences in the economic, ideological and technologic areas. The change in ideology will consist in adopting a new way of appreciating what is quality of life.

Q- What is Deep Ecology's strategy for recovering life?

It is not sufficient to note of a couple of points: "we have to do this, we have to do that.." because, where are we going to find the strength to change everything, if we have to sacrifice our standard of living, our comforts, our "progress"?

We cannot overcome this by thinking alone. We have to involve deeper levels, we must to make changes in ourselves and our institutions. It is not sufficient to have ecological ideas, but to transform oneself into an ecological being. If through a profound understanding we realize that our "I" includes air, water, etc............out and in are the same continuum.....when we realize the illusion, defending nature becomes something really easy.

Accordingly my answer on Deep Ecology's strategy is: awake the people to their true self, to their true being, at what we really are. When we start seeing beyond the illusion, a different kind of light shines within. Then, to work for the Earth becomes joyful and natural. We are working for ourselves.

Q- how many people belong to the Deep Ecology movement?

I haven't the slightest clue. But I would say that not many. I am disappointed of how few there are. Everyone thinks that there is time to conduct business as usual, earn money, gain some weight and have a heart attack.....How many people are really preoccupied with the deep issues of the world's survival? Of course if a newspaper takes poll they would discover that everyone is an environmentalist, everyone is an ecologist, but if we look at how people behave then we will see that we are really very few.

Q- But...are you sure that there is any real possibility of reversing this true global suicide?

Actually I'm not sure of what can be done . But once we accept that we are on this suicidal course, then the question is : how must a person live at a time like this? What is to be done? Become a college-professor? Conduct business? Become wealthy? Even if we are not sure that something can be done, including if we are pessimist about what can be accomplished.....we are going to try, we are going to act.

Tompkins, the misunderstood

Q- What are Deep Ecology's plans for Chile?

I have met with many people that already belong to Deep Ecology. They do not call themselves that, but that is not important...St. Francis of Assisi neither. And he really was. My plans are to speak, teach. I am conducting COAB workshops, teaching facilitators so they can have a workshop in Spanish. In fact the book "Thinking Like A Mountain" will be translated in Chile and I also hope that it will be published here.

Q- Douglas Tompkins, a successful businessman, a follower of Deep Ecology's ideas, bought 350 thousand hectares in Southern Chile. Various rumors have circulated about his real intentions........

Doug Tompkins is one of the most prominent of Deep Ecology's followers and , in my opinion, one of the most respected. I saw one of the newspaper articles that have aroused all these rumors and ....I'm surprised at the hostility some people have against him. There are also companies that have 350 thousand hectares full of trees, the difference is that they plan to log them and the government backs them all the way. How come Tompkins, who wants to create a park for the Chilean people and protect that area with his own money, is accused of being a paid agent of Argentina, or of trying to create a nuclear waste complex in those lands? I have the theory that he has made some powerful enemies because of his criticism of the salmon farming industry in Chile. These cause a pollution that can become a real ecological disaster.

Q- Yet, the hostility towards Tompkins has also taken place in some social sectors distanced from the power circles....

Surely, there has been some instance when a wealthy North American came to Chile with bad intentions.....probably to steal something here. Then, when Doug comes to do something really good, the people doubt him. I believe that when the people see what he does, what he accomplishes, his social programs, in addition to his ecological programs, then he could be considered a hero. He deserves to be a hero in this country. Not to be attacked and called a fascist, when in reality he is a world-renowned respected ecologist.