The Past, Present and Future of
the Environmental Movement in Japan

Wilhelm Vosse
Lecturer, Department of Policy Management Keio University, Germany


The title of this talk indicates that it will cover the whole environmental movement in contemporary Japan. However, you might wonder how someone can cover something as diverse as the environmental movement, which has developed over a long time and diversified into very different sub-movements with a wide range of goals and objectives. And you are right! In the timeframe of a talk, one cannot introduce and explain the movement as a whole; therefore, this talk will concentrate on certain aspects which are mainly drawn from a social scientific approach. As a political scientist, my main focus of interest in the Japanese environmental movement is its historical development, especially in postwar Japan, and its position in the political system, and its influence on the political culture of Japan. This approach does reflect many different aspects of environmental issues, not the natural scientific or technological aspects, but the concrete activities of the activists and members in movements which are concerned with the natural environment.

I will therefore focus on the following questions:

How has the contemporary environmental movement in Japan developed over time, and are there historic predecessors in terms of recruitment, tactics, or goals?

What are the main topics and themes tackled by today's movements?

What kind of influence did and does the movement have on the political decision making process?

How do certain characteristics of Japanese movements compare with those in other industrialized countries?

To understand the current state of the environmental movement in Japan, I think it is necessary to outline some of the major historical developments of the movement.

Historical Development

Japanese historians, political scientists and sociologists have been trying to divide postwar environmental history into several distinct periods. The periods those researchers apply do not always coincide exactly, however, I think it is feasible to divide environmental history into five major periods, of which the last has developed only very recently.


The first period started in 1955 and lasted until about 1965. Japanese industry was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War, so the main goal after the war was naturally to reconstruct industry, especially heavy industry, the pulp and chemical industry. Japan was very successful in this endeavor, so that this period was already characterized by high economic growth and a rapid urbanization. The government stood at the center of the process and the Ikeda administration initiated the famous income-doubling plan in 1960, so that more people could enjoy the benefits of economic success. In fact, this decision can be seen as the beginning of the end of the "saving money campaign", promoted in the early postwar years and theoretically until the late 1950s, and the start of the consumption era.

Furthermore, the First Economic Development Plan was set up and shifted industrialization into many formerly untouched areas in rural Japan (mainly heavy industry, petro-chemical industry, pulp industry, etc.). As a consequence of this development and the political agenda of "economic growth by all means", the rate of industrial pollution began to accelerate. There had been pollution-related diseases and protests even before the war, as illustrated by the Asshio copper mine dispute in Tochigi prefecture which started off in 1890 and became the first known environmental victims protest in Japan, and similar events in Besshi in Aichi prefecture or Hitachi in Ibaraki prefecture.

Again, in the 1950s, some victims began to realize that their unknown diseases and pain were not naturally caused, but somehow caused by environmental pollution. The first reaction of the victims was to keep quiet, because the dominant rule of social harmony made them feel they had to endure such a fate. Only in the late 1950s, when the number of victims in Minamata and later in Yokkaichi, Toyama and Niigata rose, and the reason for the disease slowly became clearer to the victims and their families, did they begin to confront the responsible company and the local government and demanded recognition as victims and later compensation payments. (These cases became famous as the "Big Four Pollution Cases".) However, the local and national government first ignored the victims' demands, assuming that the victims would stop their protest rather sooner than later. However, in the course of their fight for compensation they attracted enough media attention and a little later, nationwide outrage about the severely negative effects of pollution, that it ignited a nationwide campaign.

The government and the company, however, refused to talk or admit their responsibilities, so that the victims had only one way to proceed: they had to go to court. Some of the court battles last until today. Although the victims won almost all the cases, the government still refuses to take direct responsibility but contributes payments to the company, in this case Chisso, so that this company again can cover the compensation payments determined by the court decisions.

The Environmental Movement at this stage was concentrated on the fight against obvious environmental pollution; however, only in a very few cases, as in the fight against the construction of a petrochemical complex in Mishima and Numazu, were they able to actually prevent construction.


The second phase in this battle began in the mid 1960's and lasted until 1973: it is widely called the reactive period of environmental policy. In these years, the government realized the severity of the pollution problem to some extent and began to enact the first "Basic Environmental Law" (1967), and in 1970, 14 laws concerning various pollution related problems, and set up the Environmental Agency. All these achievements can be attributed to the strong and active social movements of that period.

Nonetheless, the environmental movement had almost no direct influence on the policy-making process; in general, it was still very local and often concentrated on single industrial projects as the construction of Narita Airport or certain Shinkansen lines.

From this period onwards, the environmental movement began to split into a more radical somewhat politically-oriented movement, based on the support of former activists of the students movement, and a more conciliatory nature protection movement with a focus on environmental education and concrete nature conservation aims in mind. I will explain this in more detail later.


The third phase from 1973 until the end of the 1970s is marked by economic consolidation, beginning with the first oil-crisis and the beginning of a change of consciousness towards the concept of "quality of life", and, as some theorists say, the beginning of the "silent revolution" (Inglehard, Flanagan) when people began to appreciate immaterial values more than material ones. Many citizens began to realize, that economic growth cannot continue forever and that the growth period had made Japan the second strongest economy in the world, without allowing its people to enjoy an improved quality of life.

The environmental movement, as well as environmental policy, was marked by the beginning of a trend to emphasize "lifestyle", "quality of life", and "everyday life pollution". The main focus of many environmental movements changed from pollution prevention in general and from political action towards the improvement of the quality of daily life, and pollution in daily life.

The enactment of the Nature Protection Act already in 1972 can be seen as a government response to this demand. This law became the foundation of a number of other laws: for example the National Park Law and the Urban Green Space Conservation Law, laws which were set up to improve the well-being of the people.


In the beginning of the 1980s at the end of the rapid growth period, began the phase when the urban middle class started to participate in environmental and nature conservation movements to improve the environment in their vicinity.

Several figures do support the assumption that environmental awareness and the awareness that the natural environment was continuing to deteriorate grew in the 1980s. The number of reported pollution disturbance cases continued to grow from 63,000 in 1980 to almost 80,000 in 19921. According to public opinion surveys by the PMO, the number of people who answered that the natural environment was the reason why Japan was developing in a misguided direction climbed after 1986 from 30% to 60 % in 1990. Since then, the rate has fallen a bit to about 50% in 1995, which is still named as reason number two behind the business climate2.

However, since there were hardly any major industrial projects to object to or fight against, the focus of the movement as a whole shifted towards more indisputable issues and activities as nature conservation, environmental education, or recycling. I will return to this point a bit later.

Since about 1990

By the end of the 1980s, the number of active environmental movements on the local and regional level had fallen. A closer look at the data reveals however, that this trend mainly affected local and regional groups, the number of national and international organizations had increased to some extent. In the 1990s, and especially after the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, many Japanese have discovered international issues, and the number of all INGO's in Japan has risen to over 6000 by 1995. Naturally, only a fraction of them is concerned with environmental issues.

Since about 1993, a number of environmental organizations were for the first time able to participate in the drafting of the "Basic Environmental Law" and the "Basic Environmental Plan". However, many groups and organizations are not satisfied with the result and demand further citizen input into the policy making process, not only on the local, but especially on the national level3.

The history of the environmental movement has been most thoroughly studied and documented by Iijima Nobuko. She divides the movement into four different categories: 1) the Anti-Pollution Movement (Han kougai, higaisha undo), 2) the Anti-Development and Industrialization Movement (Han kaihatsu undo), 3) the Anti-Pollution Export Movement (Takoku he no kougai yushutsu kougi undo), and 4) the Environmental Protection and Creation Movement (Kankyo hose, kankyo souzou undo)4.

All in all, one can see a clear development away from the pollution victims movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and from the anti-construction movement of the 1960s and 1970s, towards a distinctive nature conservation movement. The main focus of the nature conservation and environmental-related movement is the immediate vicinity of the people who are active in such movements. On the other hand, one can notice a trend which has only recently reached the general public, although is has much longer been discussed and been conducted in smaller circles, towards a global environmental movement.

In the following part, I want to illustrate some characteristics which clearly demonstrate the trend I have briefly outlined here.

Characteristics of Environmental Protest

Size and composition:

The actual size of the environmental movement, namely the number of groups and the membership structure, is very difficult to determine, because the movement as a whole is always in a flux, not all groups have membership lists or are registered somewhere, and the number of official members does not always reflect the number of people who are in fact active in the respective group.

Fig 1

Figure 1 [Own calculations and interpolations, based on TMG (ed.) Kankyo hozen ni kan suru minkan dantai meibo [Name list concerning environmental preservation organizations], resp. years.]

However, I will try to give a general impression because it is important to ascertain, whether the environmental movement is a mere fringe phenomenon in Japanese society, or whether it is located in the center of Japanese society with considerable influence, if not in terms of direct power and influence on day-to-day political decision making, but at least on public opinion, environmental awareness and critical thinking, and therefore, perhaps indirectly influencing politicians or bureaucrats.

The graph above shows the number of registered5 environmental groups in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. As one can see, the number of all registered groups decreased from 1982 until 1995 from about 450 to about 300. This trend can be mainly attributed to the sharp decrease in local groups from about 270 in 1982 to 120 in 1995. On the other hand, the number of groups who are working on the national level have increased from about 35 to 736. The actual number of local and national environmental movements is higher, but these data reflect a tendency in favor of national groups.

Still, according to statistics by the Environmental Information Center, 58% of all groups and organizations which are concerned with environmental issues are local environmental groups who are working only in the same local city or district, 23% are working in one prefecture, about 6% are active in several prefectures, 8% call themselves national organizations, and 5% are active on the international level. Among those groups which I call primary environmental groups, because their primary target is environmental preservation, the rate of national and international groups is slightly higher.

Fig 2

As far as size and membership structure is concerned, the dominance of small local groups can still be very easily noticed. According to nationwide data, the number of movements with less than 100 members accounts for more than 55% of all groups, 84% of the groups have less than 300 members. Further below, you can find some comparison to groups and organizations in other countries.

In the Tokyo Metropolitan area, the number of members in environmental groups has decreased accordingly. The overall membership of registered groups was about 1.2 million in 1982, and about 500,000 in 1995. Again, although the number of members in local groups has decreased, the average number of members in national groups has increased from about 2,500 in 1982 to over 4,000 in 1995. Again, these figures do not represent the exact number of members, they should only illustrate the recent tendency away from small local groups towards larger national ones.

Issues and Activities:

The next question is: What problems are those environmental groups and organizations mainly concerned with and how do they approach them?

Although there are various databases and self-descriptions of citizens' groups and organizations in general and environmental organizations in particular, it is nevertheless difficult to determine the composition of environmental movements in terms of their activities and goals. However, in figure 3, I have tried to illustrate the percentage of groups which are active in the various fields. As you can see, the dominant share of the movements are active in fields which are directly linked to nature preservation; hence, they are trying to improve the natural environmental either directly, or by shaping awareness for environmental problems. Of the primary environmental groups, 63% see their main activity in nature protection, 51% in beautification and cleaning up, 41% in environmental education, and 36% in nature observation. The most striking characteristic is that only 30% named "influencing the policy process" in one way or another as one of their activities. Given that nature protection, beautification and observation activities are a central part of environmental education, one can conclude that the foremost activity and aim of environmental movements in contemporary Japan is environmental education, and to a far lesser extent, influencing the policy process in a direct style.

Figure 3 (7)

This impression is also corroborated by the result of a public opinion survey in 19918. When ask about their environmental protection activities, 49% of all respondents answered, they had done something. In more detail, it shows that 41% had participated in some kind of beautification activity like picking up waste, etc., 13.6% had conducted greening activities, 5% had given donations and 4% other wildlife protection activities, only about 4% had taken part in the opposition to the nature destruction developments.

Again, this reflects the declining importance of protest and anti-development movements with any political implications, and the massive trend towards pure and direct nature conservation activities. The fact that only a few environmental groups are trying to reach their goals through the political and parliamentary decision-making and legislation is also corroborated by the findings of my own research9 which show that only 9% of the groups in my sample kept permanent contact with any political party, and another 13% had only occasional contacts.

Tactics and approaches:

The early postwar movements, especially the victims' movements and the Big Four Pollution Cases show striking similarities with prewar movements and protest activities, such as the Asshio copper mine dispute, and even the peasant uprisings (ikki) in Tokugawa Japan. In both cases, the victims, be it of pollution-related diseases or of hunger in the case of ikki, did in the beginning not engage in open protest or confrontation with the responsible entities (government, industry, or landlords/shoguns), but in some form of consultation, thereby emphasizing the responsibility of the authorities for the people. In both cases, the victims could not, or thought they could not, use the law or third party influence, but had to approach the authorities as subjects to make them pay attention and help them in their fate. The hierarchical relationship between rulers and ruled can clearly be noticed, as well as the actual lack of, or lack of consciousness of, the use of a formal, judicial or political approach in such instances.

Main Problems of Environmental Movements in Japan

Among the many problems social movements in general and environmental movements in particular have to face, there are some, which I think, have the most severe negative effects on social movements in Japan: namely the funding problem, the judicial status of social volunteer organizations in Japan, and problems concerning the publication of government or official data and the lack of a Freedom of Information Act.

Similar to social movements in other countries, Japanese movements share the problem of insufficient funding. However, compared with environmental movements in six other countries, the Japanese movements are most dependable on private fees and payments, namely over 85% of the budget, compared with 70% in Germany, 45% in the UK and 29% in the USA. Furthermore, only 4% of the budget of Japanese environmental organizations is covered by public sector payments, the lowest among all other major industrial countries, the rest of 10% come from private donations10.

What makes the Japanese case somewhat extraordinary and partly explains the above data is the fact, that Japan does not have a NPO (non-profit-organization) law, which would for example be comparable to the German association law (Vereinsrecht) or the U.S. American non-profit organizations law.

Japanese non-profit organizations are only mentioned in article 34 of the Civil Code, where those organizations are categorized according to their main aim. An environmental movement would belong to the sub-category koeki houjin (public interest organization). Those organizations are again divided into shadan houjin and zaidan houjin. Although there is a judicial difference between them, in practice, the difference is not important. Both types of organization enjoy a limited tax redemption, however, donations from private citizens are still not deductible, unless the receiving organization is a tokutei koeki zoushin houjin. To apply for this judicial status, it is not enough to apply for this status at the local court or local administration and pay a small fee, as is the case in most other industrial nations. In Japan, this judicial status has to be applied for at a government ministry11. The application is not free, but requires from the organization that it has funds of $2 million (about 2 oku yen) or more. The granting process is not open to public scrutiny, but is made as an internal decision by the government ministry.

Organizations which have been granted a judicial status, do enjoy some tax reductions and usually enjoy higher public respect; however, these organizations are to a certain extent under supervision of the government ministry and do, to some extent, lose their independence, it certainly limits their ability to protest and argue against government policies openly.

Despite this difficult application and granting process, there are over 23.000 koeki houjin in Japan, though amazingly, only about 250 of them, thus a bit more than 1%, are environmental organizations. The greater number of those environmental organizations are active on the national and international level, namely about 55%, only 15% at the local level. As a result, only 1.6% of all environmental movements at the local level have been granted the status of shadan houjin or zaidan houjin.

My argument is, that this is the reason why the majority of environmental organizations in Japan do not have their own office, telephone, or staff, and it constitutes one the main reasons why Japanese environmental movements cannot work more effectively.

The second problem which does considerably hinder the work of most social movements in Japan is the lack of a Freedom of Information Act. Such a law exists in most other industrial countries and guarantees, that most government data is open to the public. In Japan, the government and its ministries and agencies decides themselves which data is to be published and which not, and to what extent the data can be accessed.

A number of environmental movements asks for the publication of environmental assessment data, or the data which national and local government-related agencies and institutes gather for the authorities. For example, in Tokyo's Hinode-machi, a citizens' group which opposes a garbage landfill in their neighborhood and demanded the publication of pollution assessment data from the managing administrative body, did fight for their right in court and won the case. Nevertheless, the local administration did not release the data and was sentenced to pay 150,000 Yen and later even 300,000 Yen every day to the citizens' movement. In the beginning of 1996, the government body published some of the data, but the groups continue their battle for publication and protest against the construction of a second landfill right next to the first one.

Both of these problems are currently debated in parliament and it remains to be seen whether the ruling parties will improve the situation for citizens' movements, and hence all citizens.

Comparison with Environmental Movements in Other Countries

In the following, I want to outline some aspects which I find a strikingly different in Japan compared to similar movements in other countries.

Size and membership:

As far as the size of the movement as a whole in terms of acting groups and organizations as well as in terms of membership is concerned, Japanese movements rank far behind other industrialized countries. To illustrate this, I want to compare only a few of the larger movements.

One of the largest environmental organizations in Japan is the Japan Wildbird Society (Nihon Yacho no kai). It was founded in 1934, consists of about 230 local organizations and has a membership of about 45,000. In comparison, the German Wildbird Society in the southern German state of Bavaria alone has a membership of 260,000.

Another interesting and distinctive fact is that the membership in Japanese movements is comparatively old, which corresponds to the membership in political parties. Young people in Japan seem not to be particularly interested in the work of social movements. A large number of the membership is over 60 years of age, a far higher rate than for example in Germany.


Let me take the Nihon Yacho no kai and WWF Japan as an example to demonstrate the difference between Japanese and similar groups in other countries. Although both have a comparatively large membership, as far as I can see, they are not particularly interested in influencing political decisions directly, but rather in environmental education. I would not consider them as lobby groups, although they certainly have some connections to policy makers at different levels of government.

Although similar German organizations have also been active in environmental education and nature protection activities, they have on the other hand, in the last decade also been particularly active in lobbying the political decision-making process. U.S. American movements have so long been famous for their lobbying and other approaches to influence the policy-making process directly, that they have recently been accused of having become somewhat out-of-touch with their membership12.

On the other hand, there are still the classical protest and anti-construction movements in Japan. Those movements have from time to time been very active to attract media attention and have sometimes even reached compromises with government ministries, but have very often had to turn to the courts, which shows how narrow the channels to influence policy decision are.


As far as funding is concerned, the income of Japanese environmental groups differ to a significant extent from those in other industrialized countries. The reason, as I have outlined before, lies in the judicial status and the lack of government support for voluntary groups. Japanese enjoy by far the lowest percentage of public sector payments: namely only 4%, the second lowest can be found in the UK with 19%, the average is around 34%.

This is the reason why 85% of the revenue sources of environmental groups comes from private fees and payments, compared with only 29% in the USA, 45% in the UK and 73% in Germany.

The combined budget of environmental movements in Japan accounts for about $190 million, compared with $160 million in Germany, $280 million in France, $1 bill. as much as $2.4 Billion in the USA. In relation to its GNP, the overall budget of environmental movements is far smaller than those of other industrialized countries. One reason lies in the simple fact that the membership of Japanese movements is comparatively small, but, I think, the main reason behind the small budget is connected with the lack of recognition by the government and by a part of the general public. Here, the activities are still either unknown, or considered as insufficient.

Concluding Remarks

This brief comparison has attempted to compare the Japanese movement with some similar movements in Western industrialized countries; nevertheless, I think it would be very interesting to consider also movements in other Asian countries, such as the environmental movement in Korea or Taiwan.

Future Outlook

It is naturally very difficult to predict how the environmental movement might develop from here. However, it seems reasonable to assume that the number of movements which are interested in global environmental problems will rise. Hopefully, this will also be true for the movements which are concerned with Japanese pollution export into less developed countries and the role Japan can play in improving the natural environment in the next century.

The role social movements in general and environmental movements in particular will play in the future very much depends on the fact, to what extent the government accepts those movements as equal partners. The bills, which are currently discussed in parliament, namely the new NPO law and the law concerning the freedom of information, will be milestones in the future capabilities and prospects of voluntary organizations in Japan. Especially after the Kobe earthquake, I have the impression that the role of voluntary movements, as the environmental movement, is being reconsidered and will certainly be much more influential to provide a better environment for the next generation.


1. Environmental Agency (1995), Whitebook.

2. Prime Ministers Office (PMO), (eds.) Shakai ishiki ni kan suru seron chousa, yearly. Data calculated from the volume of the respective year.

3. Among others, see: 21 seiki no kankyou shakai to shimin sanka (1994), Kankyou kihin hou, Tokyo.

4. Iijima, Nobuko (1995), Kankyo shakaigaku no susume (Recommendations for

Environmental Sociology, Tokyo; and (1993) Kankyo Shakaigaku (Environmental Sociology), Tokyo.

5. "Registered" does in most cases not mean, that the groups and organizations are judicially registered as "public interest organizations", but that they have been registered with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Bureau of Environmental

Protection. The list is not published but only for internal use.

6. This chart reflects only those groups which are registered in the Kankyou hozen kyoku of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in the respected year and published in Tokyo Metropolitan Government [Tokyo Tojo] (eds.) Kankyo hozen ni kan suru minkan dantai meibo [List of environmental protection citizens' organizations], (unpublished).

7. EPO=Environmental Protection Organization, (W.V.)

8. Prime Ministers Office (1991), Shizen no hogo to riyou ni kan suru seron chousa [Public Opinion Poll Concerning Nature Protection and Use], Tokyo.

9. My own dissertation project concerning the environmental movement in contemporary Japan and its significance for the political culture of contemporary Japan.

10. Data based on: The John Hopkins Nonprofit Sectors Project (eds.) , 1994, The Emerging Sector. An Overview, Baltimore.

11. Which government ministry is responsible depends on the aim of the group and its activity area. E.g., most internationally active organizations are registered at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Gaimushou), however, environmental organizations do not necessarily have to apply at the Environmental Agency.

12. Gottlieb, Robert (1995), Forcing the Spring. The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement, Island Press. Reference List (Selective)

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6. Goldstone, Jack A. 1987. "Peasant Protest in Japan, 1590-1884." Theory and Society 16(5):771-74.

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8. Hase, Toshio. 1992. "The Green Movement in Japan." Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change .

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Intl. Symposium on Environmental Education and Environmental Ethics, Konan Univ.14 December 1996


Ecological Philosophy, Ethics and Education:
Paths of Value Between Cultures and Nature

Alan Rike Drengson
Professor, University of Victoria, Canada


A fundamental aim of higher education is to know ourselves in context in relation to others, our cultural history and place, with all its ecological realities of diverse communities and values, so that we can live wisely. That higher education around the planet has not achieved transmission of wisdom is attested by increasingly intractable international, social and environmental problems. The driving force in the world is not education but an international economic system based on corporate market capitalism. This international system is owned primarily by wealthy families and corporations located in the advanced industrial nations of East and West.

In order to realize our aim to live wisely, we seek comprehensive understanding of our situation as humans of a particular culture, on planet Earth, with its great diversity of cultures and beings. In pursuit of this comprehensive, cross cultural understanding a number of areas of study and practice deserve mention.

There are six main areas of study and cooperation that have furthered our ability to understand one another in a global context, while respecting cultural diversity and unique historical traditions. These six areas are the following: 1. Cross cultural research; 2. Comparative studies, for example in the humanities and arts; 3. Negotiated frameworks for international cooperation based on trade, disaster relief, etc.; 4.Grass roots movements and NGOs such as the peace, social, and environmental movements; 5. Cooperative scientific and technological studies and undertakings, such as atmospheric research; 6. International networks with the development of email, the WEB and so on.

These six areas are made possible because there are some shared values, for example, that we care for and live on a common Earth, we share certain ecological values, and because of our origins we share a common humanity, despite wide cultural diversity. These areas of participation help people from many nations to generate a sense of planetary community. Cooperation on issues of peace and nonviolent resolution of conflicts is possible because we share some basic values on human rights and about what is appropriate means for resolving differences. Such cooperative undertakings involve significant levels of ethical maturity as they depend on mutual respect, acceptence of diversity in cultures, worldviews, religions, etc. How can we better advance these shared values in higher education and wisdom in our relations with the natural world? The effort to gain a comprehensive view in this present setting is an attempt to articulate an ecological philosophical approach. In the West many call such an ecocentric approach ecophilosophy.

The over-arching aim of cross cultural ecological philosophy (or ecophilosophy) is to gain a comprehensive sense of our whole situation as planet Earth dwellers. Of critical importance to this understanding is insight into the values we humans embrace and the relationships we create to one another and with the natural world. Education should help us to achieve this larger understanding, for without such larger vision we get lost. Educators should be Pathfinders and guides, not conditioners.

When we survey our condition as humans sharing a common planet, we note that there are diverse beings and diverse human cultures. We must wonder over this diversity, first, to appreciate its depth and range, and second, to see whether there are more common grounds, principles, ecological insights and values that can unite people with different worldviews, histories, places, languages, and cultures. How from such diversity can we act in concert for the benefit of our planet home?

Ecological philosophy is cross-cultural inquiry that is inclusive and comprehensive. In this way it can do justice to human and biological diversity, and the richness of values found within cultures and nature. For purposes of exploration, it adopts an ecocentric framework of comprehensive value inquiry (of which total cost accounting would be a small part), proceeding as if we can escape ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism. The narrowest frame of reference is an egocentric one, and the widest is ecocentric. An ecocentric approach accepts that the full spectrum of values found on Earth is varied, wide and deep. Intrinsic values are found throughout the human and natural world. Our investigations help us to appreciate this and help us to build bridges and paths that cross cultural boundaries. They help us to act in harmony and beauty in international cooperation.


In current discussions there is much focus on globalization and international trade arrangements as a model for the future, for example GATT and NAFTA. However, trade modernization seems to be creating a kind of global monoculture. It is said that this form of internationalism has some benefits, but it also has some serious flaws. One of it greatest flaws is its destructive impact on all forms of diversity--human and natural. Its Modern mass monocultures are in conflict with most forms of diversity, even philosophical. Its models of development have great financial and technological power behind them, but little wisdom. We cannot alter their path so as to rebuild community without comprehensively understanding our situation. The aim of ecophilosophy is to attain understanding of how to build community on every level, how to have a plurality of centers.

There are alternatives to this Modern absolutist approach that monocultures minds, lands and peoples. We will explore some of them here. But we will not explore the relativism of Post Modernism, since it does not recognize values that transcend subjective human awareness. There are other examples from past and present that exemplify a growing sense of world civility that respects diversity (many centers). These examples show how we can research, understand and educate to cross and preserve cultural boundaries, without elevating one culture over another or forcing all to fit into one worldview. An ecocentric approach celebrates diversity.

We cannot engage in fruitful cross-cultural discussions and inquiry unless we assent to principles of mutual respect, openness and appreciation. We also need a sense of humor, play and wonder. An ecocentric approach emphasizes the intrinsic worth of all beings, humans included. It is a value-rich approach that emphasizes the intrinsic worth of all forms of diversity, including cultural.


In pursuit of a total view, let us imagine that we are mature and seasoned scientist philosophers from another solar system.Our job is to inventory diversity throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. We are very impressed with the diversity found on planet Earth, especially when compared to the bleak sameness of some of the lifeless planets. We describe this diversity in ways that do not reflect any of the worldviews held by the many human cultures we study. In order to collect and study our specimen perspectives, our approach is transglobal, supra-planetary, even cosmic.

In comparing different cultures we notice similar practices and values, and also common principles and agreements. Some are implicit, not spelled out, but simply acted out on a day to day basis. Some common elements and principles are embodied in international agreements, U.N. declarations, treaties, and other cross cultural instruments. For example, there are now widely embraced universal standards of human rights and decency. There are some international standards pertaining to treatment of prisoners of war. There are also some agreements about standards in trade, and about environmental quality. There are some almost universal agreements with respect to biological diversity, endangered species and other subjects pertaining to the integrity of the Earth's ecological communities and ecosystems.

Appreciating such common grounds and embracing the intrinsic worth of diversity is a commitment required of ecophilosophers. Ecologically oriented philosophy has arisen in response to the awareness that human activities are having serious impacts on the natural world, reducing its beauty and diversity, undermining its biological and ecological functions, and threatening the survival of human life as we know it.

There is now global and almost universal agreement among scientists from most U.N. nations that the over-all impact of environmental destruction, caused by human numbers --magnified by Modern technology, is so profound that major ecological processes are being seriously disrupted. To mention a few: the build up of greenhouse gasses and their effect on health and climate, and the thinning of the ozone shield and its effect on plant and animal life.

These are problems of gigantic scale, and over-whelming evidence indicates that they are caused primarily by human industrial activity. (Brown, et al 1996) Many alarms are going off; canaries are dying in the mines. The rate of species extinction is increasing, and now exceeds those during the aftermath of the large asteroid collision 63 million years ago. No one knows what the ultimate effects of these changes will be for humans. The more we learn about biological and ecological processes, the more we realize that we are ignorant of how this vast, complicated system of beings and processes functions. This ignorance is not incompatible with wisdom, but its realization is necessary for it.

Various platforms have been put forth as a basis for collective, global action to deal with problems such as these. These principles are a mix of aim, value and action statements. Platforms have been articulated for the four great movements of this century: the Social Justice Movement, the Peace Movement, the Environmental Movement, and the Appropriate Technology Movement.

To have such a general level of agreement among greatly diverse nations is remarkable, considering that not long ago there was great division in the world. It is also remarkable when we consider that cross-cultural philosophical discussions of total views and of different value systems have only recently emerged through the work of various investigators. In the 19th century most comparative work in cross cultural philosophy was ethnocentric. Most of the authors had no direct experience with the practices central to the philosophies of other cultures.


There are Eastern and Western researchers who were exceptions to the above limitations. Some had a wider range of experience and knowledge. Their work helped to build a context of constructive cross cultural philosophizing, which --as characterized by Ninian Smart-- seeks to describe and "analyze the similarities between ideas, arguments and themes in differing cultures." Constructive comparative philosophy seeks to engage in a "creative synthesis of ideas out of two or more traditions: and it develops these ideas into widening perspectives on human life." It is the work of bold and creative thinkers who are willing to "launch into it." Smart thinks that this activity can make a significant contribution to world civility, not to be construed as uniformity. (Carter 1992)

In Japanese philosophy let us consider two important comparativists of this century. Watsuji Tetsuro (1996) and Nishida Kitaro (Carter 1989) both philosophized cross culturally on the basis of their extensive knowledge of Eastern and Western philosophy. Their work is illuminating, when we reflect upon it today in relation to environmental ethics and education.

Consider the case of Watsuji.

As a young philosopher he studied both Japanese and Western thinkers. He went West to study with the German Philosopher Martin Heidegger, whose major work, Being and Time, came out while he was in Europe. Watsuji eagerly read the book and was deeply disappointed. He felt that Heidegger's emphasis on the isolated individual led him to ignore space and to focus on time as primary to sense of self. Watsuji thought that this showed one of the flaws in Modern Western Philosophy. He thought that it reduced values and ethics to an abstract subjectivism without a context or place. His experience in Japan with rural Shinto in Japanese traditional land-based communities, led him to see ethics and values as grounded in the context of place, and as living in the betweenness realized through communal activities. Without this sense of place and in betweenness, relationships to each other are fragmentary; relationships to the natural world are truncated. We lose our sense of ourselves as natural beings with a long history. We lose touch with our ancestors, descendants and natural relatives.

In rural Shinto there are ancient traditions of place specific shrines and torii. Festivals and other ceremonies connect people now alive with ancient ancestors and other spirits, including animals and trees. They give a sense of continuity with future generations. This living in place commitment, the betweenness it fosters, creates a sense of community that extends beyond isolated individuals, not just to people now living, dead and yet to be born, but to all of our relations, plant and animal too. They become part of an enlarged sense of community.

There are many such place interwoven community traditions found in different cultures around the world. These long traditions in many cases have come to know and respect ways to dwell wisely in particular places. This long term dwelling in place enables people to know and sense their interdependencies and also to sense the creative energies of their places with its many beings. There is a respect for kami and other forms of earth energy; ceremonies help to underscore and pass on this wisdom. This place specific wisdom and its accompanying techniques and arts is called vernacular wisdom (vernacular ecosophies). Its technology practices are usually appropriate, sustainable, and contextualized.

Watsuji was influenced not only by indigenous Shinto, but by other traditions that had been imported and enculturated into Japan, especially Buddhism with its teaching that the essential nature of the self is emptiness. He thought that this emptiness allows for the self-contradictory nature of human self-identity that is realized by us as unique individuals who are at the same time social beings. Self-identity involves negative and postive aspects which, when they become complementary --rather than antagonistic, allow us to realize a receptive creative openness or emptiness. When we realize this essential self-nature, we are then open to perceiving our many interdependencies in relation to all other beings.

These matters are about ultimate values, our ultimate philosophies and their practices as spiritual disciplines that lead to spiritual transformation or enlightment. Much art showing Buddha in meditation depicts him as emboding universal compassion and wisdom that extends to all beings. And yet the practices of Buddhism fit into local and cultural contexts. They are tailored to the individual and his or her place. In the Mahayana tradition the ideal of enlightenment includes all beings.

Watsujis first work, the Fudo, recognizes the interplay between climate, culture and self-development. He also recognizes certain universal principles, such as the Buddhist account of self-nature as emptiness. In a later work, the Rinrigaku, Watsuji provides a more detailed account of values and how traditional Japanese culture differs from Western philosophies and practices.

Nishida Kitaro, another Japanese comparative philosopher, also recognized and celebrated the fecundity of emptiness in his cross cultural philosophy. He observed through his studies that, despite cultural boundaries, there are usually areas of general agreement about certain principles and insights. This is perhaps not only because we share a common home, the Earth, that functions according to universal ecological principles, but also because we share a common humanity, even while dwelling in diverse places and cultures. A contemporary Canadian comparativist, Robert Carter, says Nishida's work can be seen

"as a bridge between East and West precisely because he identifies himself with neither alleged perspective and sees more often than most that the work of philosophy is neither Eastern nor Western, but takes as its material the overlapping insights of people anywhere in the world, and produces from that material a totality of thought transcending any particular cultural perspectives." (Carter, 1989, 144)

Nishidas work is illuminating on a number of other points, but it is not the aim of this paper to engage in comparative study of specific texts and authors. It is to reflect on our current common cross cultural situation and problems with respect to values education, environmental crisis and our relations to nature.


When we take stock of the environmental crisis we must agree with U.S. philosopher poet Wendell Berry (1977). The environmental crisis is a crisis of culture and character. Historically, the destruction of ecological communities, extinction of species, rise of environmental diseases and pollution have been associated with large, literate, agricultural, empire civilizations. Some ancient cultures undermined the basis of their life by destroying their farmland, forests and watersheds. There are many accounts of these in myths, legends, ancient texts, and in more recent archeological studies. The Roman Empire long ago destroyed one of the world's richest granaries in Northern Africa through destructive agricultural practices. There was no environmental movement then.

The grass roots environmental movement arose during this century. In the West some major figures and events mark its development, for example the debates between John Muir and Gifford Pinchot about conservation vs. preservation. Leading analysts East and West describe the environmental crisis as associated primarily with the paradigms and models of development of Modern Western industrialism. As industrial development based on this paradigm has spread, so has large scale degradation of the environment. The more intensely it has been applied, in whatever context, the more intensely it has pushed against the limits of the natural world's ecological processes and communities.

If we take our ecological footprint--which is a measure of our impact on the natural world--as members of Modern industrial states, we find that we have very large feet. (Wackernagel and Rees 1996) Our ecological footprints are 50 or more times larger than those of nonindustrial people. Without cross cultural studies and research, we would not know this.

The industrial revolution swept through the North American continent at a frantic pace over the last century. The industrialization of manufacturing, farming, forestry, fishing, mining and other areas of work and life happened over a large space. Large areas and whole regions were cleared of native forests and grasses; indigenous plants, animals and humans were displaced.

Some people say that these changes are the price for progress--as defined, of course, by Western Modernism. Others say that they show the flaws in Modern industrial development models that are still being pushed all over the world by various international organizations.

The destruction of the environment and the depopulation of the countryside go hand in glove with industrialization and its waves of Modernization and megaprojects. This process is still going on in North America and elsewhere, but local and other forms of resistance are crystallizing and becoming more articulate and effective. (Mander and Goldsmith 1996) People are offering alternative visions of progress and relations to nature.

People in Japan have witnessed a similar series of changes as Japan modernized and then rebuilt after the Second World War. Japan retains more of its older customs and practices associated with respect for the natural world and rural culture, than we have in North America, partly because of its strong local spiritual traditions associated with land and places. The global industrial culture is most represented in its modern cities where land is valued for standardized, abstract reasons.

Norway is an example of a Northern Europe country that also preserves its heritage and local integrity while resisting globalized homogenization. It did not join the European Common Market so as to preserve its unique heritage and culture. Moreover, a wide range of measures and laws help to maintain its diversity of rural customs, folk art, dialects and nature oriented farm, forest, and recreational practices interwoven with respect for Nature. Leading Norwegian thinkers, like Arne Naess, have articulated the need for preserving this diversity. Other proponents of localization from Third World nations, such as Vandana Shiva (1993), have spoken eloquently for resistance to the forces of globalization that create monocultures of mind, body and land.

The environmental crisis today, then, is associated with the rise and spread of Modernism. Modernism has become the philosophy, practices and values of development associated with industrial corporatism. Modernism is a secular doctrine that ignores the spiritual dimensions of life. It does not accept the existence of values apart from human self-consciousness. It is an abstract, contextless, so-called "value-free" approach that primarily measures worth and progress primarily by means of quantity of profits. Its development models emphasize the short-term, bottom line. Western neo-conservativism is a political form of Modernism run rampant. There is an emphasis on unrestricted economic activity. It champions the freedom of corporate forces to do what they like, ignoring individual, community, cultural, and natural rights. Modernism does not value tradition, nature, or community. Uniqueness is made scarce by means of its standardization. It treats all of these as instruments for power and profit. This narrow focus contrasts to ways of wise dwelling that celebrate diversity, respect other beings, and recognize many values and ends.


We have been describing part of the total context of the environmental crisis that we must comprehensively grasp. This understanding is one aim of education in environmental ethics. The major purpose of ecophilosophy is to articulate and understand ecosophies. Ecosophies are articulated and practiced ultimate philosophies based on ecocentric values. Living an ecosophy gives rise to beauty and ecological harmony. Hence, following Naess' (1973, 1991) usage, we say that ecosophy is ecological wisdom, as derived from the ancient Greek roots "ecos"--meaning place, and "sophia"--meaning wisdom. We emphasize that there is not just one ecosophy that all humans everywhere must accept. There are many ecosophies and the possiblities for articulating new ones are almost unlimited. This abundant diversity is good in itself, but it is also good for a multitude of instrumental reasons, including survival--which many would say is good in itself.

We live in a world of constant change populated by myriad beings. Their collective activities create an ongoing flow of evolutionary change, and maintain processes of ecosystem balance that are all part of the larger whole we call Nature. Humans are within this ecosphere; we cannot refuse to participate in it. We can only choose how to participate. When we recognize how great our ignorance is, we temper our approach with humility and care. Instead of imposing the industrial plantation model on forests, for example, we should first seek to understand how natural forests function and what their inherent values are.

In a natural forest, as compared to a monoculture or few species tree plantation, the complexity of functions and processes--those that keep the forest healthy and changing in balance with environmental conditions-- are carried out through the diversity of relationships, species and structures that are found there. This is an ongoing evolutionary process, and beings change in relation to one another as we observe them, within far shorter periods of time than Darwin and others realized (Weiner 1994). It has been recently found that even cool temperate wet forests, such as the rainforests of British Columbia in Canada, have biological diversity and species numbers comparable to tropical forests. They are all part of a larger dynamic evolutionary process. We understand the vital role that fungi play in such forest ecosystem processes in maintaining forest productivity and health. Through studies of forest soil and root systems under the ground, we now know more about the astounding collections of organisms that make up these rich soil communities, more than 90 percent of which we have not even identified or classified. We know more about their evolving roles, but even so, our ignorance is great.

As a result of trying to industrialize forestry on the model of industrial agriculture, we have realized that our ignorance of ecological beings and processes is much greater than our knowledge. Monoculture (or a few species) tree plantations are failing the world over. The tragedy of industrial forestry is not just what happens to the natural forests and their complex communities of beings. (Devall 1995) It is also what happens to the human communities who dwell therein, for they too are impoverished and destroyed in the pursuit of short term profit.

Such destructive behavior is not only morally wrong, it is very foolish. An alternative to industrial forestry, ecoforestry, is a movement among forest dependent people committed to ecologically responsible forest use. Their practices are quite varied, suited to different forest ecosystems, but the general approach is outlined in an Ecoforester's Oath, which is comparable to a set of platform principles. (For the full Oath see the Appendix in Drengson and Inoue, 1995.) Ecoforestry is compatible with support for the platform of the long range Deep Ecology Movement as tailored to specific places. (Drengson and Taylor 1997)


When we realize that our ignorance is great, we begin to appreciate the philosophy and practice of Japanese natural farmer Masanobu Fukuoka. (Fukuoka 1978) He left his family farm to be trained in the Modernist approach to plant pathology. He then worked as an inspector and agricultural specialist trying to control diseases and biological processes through chemical manipulation and other means. While working at this profession, he went through a profound spiritual crisis. In his despair he realized that he did not know anything, despite his years of formal education and on the job training. Like Socrates (Drengson 1981) in the West, he came to realize that the path to wisdom begins when we realize our ignorance.

Fukuoka decided to return to the farm where he was born to let Nature teach him how to farm harmoniously. His approach is elegant: He says that he practices do-nothing farming. He does not devise all sorts of ways to intervene to make plants grow, by controlling their nature, diseases, pests, and nutrition. He lets Nature take its course with faith in the biological processes to achieve balance and harmony that he and others benefit from. This capacity to trust in the natural world is not found in Modernism. For it humans have to strenuously manage nature to survive and prosper. We assume we know best.

Natural farming exemplifies an ecocentric approach to agriculture. It is a vernacular (not designed by experts) localized practice attuned to the biological communities and natural processes of the land. It reflects the autopoesis and cosmogenesis (self-organizing creativeness) inherent in the natural world. (Thomas Berry 1988) Fukuoka Sensei raises two different grains, rice and barley, during the course of a year, in the same field. This field has not been plowed for over 30 years. He can do this because he is attuned to this land and its many beings. Thus, he can time his minimal actions to be precisely in harmony with the lands openness to planting, tending and harvesting. His seeds are broadcast into this empty receptiveness. From my practice of Aikido I would say that he is practicing Aiki and this attunes him to the energies and needs of the land and its many beings. (M. Ueshiba 1991, and K. Ueshiba 1985) This enables him to avoid unnecessary actions and move into open space.

Contrast Sensei Fukuoka's (ecoagriculture) approach to industrial agriculture. The latter does not respect the land as a complex biological community created by the activities of multitudes of beings, diverse topography, unique places and histories. All land is treated the same, as if it is only a space in which to grow crops. The ultimate form of the industrial approach is the enclosed, automated, hydroponic greenhouse that uses no soil and is heavily dependent on fuel, chemicals, hybrid plants, and genetically engineered organisms--all from off farm sources. Modernism tries to control every variable, including plant nutrition and health, by chemical and genetic manipulation. Toxic sprays are used to eliminate pests. This approach is being used outdoors on a large scale without the climatic controls of the greenhouse. The land is treated as a medium for industrial chemicals. In both industrial agriculture and forestry the approach to development gives rise to many of the same problems with respect to ecological disruption and economic impoverishment for rural communities. Both human and natural diversity are destroyed. The environmental crisis as a global phenomenon has its roots in the ever accelerating high level of activity guided by industrial paradigms, as these methods and practices are applied to every area of production and service so as to generate corporate profits. They push uniformity and standardization.

From a number of different perspectives, then, the environmental crisis exemplifies the limits of the global industrial culture with its applied development models. Its basic paradigms drive it toward global monocultures on every level of life and culture. In its wake all forms of diversity are destroyed, especially qualitative diversity. On a large scale, across landscapes and continents, this industrial process, with its many machines, magnifies human impacts in many ways. Its ultimate impacts on people and ecological systems are profoundly destructive.


When 19th Century European settlers broke the native sod on the Great Plains of North America --with oxen and single bottom plows, they exposed topsoil that was up to 12 feet deep in places. Rich soil and biological diversity were abundant. The farms and communities that arose on these rich, newly farmed soils were vigorous and healthy. The first generations of pioneer children raised on them were taller and stronger than their relatives of the same generation in Europe.

The North American prairie farm communities I remember as a boy were abundant, but today --only 50 years later-- mostly skeletons remain. The small mixed family farms are all but gone. In their place are large scale corporate agribusinesses tended by machines and a few operators; the finances are controlled from afar. These are highly vulnerable systems. The rural land is open to invasion and outside control by noncaring forces. With the passing of small scale diversified farming (and forestry) we also lose the rich cultural contexts of rural communities and their social life. The farm hands and familes leave with the decline in the rural farm economy. There is little to hold communities together. Large farms are often heavily in debt to banks. The banks, in most cases, are part of larger companies tied into centralized international financial organizations. In industrial farming the diversity of life above ground declines with the diversity of life underground in the soil. Natural and human communities are impoverished by this same process.

These agricultural and forestry monoculturing systems based on modern industrial paradigms rely on toxic chemicals, large inputs of fuel, and consume large quantities of soil. Topsoil declines in depth, and quality of crumb structure and fertility decline year after year. A bushel of corn is paid for with lots of external inputs and a loss of two bushels of top soil for each bushel of corn. Together these processes further disrupt and unbalance the ecological communities and natural evolutionary processes of farm and forest lands. When these same methods are applied to most other areas of human activity such as fishing, mining, manufacturing, processing, transportion, communication, and so on, the overall impact on the planet should be obvious to us--even without technological measuring aids. And yet, there is wide spread denial, as shown by the attempt to cast the supporters of the Ecology Movement as just another cult of end-of-the-world-nay-sayers.

The early pioneers in North America did not imagine that their methods and activities could ruin the natural world, since they farmed, for the most part, using the old traditional patterns of their ancestors in Northern Europe. Their farms fit into the natural landscape. They blended harmoniously with biological and other processes there, except for the fact that the lands were laid out by government surveyors using the grid system of subdivision. Some historians think that this system itself makes it difficult for farm communities to retain their integrity. It commodifies the land and disconnects farms from natural boundaries. They are more vulnerable to control by large financial organizations.


There are examples of farm communities in North America that still follow the old ways of community farming. They use the horse as the main draft animal. The Old Order Amish people farm in this way. (Berry 1981) Over the years their numbers and farms have flourished, while industrial farms have been taken over by corporate entities and the communities associated with them have all but vanished.

The Old Order Amish reject industrialism for spiritual and moral reasons. They use no fuel driven machines, and no herbicides or pesticides. They do not have electricity or phones. They do not have TVs or modern appliances. They do not buy services provided by the large companies. And so they are almost self-sufficient communities. At the same time, they enjoy a very high quality of life with much time for social activities. Families buy land that has been abused and using traditional Amish methods restore its fertility. They plant groves of trees. They farm on a small scale for purposes of subsistence. They believe that it is their duty to God to practice wise stewardship. They are united in their communities by their common Christian faith. When they restore abused land the water table recovers and more diversity comes into the land. Their practices provide a better model for sustainable community agricultural practices and lifestyles than industrialism.

The examples described above are part of a larger story being told in region after region. They illustrate why we should be cautious about believing that the environmental crisis can be solved only by imposing a single philosophy on everyone the world over. We see the effects of that now in the impacts of the industrial development paradigms. By their application we have magnified the effects of the actions of single persons (and a single philosophy) by all the machines that Modern industrial power commands. Thus, we can see why each of us from industrial nations has a footprint as big as 50 or more nonindustrial people. To be sure, many resist having such large feet. We scale down our personal consumption and change our behavior in other ways, for example we recyle and reuse. We seek products certified to be ecologically responsible. But these are not enough.

The betweenness (social relationship webs) that industrial culture creates is an impersonal system. It creates landscapes of relationship impoverishment. This is shown by the many glaring negative aspects of Modern urban spaces and the lack of authentic betweenness found in them. People cannot connect in meaningful and harmonious relationships. In place of an authentic betweenness some suggest we develop a new cyberspace, a larger virtual reality accessed through the World Wide Web.

When we value only efficiency, speed, power, monetary gain, quantity, and growth as progress, it is not surprising that our collective activities have negative impacts, diminishing our quality of life. Of course, communities decline, cities become dysfunctional places, and populations suffer increasing rates of environmentally engendered diseases. One dramatic measure of these impacts is the increasing rate of species extinction resulting from applying industrial paradigms over large surfaces of the Earth. The increasing threat of pandemics by antibiotic resistent infectious diseases is another. The build up of greenhouse gases and the thinning of the ozone shield are further examples of these negative impacts, as are increasing cancer rates, and the breakdown of social order, and other side and secondary effects.


When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, she received both receptive and hostile responses. Both she and her book were attacked in a systematic way by vested interests. Scientists doing research for these interests were hired to cast doubt on her work. She was also subjected to personal attacks on her character and integrity. But many people read her book and realized that she spoke the truth. Modern industrial methods not only undermine our economic and neighborhood communities, they poison us by dumping toxic chemicals into the food chain. They further disrupt the ecological and evolutionary processes that maintain Earth conditions suitable for future human life.

Carson also helped many to look beyond mere human survival. Her great love for the natural world enabled her to deepen her field ecologist's understanding of ecological communities and to communicate this to others. Her work helped many of us see the world through ecocentric lenses. Environmental concern as a political force in the West is often dated from the publication of Silent Spring. In the ten years that followed it, up to the first Earth Day, the lessons of field ecology permeated the environmental movement and academic departments. By 1972 conditions were ripe for some basic distinctions.

Environmentalism by 1972 was a grassroots social and political movement that had two main forms. These were described by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess when he spoke on the environmental crisis and the ecology movement in an address given in 1972 in Central Europe. (See Drengson and Inoue 1995 for a reprint of the presentation.) The theme of the Conference was the future of research. Naess called attention to research issues in describing the two forms of environmentalism he had witnessed in his studies and travels. He noted that many people around the world are aware of increasing environmental degradation. They feel that something needs to be done. He differentiated the two main types of responses he witnessed by distinguishing between the short term Shallow Ecology (reform) Movement and the long range Deep Ecology (more radical) Movement. Although Naess' text was quite short, he provided a good overview of the environmental crisis and how to better understand it by means of getting a total view of our human situation.

Naess has been a follower of Gandhi's way of nonviolence since a young man. He is now 85. He has lived through wars and depressions. Norway was occupied by German armies for five years during the Second World War. He was a leader of nonviolent resistence to this occupation. He has lived in many countries, and climbed mountains all over the world. When he traveled around after the war, he participated in various forums and global workshops. He was also a leader in interdisciplinary research.

As Naess travelled and studied, he also took note of the ways in which we come to acknowledge and abide by principles cutting across cultural boundaries, such as Gandhi's principles of nonviolence. He applied these lessons to understanding the environmental crisis in the context of Modern industrial nations. This enabled him to identify two main reactions to the awareness that our activities are disrupting the natural world. As mentioned, he called one the short term Shallow Ecology Movement, and the other the long range Deep Ecology Movement. The first relies on quick, technical fixes and pursues business as usual without any deep value questioning. The second takes a more long range view and looks for long term solutions and pursues deep questioning; it realizes that we cannot go on with business as usual. We must change our life styles toward higher quality of life, rather than increasingly higher levels of production and consumption.

The Shallow Ecology Movement shows awareness of the problems, but its reactions are superficial. It does not question deeply. It only has a short time perspective and is focused on narrow human interests. Thus, it proposes only tinkering with its machines to make them run cleaner. It does not question its own fundamental values and purposes. It does not look deeply into the nature of our relationships with each other and other beings. It assumes we can do okay without making fundamental changes. This is the approach followed by most mainstream institutions.

In contrast to the shallow, a deep questioning approach examines our basic values and reflects on our fundamental relationships, who we are. When we do this we can see how extensive our damage is to other beings, including humans; we realize that this is not acceptable. So we ask how to change our activities to bring them into harmony with natural communities and processes. Like Sensei Fukuoka, we realize we do not know how to manage the natural world, but that we must learn to respect the integrity and diversity naturally found there. We learn to trust more and interfere less. We learn to manage ourselves as responsible members of the ecosphere.

While the Shallow Ecology Movement is anthropocentric (humans first) and considers only human interests, the Deep Ecology Movement is based on platform principles that emphasize the need to respect the intrinsic worth of all beings, humans included, and to treasure all forms of diversity, for example, biological and cultural.

Naess points out that there are at least four main levels of discourse available when we talk about values and actions in relation to the environmental crisis and other social movements. For purposes of simplification these levels are as follows: Level 1 involves ultimate philosophies and ultimate premises; Level 2 includes systems of principles, for example movement platform principles; Level 3 involves policy and other guiding formulations; and Level 4 includes statements about practical actions. Naess (1991) calls his own personal (Level 1) ultimate philosophy Ecosophy T. It is based on the norm, Self-realization for all beings! It does not define a platform for a political movement. The Deep Ecology Movement, instead, is defined in terms of (Level 2) platform principles. The platform does not constitute a whole philosophy, but invites support from people with diverse ultimate philosophies (Level I).


Cross cultural studies inform us that there are diverse worldviews on planet Earth. And yet, at the level of international cooperation, we create institutions that enable us to work together despite these cultural differences. As mentioned earlier, the broadly accepted principles of social justice and nonviolent resolution of conflict have become part of principled platforms that most of us can affirm from our different ultimate philosophies. Nations attempt to develop policies which honor platform principles agreed to in international bodies and treaties, such as those having to do with basic human rights. These policies help to encourage certain courses of action to improve conditions in specific contexts and places.

Just as we have made progress in the area of human rights and nonviolvent resolution of conflicts, so too we have made progress in recognizing the seriousness and depth of the environmental crisis. Common themes have emerged. A number of documents and declarations, put forth in different international forums, affirm many of the platform principles that Naess and Sessions articulated in 1984 as a basis for collective actions in our different cultural settings. The platform principles proposed are the following 8 points:

The Platform Principles of the Deep Ecology Movement

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realizations of these values and are also values in themselves.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.

4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation to directly or indirectly try to implement the necessary changes.

(From Deep Ecology by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985.)

It must be stressed that Naess and others do not regard this platform statement as the final word. It is constantly being revised. Naess invites others to suggest modifications as they see fit. It is important to underscore that this description of the Deep Ecology Movement is not an account of a personal philosophy. The platform is supported by people from diverse backgrounds, such as Buddhists, Shintoists, Taoists, Shamanists, Christians, ecofeminists, social ecologists and so on.

Naess' own personal philosophy, as we have noted, is called Ecosophy T. In his writings he describes the various influences in formation of his personal philosophy. These include Spinoza, Gandhi, Mahayana Buddhism, Norwegian Friluftsliv (the latter is the practice of outdoor nature oriented activities), and others. The T (in Ecosophy T) refers to the name of his hut in the mountains of Norway, Tvergastein, so named for the type of rocks found around it.

Naess hopes people from different religious and philosophical backgrounds will support the platform of the Deep Ecology Movement. If people live in a Buddhist country, and are followers of Buddha, they can see how to support the platform from their religion. They can formulate and support policies that will help to mitigate, eliminate, and prevent environmental degradation. They are empowered to take certain practical actions. What policies and actions depends upon their own personal history and cultural context. No single solution can be applied to every place. The wise vernacular practices of ecoagriculture and ecoforestry are not machine standardized monocultures. Their common ground is more like a set of platform principles that imply a diversity of practices in harmony with local conditions.

As Naess has noted, we are not going to resolve the environmental crisis by means of imposing a single ecological worldview on every Earth dweller. This is an unsound approach for a number of reasons. For one there is not time, for another it will not work, and, most importantly, it is wrong to try to force people to hold a certain worldview. Moreover, such diversity adds to the richness and goodness of our lives and to the richness of planet Earth. While we must work across cultural boundaries to resolve problems of international scope, we also need to focus on the way we live in our own particular places. They depend on the quality of the relationships that we create in concert with other humans and beings.

Suppose one accepts the eight platform principles as stated above, and questions deeply down to the level of his or her own ultimate philosophy. Mine, for example, is grounded in Christian, Norwegian and North American cultural teachings. Christianity is a multifaceted religion with a complex history. Some interpretations of Christian scriptures support human power to take control of the world and reshape it for our own exclusive benefit. (Lynn White 1967) Other interpretations, however, are not compatible with such actions. (Matthew Fox 1988.) If I am convinced at the level of the platform principles, then I might have to revision my basic understanding of Christian philosophy. This process of reinterpreting Christianity ecocentrically is now going on in the West. It is one of our more dynamic areas of religious reflection and change called ecotheology.

Others hold ultimate philosophies based on such religious traditions as Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Islam, Shamanism, and so on. I know of no spiritual tradition that does not have at least one interpretation emphasizing humility, love for others, and respectful treatment for all beings. Mahayana Buddhism, Shinto and Taoism explicitly stress respect for other beings and emphasize that we must live in harmony with gratitude to them. They also stress that we are all intimately interrelated.

If a person has no such traditional religious background, then they can create their own ultimate philosophy based on ecocentric principles. They can call their own personal philosophy Ecosophy X, where for x they can put whatever name seems best to them. As noted earlier, the number of possible ecosophies is very large. A person could then work on their own ecostery, either alone or with others. An ecostery is a place where ecosophies are learned, practiced and taught. It is a place with increasing ecological harmonies and wisdom. We work in our own particular place to live out our ecosophy, and as we realize it our places become ecosteries. We never stop learning or adapting in this process.


Business as usual is not only being questioned by supporters of the Deep Ecology Movement. The recent "mean and lean" philosophy of top down management control in vogue in the West, especially in North America, is coming under increasing critical scrutiny from within. Many say that it has failed in every area it has been used, except in generating short term profits. They claim that many companies have become anorexic and that their basic problems stem from lack of a coherent philosophy based on a wider set of values recognizing social and environmental responsibilities. Leading edge business management theorists recognize that what is of most importance is wisdom, moral and natural values, and not the accountants bottom line. Profit should not be the main or only purpose of business. Business should serve higher ends. Economics should not be the main purpose of life. (Secretan 1995, Dalla Costa 1995) It is observed in writings, talks and consultations that companies who value only the bottom line become destructive of people, society and nature. Thus, managers are urged to reclaim the higher ground, and to question deeply into their values, so as to clarify their personal philosophy and that of their companies. These critics say that taking a wider view leads to the unavoidable conclusion that companies must be in business for more than just profit; they owe it to their workers, customers, society and the environment.

The forces of globalization, with their monoculturing power, have also been deeply criticized by Third World writers and activists such as Helena Norberg-Hodge (1991) and Vandana Shiva (1993). It is clear that we must bring these forces under control so that they do not destroy biological and cultural diversity and the traditions that support them. The work done in the four great movements of this century, the Social Justice, Peace, Environmental, and Appropriate Technology Movements, advance the aim of creating a world of international cooperation based on universal principles of civility that respect, recognize, and help to protect and restore the cultural and biological diversity needed to resolve our environmental and ethical crises.

According to Naess and others, then, the platform of the Deep Ecology Movement does not describe an ultimate philosophy, but a basis for cooperative and unified practical policies and actions. Thus, those who support it are not called (by Naess) Deep Ecologists but supporters of the Deep Ecology Movement. It is a platform for international agreement and multicultural cooperation, enabling us to get to the roots of the environmental crisis in our own particuar places and selves It requires that we not go on with business as usual and that we make fundamental ecocentric changes in education, international institutions, trade agreements, resource use practices, and in our personal lives. These changes should be guided especially by the first two platform principles that emphasize respect for all intrinsic values and for diversity. If we formulate policies and actions with just these two principles in mind, we will go a long way toward creating a local and global betweenness for cooperative solutions to our environmental problems. When we do this other beings will rejoice, and abundance, richness and high quality of life will arise.


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