Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#310: Deep Ecology

The strong winds of this past weekend had a significant impact on this "Dive Dry" column. I dove Saturday to film the wreck of the Valiant for Dive Nav's Internet-based dive simulation program ( DiveNav allows you to take a virtual dive in the Casino Point Dive Park, as well as a number of popular dive sites throughout the world. Using this product, a diver from another country can take a simulated tour of our dive park even before they catch their flight to the States. I can try diving some exotic international sites without even having to buy an airplane ticket (which, as a professional dive bum, I can't afford anyway)! Of course I don't think I can add those dives to my log book!

While at the park that day, I met a diver whose family has a home here on the island. Annie introduced me to her cousin and several of their friends, and we had a great time talking about marine life, closing the El Galleon and having a few drinks on the deck of their home on Hill Street. Then the winds picked up and I finally got home at 2:30 am. The winds, a few drinks and the fact that I'd turned into a pumpkin due to the late night, pretty well nixed the idea of diving Sunday. Therefore, I had no opportunity to discover and film an interesting critter or unusual interaction for this week's column. However, my talks with Annie and her friends that night suggested a topic I've never broached in my previous columns: deep ecology.

No, I'm not referring to the ecosystems I filmed when I was doing my deep (150-200 ft) dives over the past two years. That will be the topic of future column. I'm referring to the ecological philosophy developed by the Danish thinker Arne Naess in the 1970's known as "Deep Ecology." The core of Naess ' philosophy was that all species, and the ecosystems they belong to, have a fundamental right to exist. He felt that much of traditional ecological study, and wildlife or fisheries management, determined the "value" of other species based strictly on their use to humans. This led to our thinking of other species as "resources" to be harvested. Traditional scientific ecology did not address such ethical questions, but merely applied a logical method to the study of ecosystems.

Around 10 years ago, as Vice President of the Catalina Conservancy, I helped organize the community forums to inform island residents about our educational and ecological programs. During the first one on feral animal removal, I raised the issue of killing other species. I asked who among us had not placed a lower value on another species and decided it was okay to kill it. Killing of pigs, goats, flies, ants, mosquitoes, yellow jackets or wildland and garden "weeds" involves making personal decisions on the value of other species.

Many who had no trouble killing an insect or a weed, took issue with the killing of a pig or a goat. In both cases a decision had been made about value... the insect or weed could be killed because it had negative "value" to a human, and an introduced animal could be killed because it had "negative value" to the native species in Catalina's ecosystems. Note the subtle difference. In the first case an organism was killed because it was harmful to us, in the other case because it was harmful to the integrity of the native ecosystems. That is a major difference in the criteria used to "value" the "pest." The first is anthropocentric or human-centered, the second looks at the rights of the native species and their ecological systems.

Ideally all species should be valued, all life considered sacred. We have learned through ecological studies that all species in an ecosystem are interdependent. Some ecologists, perhaps due to the scientific principle of "objectivity," look at this from the perspective of logic rather than ethics. Others develop the perspective that many environmentalists possess: we are part of these interconnected systems, but we have no higher right to survive than any other species. Of course I am a member of the human species (at least some think so) and it is hard to dissociate myself from that perspective! I've murdered untold numbers of ants simply because they've invaded my kitchen in search of water or food during the dry season.

Some environmentalists have decried Biblical statements that humans are to have dominion over the other species on Earth, and that the Creator has provided them for our own uses. While I think this places too high a value on our species, and one that is very anthropocentric, I also recognize I am part of the "mutual eating society." My needs cannot be satisfied easily without killing other species to eat... whether they be beef cattle to provide my flank steak, the occasional lobster that finds its way to my dinner plate, or wheat and other seeds with which to make my favorite pan dulce at Vons. From a religious perspective, one can also look at the model proposed by Sir Francis of Assisi who felt all species were equal and did not believe humans were here to establish dominion over nature.

I have incorporated a degree of Deep Ecology into my personal philosophy, in part due to the writings of my favorite marine biologist, Ed "Doc" Ricketts of Steinbeck's Cannery Row fame. Although his work pre-dated Naess' definition, "Doc" did independently come up with many similar ideas. I think it is important that we recognize that nature has intrinsic value beyond its utilitarian value to us as food or "resources." My desire to establish marine protected areas is in part to ensure the protection of other species for their own inherent value, but also to help insure our harvesting of those species can be replenished. I'd hate to give up food for Lent! Besides, most organisms do the same thing we do... use other species for food.

So to sum up Deep Ecology, other species have a right to exist for their own value alone. This includes healthy ecosystems with their biodiversity intact. Human beings have no right to diminish this diversity except to meet our need for sufficient food and other needs. We need to maintain our use of other species at sustainable levels to ensure their viability... as well as ours! Current use of the natural ecosystems is excessive and disruptive, and is increasing exponentially as human populations continue to increase. Therefore, based on the principles of Deep Ecology, we need to control population growth and establish lifestyles that minimize our use of other species as "resources" and the destruction of habitat and intact ecosystems that reduces biodiversity. I'm sure many of my readers are now praying for good weather so I will get in a few dives this week and find some critters to write about in next week's column!

© 2008 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

Ants and mosquitoes protest for their rights!

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
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