What would a respectful and honest discussion between Community Development and Deep Ecology discover? Can one worldview inform the other? Are there similarities? Are there differences? Can an activist walk both paths?
First, a very brief (and possibly inadequate) starting point. Community Development places people at it’s core, whereas Deep Ecology places nature at the core. I warned you: very superficial and debatable, but it does provide the rest of what is to come with two loci.
Following on from the social reforms of the 18th and 19th Centuries, Community Development arose as a response to deprivation in the 1950s and 60s. The peace movement (Ban The Bomb), feminism and the indigenous renaissance provided Community Development with further “proof” that there was something amiss in the communities of the Western world. A fledgling environmental movement was arising at the same time.
Community Development quickly gained momentum, establishing a liberatory philosophy, principles based on values, and learning organising practises.
Two of it’s basic goals are social justice and empowerment. Social justice meant a society in which all were treated respectfully and all had a right to share in the benefits of belonging to that society. Empowerment recognises that the decisions that affect a community should not be made by others, but by members of that community. Empowerment suggests a society in which decision-making is not left in the hands of political elites (whether established by force or elected by populism).
As it explored this vision for society Community Development discovered that the process by which this vision was to be established could not be at odds with the goals. In other words, Community Development rejected the notion that “the ends justifies the means.”
Those working in Community Development also know of the inter-relatedness of issues. The connections between low income, poor health, inadequate housing and low education levels are well known. As also is the realisation that changes in one part of a system induce changes (sometimes unpredictable) in other parts of the system.
These realisations have led Community Development to value interdependence and diversity of people, cultures and beliefs.
Meanwhile, the environmental movement had been evolving since the 1960s and early 1970s with the publishing of seminal works such as Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and “The Population Bomb" by Paul and Anne Ehrlich.
It was the environmental movement that first alerted us to the interconnection between population, economics, ecology, resources and consumerism through the publication and popularisation of “The Limits To Growth” in 1972.
|Andres Musta (Creative Commons)|
In Norway Arne Naess coined the term Deep Ecology to move the understanding of ecology as dealing with a number of distinct systems to a recognition that the earth and all it’s flora and fauna is one complex inter-related system.
Except for a few followers Naess was not well known in the 1970s. However, the Gaia Principle of James Lovelock and others did become commonly known amongst environmental activists. The Gaia Principle is the notion that the Earth and everything upon it is one gigantic living system (some would say – organism).
The contribution that Deep Ecology added to the environmental movement was that of removing humanity from it’s position of dominance in some (misunderstood)hierarchy of life.
Looking at the histories, philosophies and principles of Community Development and Deep Ecology it is possible to identify at least a common language with which to begin a discussion between the two:
- Both recognise the inter-connectedness of things,
- Both reject a hierarchical model,
- Both understand the importance of diversity, and
- Both realise that we live in a complex system.