Deep and Shallow Ecology Must Meet in the Middle


Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with each other in their habitat. The knowledge of Ecology is essential for environmental protection. Social Ecology is different type of Ecology which studies the interactions of humans with the environment. Social Ecology follows two broad approaches for studying and establishing this relationship. These two approaches are called Deep Ecology and Shallow Ecology.

First articulated by Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher and environmentalist, these two approaches are debated and weighed against each other in environmental decision making. Shallow Ecology focuses on tackling environmental problems that threaten human life, like air pollution and resource depletion. It is anthropocentric and based on the needs of human beings.

In Deep Ecology, the central objective is ecosystem restoration and recognising that all species have the right to live. And that humans are a natural part of this all-encompassing ecosystem or Biosphere. So, the Deep Ecology approach is more eco-centric as the objective here is to protect the environment for all living species, which will automatically protect and improve the environment for human beings.

How Deep is Deep Ecology?

Deep Ecology deliberates on certain principles regarding environmental protection like ecological egalitarianism, diversity and symbiosis, anti-class posture and decentralisation. Ecological egalitarianism refers to the level of crowding and loss of life resulting from it, not only for humans, but other species as well.

We can understand this through the following analogy. People feel uncomfortable when a place is too crowded, or when their movements are restricted. Similarly, mammals and other species also require a minimum amount of space to thrive. Deforestation, habitat loss, carrying capacity of the Earth and such issues are considered through this lens in deep ecology.

Another principle that needs to be spelled out is diversity and symbiosis. All life forms are interdependent on each other and should peacefully coexist. Diversity among species enhances life and balances the ecosystem. The principle also applies to different livelihoods of people and their culture – each community knows what is best for their environment and should have the right to practice it sustainably.

Anti-class posture emphasizes that one community should not be exploited for the benefit of the other community. The aim is to achieve equality between these communities through development so that no one lives in a degraded environment. It also extends to environment-related conflicts between developed and developing countries. When environmental problems are approached with short term solutions like air purifiers or air coolers during heatwaves, people’s basic rights are compromised because not everyone can afford such technology. Also, manufacturing these products consumes more resources and generates waste, which could result in further problems.

Deep Ecology also suggests local autonomy for communities to take measures at their level. Sometimes, conservation policies or development projects are implemented at a national level, leaving the needs of local groups unaddressed. Thus, autonomy could be given to these groups, so that they implement policies for resource use or environmental protection according to their knowledge and requirement. It can be monitored by the government, so that people don’t misuse this. Decentralisation helps achieve anti-class posture too, as it empowers communities to take a stand regarding their environment.

To sum it up, Deep Ecology addresses social, ethical, and environmental issues to ensure that ecosystems are protected. It allows nature to have its own rights and intrinsic value. Out of the two, this is considered as the better approach to environmental protection.

However, Deep Ecology has limitations too. It is difficult to adopt a global strategy because national policies sometimes do not align with these principles. Also, there is no empirical evidence to convince policymakers that this is the best approach, though it is evident that human health and happiness comes with living in a good environment.

With global warming and environmental degradation, people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake. We also need to realize that some communities are more affected due to environmental damage while others cope with it better, and take measures that will benefit everyone.


Both Deep and Shallow Ecology are important when we think of our relationship with nature. Adapting to the changes, restoring the environment and preventing further damage requires a combination of both strategies. It might seem that the benefits of shallow ecology are only temporary, but it can be a stepping stone to Deep Ecology.

Shallow Ecology helps us convey the urgency or threats as it is more practical – “we need to save the environment because it helps us live.” Deep Ecology is a little complex, but this path will have long-term impacts and help ecosystems recover and survive. Thus, rather than debating between Deep and Shallow Ecology, we need to allow them to complement each other to secure a green and healthy future.

Aparna Iyer

Aparna Iyer is a student of Jindal School of Environment and Sustainability, O.P. Jindal Global University. Aparna is passionate about spreading awareness on environmental issues and finding sustainable solutions.

3 thoughts on “Deep and Shallow Ecology Must Meet in the Middle

  1. Enjoyed reading the article.. especially the distinction between deep and shallow ecology and how they are connected with nature and its conservation? The article is well organised, with greater use of diverse vocabulary, logical flow and a nice piece of conclusion..
    I would like to say “good luck for future works” to the author.

  2. Enjoyed the perspective shared on Deep and Shallow Ecology and how our discernment impact and influences environment and overall ecosystem. A very informative read.

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