Deep ecologists have taught us that the legal changes advocated by environmental movements are inadequate to overcome our current environmental crisis, since we must also change the underlying values and perceptions that separate us from nature and objectify nature as a machine, economic resource, or even as an object of aesthetic value. Ecology, no doubt, must go "deep," but how deep should it go? What resources can we draw on to create ecological consciousness? To what extent should we focus on personal and psychological changes instead of social and institutional changes? How can we connect personal and social changes?
Ecological Prospects explores these are other crucial questions. Chapple brings together a diversity of perspectives on the philosophical underpinnings and social and ethical implications of the new ecological ethics. While many essays explore ways in which to change human consciousness, others seek ways of balancing economic growth and environmental protection. As Chappel and Mary Evelyn Tucker say in their introductory essay, "An essential challenge is how to foster sustainable life, growth, and development for all species that will not undermine the very sources of our common existence and that of future generations" (xiv).
In response to this challenge, the term "sustainable growth" was introduced in 1987 by the World Commission of Environment and Development. The concept represents an attempt to acknowledge the severity of the global ecological crisis, without abandoning long-standing Western goals of increased economic and technological development. The goal of the Commission, and many of the authors in Ecological Prospects, is to strike a happy balance between rejection of growth and development and an unchecked growth imperative that continues to destroy the environment. The modern notion of progress as domination over nature has clearly had disastrous consequence and attempts are being made by ecologists and responsible power brokers of Western countries to redefine the notion of progress in an environmentally responsible way.
Chapple and Tucker too see the need for "new economic approaches to our environmental problems" that continue to promote goals of growth and development, but they also insist major "attitudinal changes toward nature" are necessary since "humans will not be apt to preserve what they don't respect" (xv). Despite greater global awareness and journals such as Environmental Ethics, they claim "we are still without a sufficiently comprehensive environmental ethic for altering our consciousness about the earth and our life on it" (xv).
Hence the two major issues of the book are intimately interconnected. Ecological Prospects advances a multidisciplinary, multiperspectival approach to the problem of sustainable development, drawing on contributions from scientists, philosophers, theologians, historians, environmental activists, and anthropologists. The first half of the book concentrates on debates over the nature of science and sustainable development; the second half articulates different versions of a deep ecological perspective.
Sustaining the Unsustainable: Toward a Slower Ecocide
The first essay, "Gaian Views," by scientific author Dorion Sagan and biology professor Lynn Margulis, offers a helpful definition and application of the "Gaia" hypothesis. The term initially derives from Greek mythology, where Gaia was the mother of the titans and Goddess of the Earth. The current application of the term was coined by author William Golding and theoretically developed by atmospheric chemist James Lovelock.
The Gaia hypothesis was formulated by Lovelock in an effort to understand the special atmospheric components that allowed for the emergence of life on earth. In his research he saw that all living organisms are not simply individuals, rather they are interconnected in complex ways that require biological diversity. Sagan and Margulis find that the Gaia hypothesis challenges us to abandon our "extraordinarily short-sighted mammalocentric view" (5) by realizing how recent a species human beings are (three million years compared to 700 million years of existence of marine and other animals). Instead of the present anthropocentric view that sees human beings as the telos and summit of life, we should see ourselves as "a very small and very recent part of a much larger and older system" (5). Such a realization encourages living in harmony with other organisms.
On the Gaia hypothesis, the earth itself is seen as a living being, evidence of "a scientific revolution in the making" (6) that returns science to premodern roots in ancient animism. The admission that the earth is a living organism has been rejected by many scientists because of the fear this is a return to the kind of animistic and teleological thinking that modern science and positivism prided itself on overcoming. Sagan and Margulis argue that we need a redefinition of life, but unfortunately they dodge forego any attempt to clarify or illuminate the difficult philosophical issues this would require. Is science incompatible with teleology? Does the idea of purposive behavior require a governing intelligence? The essay would benefit by at least some passing considerations of such questions.
Sagan and Margulis claim that humanity must adopt the Gaian view if life forms on the earth are to survive, but these changes will not come from the grass-roots or ecological communities: "Only science has the international status to induce human behavioral changes on a global scale" (6). While there is no doubt science has great authority in our present society, and that there are matters scientists alone are competent to speak on, science does not have a monopoly of authority in matters of ethics, education, and social policy. The needed transition toward an ecological outlook and Gaian values could equally as well could come from other disciplines, ecological activists, or common citizens.
This outrageous claim that uncritically accepts elitist values and blindly ignores the undemocratic implications of making science the sole authority on important social and ethical issues. Their outlook is reminiscent of Comte, the founding father of modern positivism, who thought democracy was incompatible with social order that could only be preserved and advanced by the new "Priests of Humanity," by scientists, engineers, and technocrats in control of the new secular "Religion." Instead of changes engineered from above by scientists, with all their institutional ties to corporations and the military, there must be a reciprocal dialogue between science and citizens (see Habermas, Toward a Rational Society).
Fortunately, other essays in the book provide needed counters to this crass scientific elitism. In "Environmental Action Choices," chemist and activist Albert J. Fritsch displays a knowledgeable and experienced outlook that draws on the wisdom of real environmental experience and displays an open and caring attitude toward others. "Activists work best as down-to-Earth people, practical enough to know that all undertakings are imperfect and involve some resource expenditure" (94). Fritsch focuses on practical tasks such as determining priorities and education. He enjoins activists to be kind, neighborly, and encouraging to others. He believes action should target education and mobilization of the poor, since they are the largest groups of people and are most grounded in practical reality. Fritsch identifies eight different modes of action, based on seeing the earth as mother, creature, gift, victim, suffering, mystery, and oppressed. While the thrust of his essay is toward a deep ecology outlook, he also argues for a social ecology perspective that requires the activist to undertake a critical social analysis of the political and economic factors underlying environmental abuse -- a unique position in the book.
"Ecological Disaster in Madagascar and the Prospects for Recovery," by field primatologist Patricia C. Wright, provides an excellent example of both the Gaia hypothesis and the sustainable development ideal at work in Madagascar as well as another democratically-oriented activist voice. Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world that lies off the coast of Africa, is a biosystem with a rich ecology of life forms that evolved independently of other systems and resulted in many unique species of plants and animals, including thirty different primate species. Until 1,000 years ago, the island remained untouched by humans; by the 1980s, it was on the brink of destruction through reckless development.
In 1985, Wright went to Madagascar to study its great diversity of wildlife. There, she not only discovered a new species of primate, but also got involved with the Malagasy government in creating a national park protected from overdevelopment. Since the people relied on the forest for their livelihood, it was unfeasible simply to enclose the park with a fence. Hence, she and the Department of Water and Forests sought an approach "that not only concentrates on biological diversity but also includes a system for sustained development in order to enable the people to live off their land" (16). With adequate funding from numerous organizations, Wright and others created a plan that coordinated biodiversity research, agriculture, forestry, education, training, ecotourism, park management, and a socioeconomic health study. "We are hoping this project will help to reverse Magascar's ecological disaster, not only because the forest is the `robe of the ancestors' but, more importantly, because it is vital to the survival of the descendants" (22).
Thus, Wright's essay is a good example of the ideal of sustainable development that seeks to balance the needs of nature and human beings. Through proper study of the ecological conditions, through a Gaian awareness of nature as a complex ecosystem, and through consultation of peoples' needs, in addition, of course, to adequate funding, such an ideal seems entirely feasible. Wright demonstrates not only a good ecological awareness, but a sound democratic sensibility that seeks to involve the people in reshaping their own community and environment. One can only imagine what the results might have been if Sagan and Margulis were calling the shots in Madagascar. Of course, whatever success has been attained at Madagascar, it is only one island on a large planet that is far from adopting the vision of Wright and her associates. Wright does not speculate about the larger global issues and, like the other authors in the book, does not discuss the possibility of whether the ideals of "sustainable growth" or "responsible development" are not oxymorons in the global imperatives of the capitalist economy.
In "The Homogenization of the Planetary Biome," Alfred Crosby, Professor of American Studies, focuses on the human role in "homogenizing biogeography and decreasing biodiversity" (25). Crosby provides a brief and general overview of human intervention in nature, moving quickly from the emergence of homo erectus to George Bush (perhaps not so great an evolutionary leap). He divides history into five periods: the Paleolithic, the Neolithic to the 16th century, the 16th century to the 1970s, and concludes with analysis of the present and speculation of the future. The criterion of his periodization is differing rates of species extinction.
From the extinction of early species of plants and possibly animals with the disruptive technology of fire, from the stripping away of native flora by neolithic people and the first appearance of overgrazing to the incredible reduction of buffalo and antelopes in North America in 19th century America, from extinction of the passenger pigeon early in the 20th century to the "Green Revolution" of the 1970s, Crosby chronicles a sordid tale of natural destruction unleashed by geographical expansion, technological development, and population expansion. He describes a seemingly unstoppable human advance toward total colonization of the planet, now extending even into the "uninhabitable" continent of Antarctica, reaching out into the "final frontier" of outer space, and moving at ever greater speeds that make the near future an unlikely possibility.
Crosby shows that it is not just modern civilization that is responsible for the destruction, rather all past civilizations have played a part (although their role is negligible compared to destruction unleashed in just the last two centuries under the impetus of capitalism). Regarding our present period, Crosby sounds a frightening alarm: "The world's present population is now past five billion. [It is estimated] that 10,000 species disappeared in 1990 alone, and that the annual species mortality rate at the end of the present decade will be 20,000-50,000 a year." (32). It is not only plant and animal species that are being rapidly eliminated, but human species themselves. "The number of kinds, varieties, strains of humans -- the diversity of our species -- has decreased sharply in the last 500 years with the spread of such fecund and pushy types as, for instance, Western Europeans, Slavic Russians, and Chinese" (26). While increasing in number, the human species in decreasing in type.
What then does Crosby propose we do to stop the madness of unplanned growth? He calls for a deep ecology: "We know what we should do, but we cannot reconcile it with habits that are so old they are almost instincts. We need a shift in basic philosophy. We have to produce a new way of viewing the planetary biome, one that is scientifically respectable and emotionally and spiritually satisfying. If it does not meet the latter requirement, it will not empower a shift to environmental sanity. The Darwinian paradigm won't do any longer as our dominant paradigm. It has been an extraordinarily useful way to approach the study of nature, but it's too fierce and bloody in tooth and claw for our purposes -- and may actually be too simple, even naive" (34).
Crosby wrongly singles out Darwin as the main villain, confusing the theory of natural selection with Social Darwinism, and leaves out the Cartesian, Baconian, and Lockean elements of the modern worldview that encourage a dualistic, analytically detached, and mechanistic attitude towards nature and establish individualistic values that thrust individuals into hostile competition with one another. Once again, in the fallacious appeal to a "we" who are to be blamed equally, the fundamental role of capitalism in the destruction of nature is completely obscured.
For the emotional and spiritual elements of an ecological worldview, Crosby turns to the Gaia theory, which he sees to be not only a scientific theory but also "an attitude, a philosophy, a way of perceiving reality and directing action. The vital message of Gaia is on the singleness and the wholeness of life on our planet. It de-emphasizes the poisonous aspects of our individualism and emphasizes our responsibility as participants in a much greater and living unity" (34). I believe Crosby is correct to look both for a scientifically accurate and spiritually ennobling worldview, but he wrongly discounts the spiritual and ecological resources available to Western culture from Eastern religion and philosophy. Crosby rejects Eastern religions and philosophies as "simply too alien. They do not speak to us in a language of words and concepts that move us" (35).
Here too, Crosby abuses the plural pronoun; he means that Eastern philosophies do not appeal to him and other Western-centric thinkers. Crosby is oblivious to the fact that with the works of D. Suzuki and Alan Watts; with the growing influence of meditation, yoga, martial arts, herbology, and alternative medicines such as acupuncture; and through the recent popularizations of Bill Moyers, Deepak Chopra, and others, Eastern philosophies have penetrated deeply into Western cultures and speak powerfully to many. Through surrealistic logic, Crosby thinks that a dated Western figure like St. Francis Assisi, who believed in the equality of all creatures, would find a contemporary audience that Eastern philosophies could not. While he finds "St. Francis's proposal was obviously as pertinent to the state of the world then as it is now" (35), he does not draw the necessary links between the critique of speciesism and ecology, between human domination of animals and nature, nor does he think through the problems in claiming the inherent "equality" of all creatures (see below). Crosby is correct that rationalist science alone cannot make necessary social and personal changes; he is wrong in limiting our resources for a deep ecology to the Western tradition. It is barren.
J Baird Callicott, a professor of philosophy and natural resources, tries his hand at balancing nature and humanity in "The Wilderness Idea Revisited: The Sustainable Development Alternative." This rich, but poorly organized, essay provides a historical exposition and critique of the concept of wilderness and shifts focus from the conservation of wilderness to the idea of sustainable development. He argues that the health of an ecosystem is not only compatible with development, it can be enhanced by it. He rejects the "fallacy" that biological preservation is best accomplished through wilderness preservation.
Callicott offers a useful summary of the concept of wilderness in the American tradition. In the 19th century, Emerson and Thoreau believed that nature not only supplies us with material resources, but also, more importantly, spiritual resources through a communion with God in his vast, beautiful temple. Building on their appreciation for the aesthetic and spiritual values of nature, John Muir initiated a national campaign for public appreciation and preservation of wilderness. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, Gifford Pinchot rejected the Romantic-Transcendental conservation tradition of Emerson, Thoreau, and Muir by de-spiritualizing Nature and reducing it to material resources for human use. He went so far as to argue that the meaning of conservation was development.
Pinchot created a huge rift in the American conservation movement that Leopold tried to mend. For fifteen years, Leopold worked in the Forest Service, first headed by Pinchot (a proto-James Watt). Initially, Leopold adopted Pinchot's utilitarian and exploitative approach to nature as represented by Pinchot. He supported gaming and argued, in this case at least, that "Nature was actually improved upon by civilization." But Leopold made a dramatic reversal on the value of predators and the value of wilderness. He gradually concluded that the true goal of conservation was to ensure the continued sustainability and integrity of ecosystems. "Leopold quietly transformed the concept of conservation from its pre-ecological to its present deep ecological sense -- from conservation understood as the wise use of natural resources to conservation understood as the maintenance of biological diversity and ecological health" (42).
Leopold inherited a philosophical schism and tried to resolve it in his works, but, Callicott argues, he unintentionally intensified the false option of either exploiting the remaining wilderness or sealing them off forever from human touch. By examining Leopold's unpublished papers and forgotten essays, Callicott offers an unorthodox reading and argues that the main goal of Leopold's oeuvre been to find an "optimal mix of wildness with human habitation and economic utilization of land" (42). As Leopold came to define it in Sand County Almanac, "Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land."
Taking Leopold as his point of departure, Callicott seeks "a mutually beneficial and mutually enhancing integration of the human economy and the economy of nature" (45) and a critique of the received idea of wilderness, which he finds to be as flawed as the conventional idea of development. First, he claims, the idea of wilderness perpetuates the Cartesian dualism between human beings and nature, such that nature is radical otherness. Callicot is on solid ground in his critique of the dualist heritage of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition and his attempt to break down (but not dissolve) the distinction between human beings and nature. And while this critique may apply in certain definitional attempts (such as the Wilderness Act of 1964) to separate humans from nature to recognize areas of nature where human beings are at most respectual visitors, it certainly does not accurately represent the Romantic-Transcendental tradition. The emphasis of this tradition, a crucial influence on the received wilderness idea, was on the spiritual unity of human and nature as different aspects of the same divine being.
Second, Callicott finds the idea of wilderness to be "woefully ethnocentric" because "it ignores the historic presence and effects of practically all the worlds' ecosystems of aboriginal peoples" (47). Here, Callicott is utterly vague. He makes some sense of this point only by drawing on the work of Ramachandra Guha who points out, among other things, that wilderness is an affordable luxury for Americans, unlike densely populated third-world countries. The call for wilderness, moreover, sometimes leads to the eviction of the poor from their homes to that indigenous and foreign wealthy classes can enjoy nature reserves. Overall, however, Callicott does more to confuse than to clarify this important issue.
Callicott's third claim is that the idea of wilderness preservation lacks a temporal, evolutionary perspective. By assuming that wilderness will remain stable if not interfered with by human beings, this notion transforms dynamic nature into a static snapshot of beauty. It fails to see that natural disturbances themselves create ecological imbalances. Callicott offers no textual support that advocates of wilderness preservation actually hold this position, arguing instead against its implications. The crucial point seems not to be whether our attitude toward wilderness is static or dynamic, but whether or not our thinking toward nature is analytic or dialectic. Fencing off an area as wilderness might interfere with the larger "boundaries" of an ecosystem in ways which are not apparent to human engineering.
Callicott's major argument, however, remains that the concepts of wilderness and development are not logically or practically incompatible. He believes that a realistic attitude is required which understands that the growing global population is inevitably going to make use of as much land as possible, and therefore we should seek an integrated and balanced approach. Instead of the idea of wilderness, Callicott proposes that of "land health" which implies an active human effort to maintain a harmonious integration of humanity and nature. Callicott defines his ideal of "sustainable development" as "initiation of human economic activity that is limited by ecological exigencies; economic activity that does not seriously compromise ecological integrity; and, ideally, economic activity that positively promotes ecosystem health" (53).
There are dangerous implication to the vagueness of such language. What are "ecological exigencies" and precisely when do they occur? When do we "seriously compromise" the integrity of ecosystems? And have we forgotten about economic activity that promotes equality and dignity in the human realm?
Callicott points out some real flaws in the idea of wilderness and is correct that humanity and nature can interact in healthy, harmonious ways that potentially can enhance the needs of both. Certainly there are numerous case example in human history. Callicott cites the example of Papago dry farmers in the Southwest whose settlement in an area increased the species of birds because they planted trees that fed them. He refers to the Kayapo Indians in the South American rainforests whose wise planting practices helped to regenerate the forest. To cite my own example, the Japanese Gardens in Austin, filled with winding stone paths, waterfalls, and a variety of plants, herbs, and flowers, shows human intervention can greatly enhance the aesthetic quality of a natural environment.
What is missing in Callicott, as throughout the book, is a political perspective that realistically examines the fundamental imperatives of capitalism and industrial culture. Kayapo Indians are one thing, urban bankers and developer are quite another. Callicott rightly argues that wilderness protection is "too little, too late" (45), an important, but too defensive reaction to the massive ecological problems facing us. But isn't "sustainable development" potentially an equally timid proposal? A way of slowing down rather than ending the suicidal dynamics of an insane economic system? The focus should be on changing the basic nature of our economic system, not better integrating it with nature. The ideal of sustainable development is all too cooptable by the grow-or-die imperative of a global system whose veins must be fed constantly with profit and growth. And while this complacent carnivore dispassionately complains about the lack of "turf" variety in "surf and turf" (58), blithely ignorant of the unspeakable cruelties inflicted on animals in the cages of factory farms, we can better appreciate the value of a non-speciesist, deep ecology perspective, even in the limited form developed by Crosby.
The next essay, "Ecological Theory and Natural Resource Management: Scientific Principles or Cultural Heritage?" comes from Daniel B. Botkin, Professor of biological sciences and biological studies. Against the positivist view that environmental issues involve only technical and scientific questions, Botkin argues that our approaches to the environment depend on our attitudes toward nature and the role of human beings in nature. Mechanistic, objectifying attitudes toward nature will unavoidably produce inadequate environmental policies. Botkin argues that sophisticated scientists and technical experts, like all other people, are deeply influenced by culture, mythology, and religion and these influences affect the "objectivity" of their analyses and policies.
Botkin describes the transition from the mythical view of nature as a living organism to the modern worldview of nature as a lifeless machine. Expanding on Callicott's critique of the static conception of nature held by conservationists, Botkin points out the irony that extreme conservationists have bought into key assumptions of the mechanistic worldview in their belief that "the machinery of nature functions perfectly without human intervention" (76). Mechanistic assumptions have led to the wrong-headed application of mathematical models to the management of food and other biological resources, denying the laws of contingency and indeterminacy in nature and leading to falsified predictions regarding matters such as quantity of fish harvest in a given year.
Botkin provides a good example of scientific thinking informed by the elements of chance and change in nature, a view that defines contemporary chaos theory. He describes the contemporary transition in scientific thought: "The old balance-of-nature idea hinged on the constancy of structure. Now we recognize that nature is dynamic, but we can seek to understand underlying rules that govern these natural changes. We scientists working in ecology are only at a very primitive stage in this transition, and the systems we study are incredibly complex, and so we cannot provide the simple, elegant answers of a Newton" (78). Botkin views nature as "a patchwork of complex systems with many things happening at once and each system undergoing changes at many scales of time and space" (79).
Botkin addresses the philosophical and theological implications of this post-Newtonian, postmodern science. How, for instance, can we avoid "environmental relativism" which prevents us from distinguishing between good and bad changes in nature. Is industrial poisoning of the planet on the same par as an earthquake? Botkin appeals to nature itself as a social and moral compass: "Nature becomes our guide. Certain rates of change are natural, desirable, and acceptable; others are not. Changes that we impose on the landscape that are natural in quality and rates are likely to be benign. Changes that are much more rapid than is natural, or changes that are novel in the history of biological evolution -- such as the introduction of many new chemicals into the environment in a short period -- are unnatural and likely to cause problems" (79).
This position has important implications for the sustainable development debate. Botkin's intent is not to forbid human intervention in nature, but to use nature itself to guide our vision such that whatever changes human activity introduce in ecosystems do not upset the balances of nature. My argument is that the nature of capitalism forces changes that are too rapid, too great, and preclude nature's ability to regenerate itself. On Botkin's criteria, our current economic and environmental policies merit firm condemnation, but this is not forthcoming from Botkin. In place of much-needed social critique, he lamely concludes with a call for theologians to recognize that the ancient questions about the relationship between human beings and nature are as vital as ever and need to be restated in contemporary terms, "this time in a way that is consistent with our scientific knowledge as well as our cultural and religious belief" (79).
We see that unlike his scientific comrades Sagan and Margulis, Botkin adopts a deep ecology perspective that does not champion science as the sole authority in life. The reharmonization of nature and humanity requires the reconnection between science, ethics, and religious values. Botkin therefore seeks a reenchantment of science in a way that does not undermine scientific norms of truth. The cold, detached "objectivity" of positivism, however, is both a philosophical error and an ecological nightmare.
In his essay "Individual or Community? Two Approaches to Ecophilosophy in Practice," David Rothernberg, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Science and Technological studies undertakes a critique of the individualist premises of standard environmentalism. Rothenberg contrasts the American Endangered Species Act, informed by individualist values, with Norway's Samla, or Master Plan, for the development of the hydroelectric potential of Norwegian watersheds, informed by a communitarian ethic. In a move that supports Botkin's point regarding the values informing so-called "technical" problems of the environmental, Rothenberg's purpose is to dramatize two contrasting philosophies and show how they lead to different types of environmental policies.
Rothenberg finds that developmental projects such as the Tellico dam or the St. John Hydroelectric plant have been defeated through emotional appeals to single life forms such as the snail darter or Furbish lousewort that would be endangered. Rothenberg is puzzled that the environment and its inhabitants is defended in the United States be appealing to a single species, rather than entire places, landscapes, and a plurality of species. He finds this thinking to be a reflection of a more general, individualist, rights-based society that pits individuals against society and occludes more pluralistic and communitarian approaches. "The consideration of nature as a place to find more individuals whose rights may be infringed upon is merely an extension of [our political] process, probably the easiest kind of extension to accommodate within our individually-centered legal and philosophical system" (85).
This raises questions about treating nature as a "special interest" or arguing on behalf on environmental or animal "rights." In the United States, assigning non-human life forms individuality, rights, and purposes, and pitting natural "individuals" against the interests of a corporation or the state, is a convenient way of operating within our present legal system. It is also a way of expanding our ecological awareness, but it is not the only way. Rothenberg finds an interesting alternative in the work of Christopher Stone. In his famous essay, Should Trees Have Standing, Stone argued for environmental rights through anthropocentric claims that made the needs of animals and plants seem like human needs. In a later work, however, Earth and Other Ethics, Stone abandons this approach in favor of applying moral pluralism to an environmental context. Moral pluralism means considering an ethical problem from multiple planes of evaluation, from numerous perspective, each having its own criteria and value, none being comprehensive.
Rothenberg believes this position holds promise for environmental issues and finds it embodied in Norway's Somla Plan. Norway is a small nation replete with towering waterfalls and surrounded by beautiful lakes. In the 1960s and 1970s, the government embarked on a project to exploit these resources for hydroelectric power and began to build huge dams. Realizing that this was leading to reckless development, the government created the Samla Plan which attempted to determine the value of a given watershed from a various perspectives, such as beauty, recreation, and archaeological significance. Each watershed would be given a rating of priority to determine whether or not its energy benefits would be tapped. Some projects will be deemed unacceptable because of too great an ecological loss, while others will be favored if they enhance economic or power needs without causing too great an ecological loss.
Clearly, the Somla Plan is yet another example of the ideal of sustainable development. But Rothenberg finds it to be informed by radically different philosophical assumptions than environmental legislation typical for the United States. The mutual consideration of natural and state interests involves "a notion of national unity that can encompass the interests of fish, birds, and the river itself, which should never be killed or constrained beyond the limits of its service to the nation, like any other part of the country. Nature is not just an individual, not just a resource, not just something with value in itself, but rather something that has to be looked at in all these ways, each which must be weighed in the decision of the land" (90).
With Norwegian activists, Rothenberg sees the plan as an improvement over the alternative of unrestrained development, but he notes that it does not challenge the need for more hydro-development in the first place, it only places the various projects into different priority groups. It is less an alternative philosophy of nature and energy than a strategy of mitigating the effects of the exploitation of watersheds. From a deep ecological perspective, it fails to question the validity of nature as a resource to be exploited. In its attempt to quantify values such as beauty in its simple calculus of 0 to -4 impact, it is a stunning example of the tremendous grip that mechanistic thinking still has over human thinking.
Rothenberg finds some similar means of assessing developments in the United States, but thinks they accomplish little more than pragmatic compromises and ignore the defense of imperiled species for the intrinsic reason that they exist. He defends the communitarian tradition of Norway against the individualist tradition of the United States, but one has to ask from the perspective of nature and its life forms, what difference it makes which philosophy a nation holds if both seem equally as capable of treating nature as a resource to be exploited.
Still, a communitarian-oriented society stands a much greater chance of having a sound ecological policy because of the likelihood of the articulation of a common interest which potentially blocks the aggrandization of power by private individuals and can articulate a common concern to preserve nature. As Rothenberg says of Norway: "One might argue that the Samla Plan only works because the ideal of Norway is sufficiently united in people's minds to agree that each part of the society needs to compromise to serve the whole" (91). Unfortunately, this value system is utterly lacking in the United States, where the only common consensus is on the rights of individuals against one another. Economically, this grants the rights of some individuals to own and control natural and national resources at the expense of others, as when our national forests and parks are auctioned off to the top private bidders.
A Review of:
Ecological Prospects: Scientific, Religious, and Aesthetic Perspectives. Ed. by Christopher Key Chapple. New York: SUNY Press, 1994, 236pp.