The yucky taste in your mouth is that deep ecology you just bit into.

I just finished reading Ramachandra Guha’s Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique. Guha takes aim at the deep ecologists who, according to Guha, have (at least) four common tenets: [1] Environmental discourses must shift from “anthropocentric” to “biocentric” perspectives; [2] The preservation of current wilderness and restoration/rewilding of degraded sites is of utmost importance; [3] Eastern (and, presumably, Indigenous) philosophies are themselves deep-ecological; and [4] Deep ecologists are leading the environmental movement. I applaud Guha’s disavowal of each of these tenets, recognizing that it is only from the place of American economic and militant privilege that deep ecology could even find purchase.

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With a recognition that the anthro/biocentric dichotomies are imagined – and perhaps even harmful – and that the deep ecology project ignores the needs of the world’s populations (especially those in rural communities), Guha argues that “a truly radical ecology in the American context ought to work toward a synthesis of the appropriate technology, alternate life style, and peace movements” (6). I couldn’t agree more.

The deep ecology discourse is especially relevant to me given my commitment to the environments and communities of the American West. My home state, Idaho, has one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48 states, aside dozens of smaller wilderness areas speckled throughout the west. The deep ecology discourse would rather see western environments rid of rural communities in order that the environment could remain pristine for the aesthetic and spiritual enjoyment of those privileged enough to make the trip. Guha rightly recognizes that this discourse ignores, at a minimum, the communities who live in those environments now. I do not mean to suggest that unchecked extraction is the logical valence to wilderness, but – as Guha suggests – that an American radical ecology be founded on the development of more reflective relationships between those on the land and the land itself. Guha states it best:

[Non-western rural communities] seek to wrest control of nature away from the state and the industrial sector and place it in the hands of [those] who live within that environment but are increasingly denied access to it. These communities have far more basic needs, their demands on the environment are far less intense, and they can draw upon a reservoir of cooperative social institutions and local ecological knowledge in managing the “commons”…on a sustainable basis. If colonial and capitalist expansion has both accentuated social inequalities and signaled a precipitous fall in ecological wisdom, an alternate ecology must rest on an alternate society and polity as well” (6, my italics).

Well said.