Deep Ecology




Systemic well-being across levels of organization

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … sum of the dynamics that contribute to systemic self-maintenance
  • Knowing is … systemic well-being; living
  • Learner is … any level/domain of complex, dynamic human activity
  • Learning is … adaptations (to maintain fitness with grander ecosystem)
  • Teaching is … co-adaptation




Rejecting assumptions of human privilege, superiority, and distinctiveness, Deep Ecology asserts that the survival of any part of Earth’s ecosystem is dependent on the well-being of the whole. The theory is aimed at rethinking human societies in ways that not only curtail human-triggered degradations to the more-than-human world, but that involve fundamental reformattings of human sensibilities that are attentive to deep relationships and interconnections among all living things. Deep Ecology seeks to ground all human activity in an ethical system that decenters human interests and recognizes that all forms of life have value in themselves, independent of human purposes.


Deep Ecology is prominently criticized as a globalist ideology masquerading as a scientific theory. In this regard, it is especially criticized for asserting “equal rights” to all species – a notion, some argue, that only makes sense in relation to unstated interests and obligations. In other words, some critics charge Deep Ecology with simplistically and problematically imposing human systems of value and interpretation onto non-humans. (Note, the point is not that the underlying motivation is misguided, it’s that the approach is inappropriate. There may be great peril in framing ecological justice as an expanded version of social justice.)

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Henry David Thoreau; Rachel Carson; John Muir; Wendell Berry; Arne Næss; Félix Guattari

Status as a Theory of Learning

Deep Ecology interprets the planet’s dynamics in terms of nested, dynamic, and co-entangled systems – all of them engaged in an endless dance of co-adaptation. Phrased differently, all living systems can be understood as learning systems. Like Complex Systems Research and Universal Darwinism, then, Deep Ecology can be properly interpreted as a trans-systemis theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Deep Ecology is not a theory of teaching. However, educational philosophies are emerging that draw on the theory. (See Ecopedagogy.)

Status as a Scientific Theory

Deep Ecology is founded on empirical research in Complex Systems Research and from the scientific field of ecology. It is also informed by compatible interpretations and recommendations from grass-root social movements around the planet, involving peoples with diverse situations and worldviews.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Deep Ecology” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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