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May 25, 2017

The Philosophic Roots of the Paris Agreement Part I: Deep Ecology vs. Human Progress

May 25, 2017
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In his essay “The Church of Environmentalism,” Jeremy Carl told the story of Julian Simon participating at an environmental forum.

“How many people here believe that the earth is increasingly polluted and that our natural resources are being exhausted?”, Simon asked. After a roomful of hands were raised, Simon then asked: “Is there any evidence that could dissuade you?” After silence, he followed up: “Is there any evidence I could give you—anything at all—that would lead you to reconsider these assumptions?”

After more silence, Simon answered: “Well, excuse me. I’m not dressed for church.”

The Church of global-warming/climate-change-activism rests on three intertwined, unshakable beliefs:

1) The human influence on climate is controlling;

2) That influence cannot be positive or benign, in part or whole; and

3) Government coercion can and must solve this alleged problem.

Behind this not-to-be-debated belief system is an anti-humanist philosophy. It is a creed that sees nature as optimal and human agricultural and industrial activity as bads that must be minimized. The operative term for this worldview is deep ecology.

Optimal Nature

Is nature really optimal? In the global warming debate, the answer is yes, making any human influence problematic. As Yale climate economist Robert Mendelsohn stated back in 1999 (p. 12): “There is an unstated myth in ecology that natural conditions must be optimal. That is, we must be at the top of the hill now.”

Back in the 1970s, when global cooling was feared, sulfur dioxide emissions from coal plants were implicated (Bradley, p. 290). Even man-made global warming to offset a natural cooling trend was rejected by Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich, and John Holdren (p. 687) as “influencing different parts of Earth’s complicated climate machinery.”

Cooling, warming, or offsets—none was good if it came from man and not nature.

To members of the Climate Church, the planet “has been delivered in perfect working condition and cannot be exchanged for a new one” (Hawkins, Lovins, Lovins, p. 313). An issue of World Watch magazine, “Playing God with Climate,” scolded man for interfering with Earth.

Deep Ecology

A radical wing of the modern environmental movement rejects an anthropocentric (human-centered) view of the world in favor of a nature-first ecocentric view.

In contrast to shallow ecology, concerned with pollution and resource depletion in the developed world, deep ecology defends “the equal right” of lower animals and plants “to live and blossom.” Deep ecology rejects what it sees as a master-slave relationship between human and nonhuman life (Næss, in List, p. 19.).

Deep ecology stresses the interrelatedness of all life systems on Earth, demoting human-centeredness. Man must respect nature as an end in itself, not treat it as a tool of man. The human ego and concern for family and other loved ones must be joined by a similar emotional attachment to animals, trees, plants, and the rest of the ecosphere.

To hurt the planet, then, is the same as inflicting bodily harm on oneself. “In the broadest sense,” state Bill Devall and George Sessions (p. ix), “we need to accept the invitation to the dance—the dance of unity of humans, plants, animals, the Earth.” To get to this point, we need to “trick ourselves into reenchantment” (p. 10) with nature.

The platform of the Deep Ecology Foundation, formulated by Arne Næss and George Sessions, condemns the current interaction of man and nature and calls for population decreases and lower living standards. In its words:

1) The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth; intrinsic value; inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2) Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3) Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

4) Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

5) The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

The platform goes on the say that radical change is necessary, “appreciating life quality … rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living.”

Gore to McKibben

Bill McKibben’s war on fossil fuels is in the deep-ecology tradition. In The End of Nature (p. 216), McKibben identifies the “terminal sin” of man’s altering nature and complains that “the greenhouse effect is the first environmental problem we can’t escape by moving to the woods.” He laments how “the cheap labor provided by oil” makes the “deep ecology model” difficult to fathom, much less implement (p. 200).

Al Gore’s angst about “dysfunctional [fossil fuel] civilization” crosses over into deep-ecology metaphysics. “Our civilization is, in effect, addicted to the consumption of the earth itself,” Gore states in Earth in the Balance:

This addictive relationship distracts us from the pain of what we have lost: a direct experience of our connection to the vividness, vibrancy, and aliveness of the rest of the natural world. The froth and frenzy of industrial civilization mask our deep loneliness for that communion with the world that can lift our spirits and fill our senses with the richness and immediacy of life itself (pp. 220–21).

Eschewing incrementalism, Gore called for “bold and unequivocal” global action where “the rescue of the environment” is “the central organizing principle for civilization” (p. 269).

For advocates of economic freedom, the global-warming movement is the new source of global economic planning, whereby government sets nonmarket prices and mandates a host of government interventions. A recent study, in fact, identified more than 1,200 climate laws in 164 countries, a number that will only swell if the Paris agreement survives.


Technically, the Paris global climate agreement is legally tied to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which declared a global climate crisis and proclaimed it the role of government to both mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and provide compensation for alleged damages.

But the roots of the climate movement go back to the deep ecology movement—the conflict of man versus nature, or economy versus nature. As one ecologist explained:

Economics and ecology, as words, have the same root; but that is about all they have in common…. The world of ecologists is “unspoiled nature.” They tend to avoid cities, parks, fields, orchards. The real world of the economists is … money, labor, market, goods, capital (Bates, pp. 250–51).

The rejection the Paris climate agreements is really the liberation of 7.5 billion people from a dangerous, anti-human, anti-progress agenda. Deep ecology is not only contrary to the American dream, it is a threat to human progress everywhere.


Bates, Marston. The Forest and the Sea. New York: Random House, 1960.

Bradley, Robert. Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy (Salem, MA: M & M Scrivener Press, 2009).

Devall, Bill, and George Sessions. Deep Ecology. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1985.

Ehrlich, Paul, Anne Ehrlich, and John Holdren, Ecoscience: Population, Resources, and Environment (San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman: 1977).

Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. New York: Plume, 1992.

Hawken, Paul, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism (New York: Little Brown, 1999).

McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature. 1989. Paperback reprint, New York: Anchor Books, 1990.

Mendelsoln, Robert. The Greening of Global Warming. American Enterprise Institute, 1999.

Næss, Arne. “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary,” Inquiry 16 (1), 95–100 (January 1973). Reprinted in Radical Environmentalism: Philosophy and Tactics, edited by Peter List, 19–24. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1993.

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