Director of Research, Center for Human Ecology, Austin, Texas
There is a movement afoot in the United States that environmentalists call deep ecology (Tobias, 1985). In a nutshell, its basic tenet is that all living things have a right to exist—that human beings have no right to bring other creatures to extinction or to play God by deciding which species serve us and should therefore be allowed to live. Deep ecology rejects the anthropocentric view that humankind lies at the center of all that is worthwhile and that other creatures are valuable only as long as they serve us. Deep ecology says, instead, that all living things have an inherent value—animals, plants, bacteria, viruses—and that animals are no more important than plants and that mammals are no more valuable than insects (Blea, 1986). Deep ecology is similar to many Eastern religions in holding that all living things are sacred. As a conservationist, I am attracted to the core philosophy of deep ecology. Like the Buddhists, and Taoists, and supporters of the Earth First! movement, I also believe that all living things are sacred. When human activities drive one of our fellow species to extinction, I consider that a betrayal of our obligation to protect all life on the only planet we have.
Where I run into trouble with the philosophy of deep ecology is in places like rural Central America or on the agricultural frontier in Ecuadorian Amazonia—places where human beings themselves are living on the edge of life. I have never tried to tell a Latin American farmer that he has no right to burn forest for farmland because the trees and wildlife are as inherently valuable as he and his children are. As an anthropologist and as a father, I am not prepared to take on that job. You could call this the dilemma of deep ecology meeting the developing world.
The dilemma is softened somewhat by the realization that the farmer in the developing world probably appreciates the value of forest and wildlife better than we do in our society of microwave ovens and airplanes and plastic money. The Third-World farmer appreciates his dependence on biological diversity because that