Sustainable development and deep ecology: An analysis of competing traditions

  • Merle Jacob


It has been argued that existing perspectives on the environmental crisis can be divided into two broad categories (deep and shallow). Deep ecologists have used this typology to argue that mainstream perspectives on the environment are shallow and overly preoccupied with pollution control and resource degradation. This paper argues that the deep/shallow typology is biased and misleading because it: (1) obscures the fact that shallow ecology is comprised of several internally differentiated and disparate perspectives and (2) it favors the deep ecology perspective by creating the impression that the human-centered nature of the shallow perspective is incompatible with the fundamental changes required to address the environmental crisis.

In order to test these claims, we compared deep and shallow perspectives on the environmental crisis using the North American expression of deep ecology and the Brundtland version of sustainable development and steady-state economy as exemplars. From this we were able to make the following conclusions: (1) deep and shallow ecology perspectives are best visualized as part of a continuum of perspectives on the environment that emerged from a long-standing critique of Western development, (2) that the descriptions of the etiology of the environmental crisis offered by sustainable development and deep ecology are incomplete, and (3) although both traditions are presently regarded to be in direct opposition, they have much to learn from each other.

Key words

Sustainability Deep ecology Biocentrism, Environmental Anthropocentric Biosphere 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Merle Jacob
    • 1
  1. 1.c/o Dr. Peter Msaki, Department of Theory of Science and ResearchUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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