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Published: 23rd May, 2022

Introduction: -

As the world continues to grapple with the unrelenting climatic changes, it becomes necessary to understand two kinds of environmental philosophy that reinvent the relationship between Nature and human beings; these philosophies are shallow and deep ecologism.

To address environmental degradation, we seek to look beyond the popular pollution and conventional environmental degradation regimes. In this context, a Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss, in the 1970s, while placing humans at the heart of the environmental crisis, emphasized for the deep ecologism for imbibing the role of the individual in Nature.

What is Shallow and Deep Ecologism-?

Shallow Ecologism: -

  • Shallow Ecology is a regime, which promotes powerful and fashionable conservation strategies against pollution and the haphazard depletion of resources.  
  • Shallow ecologism, while keeping conservation at its heart, takes an anthropocentric approach to conservation. Nature should be conserved for the sake of human welfare. 
  • The proponents of the shallow ecologism of this philosophy believe that we should conserve the environment because it will benefit humans to maintain their lifestyles. 
  • The approach advocates for the continuation of the exploitation of Nature but with specific short-term solutions using research & development (R & D) to find ways to manipulate and exploit Nature; for instance, using vehicles with blended petrol/diesel; or electric vehicles, administering the non-conventional energy sources, or using air conditioners that do not release chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), etc. 
  • This approach relies on the calculation of what will benefit the society utmost; hence, it follows the utilitarian principle of maximizing the benefits to the majority, as propounded by Jeremy Bentham. 
  • Ultimately, this branch of ecologism leads to inequitable distribution of resources, and undue benefits dwelling in the developed countries at the cost of environmental degradation.

Deep Ecologism: -

  • Deep ecologism is a movement while keeping humans at its heart, regards human lives as just one of the equal components of the global ecosystem.
  • In this biocentric approach or the ‘life-centered’ approach, it is believed that the environment carries with itself a certain intrinsic worth that obligates human beings to take care of it. As a result, all individuals and elements from the natural environment form a unified ecological community. 
  • The deep ecology regime promotes “ecological wisdom”, which is based on the principle of ecological harmony or equilibrium and emphasizes the policy acknowledging the inherent values of life. 
  • This philosophy stresses that humans have no right to reduce the richness, and diversity except to satisfy the vital human needs. 
  • Indian culture propagates the idea of deep ecologism in her practices; Naess, while citing Mahatma Gandhi in his studies, states, “self-realization is the key to biospherical egalitarianism”. 
  • Moreover, we have several personalities, such as Amrita Devi Bishnoi who sacrificed her life, in the year 1730 to save 300 trees of her village from being cut by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, exemplifies the intrinsic relationship between humans and Nature. Other such environmentalists are Medha Patkar, Rajendra Singh, MC Mehta, etc. 

Challenges: -

  • Taking the example of acid rain- the shallow reaction of acid rain is to demand more species of trees that will tolerate increased levels of acidity;  while the deep ecology approach is to fight against the economic conditions, and technological responsibilities producing acid rains at the first place. 
  • The evolution of carbon credit works on the same shallow approach, as it promotes and motivates the higher emissions countries, such as the USA, and China to exploit the environment at the cost of the least developing countries. 
  • Moreover, as Næss stated that shallow approach is more influential than that of the deep ecologism as it focuses on human health, and affluence rather than deep-seated respect and even veneration for ways and forms of life. We, humans, are more prone to the practice, which is less hectic and more influential. 

Way Forward: -

Socialism is the Key: - Næss argues that a narrow focus on pollution and conservation projects, though, prone to solving pollution, generates evils of a different kind. Such projects monotonic projects may lead to an increase in the cost of living, and promote class differences. Hence, an ethically responsible ecologism is one that operates in the interest of all economic classes.

Inclusive, and Decentralized Decision-making: - As Mahatama Gandhi stressed the promotion of local governance, and cooperation, the solution to the environment can be found in decentralizing the decision-making process and strengthening local participation. Indian Constitution also promotes the idea of local self-government through Municipalities, Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI), etc. The participation of the local communities will pave the way for more inclusive decision-making, social auditing and social impact assessment should promote the idea of deep environmental ethics. 



Q1. “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need but not any man's greed.” In the context of this statement, discuss need to embrace austerity for sustainable development.

Q2. What do you understand by ‘Environmental Ethics’? Discuss the significance of Environmental Ethics in ensuring well-being of humans in the backdrop of climate crisis.

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