Consider a centuries-old hedgerow. A longhorn beetle has just emerged from its larval home in a rotting log and settles on the flower of a hawthorn to feed on its nectar. Underneath the hedge, a shrew searches feverishly for small invertebrates to fuel its rapid metabolism, while an earthworm digests organic matter in the humus layer below the small mammal's feet. A farmer in a field bordered by the hedge pauses to consider the multiple benefits for her farming business from this landscape feature, which was planted by her forebears. She spots a walker stopping to admire the wildflowers growing along the hedge bank.
Now, a question. In this scene, what types of 'value' can the non-human players be considered to have?
The deep green worldview sees hawthorns, hedges, humus – and all the other living and non-living forms that make up the more-than-human world – as being valuable and meaningful in their own right, not just as a result of any benefits that humans might derive from their existence. In this worldview, when an ancient hedge is destroyed, for instance, it is ethically wrong not simply because it deprives humans of anything they might have gained – materially, aesthetically, or spiritually – from its continuing existence. It has also caused an immeasurably greater wrong to the living system that is the hedge, as well as to the populations of species that used it as part of their life cycle.
This ethical extension from considering only 'instrumental' (human-benefiting) value to also recognizing 'intrinsic' (independent) value is neither trivial nor merely academic. Rather, its far-reaching practical implications represent an unparalleled opportunity: an opportunity to save much of the radiation of life with which we share the ecosphere from the cresting wave of extinction. Nothing else, I believe, gives this same hope.
The moral responsibilities to our fellow Earthlings that arise out of this much more inclusive ethic call for a complete overhaul of the industrialized mode of human society, a mode that is rapidly erasing life on Earth. And the motivation this ethic creates for changing the way we behave, from the level of the individual up to that of mega-state coalitions, has a deep – and, I would argue, unique – reach into the full suite of human activities. In this way, it alone provides a lit pathway from a planet of death back to one of life.
The envisioned planet of life, in the deep green worldview, should be one that continues to support humans. For it is not humans but human exceptionalism, and the destruction of life that comes with it, that is being challenged.
Those who hold a deep green worldview will generally feel a compulsion to act, and there are many things than an individual can do. These include: making lifestyle changes and trying to inspire others to follow these; contributing to groups that challenge the dual root causes of life's destruction – overconsumption and overpopulation; writing to companies and politicians; and taking direct action (which could be something as simple as removing plastic debris from a local river or something involving more personal risk). ■
All content © Joe Gray