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Nonfiction in Brief

February 26, 1989|ALEX RAKSIN

SIMPLE IN MEANS, RICH IN ENDS

Practicing Deep Ecology by Bill Devall (Peregrine Smith Books: $10.95)

While better known in Europe because of the activism of the Green Party, the "deep ecology" movement still stands at the periphery of environmental activism in America. As Humboldt State University sociology professor Bill Devall acknowledges, establishment environmental organizations are too preoccupied with preventing wildlife extinction, improving public health and "reconciling economic growth with some protection of scenery or public green spaces" to share deep ecology's focus on long-term environmental conservation and on developing a philosophy that "assigns value to all the living and nonliving entities and systems that make up our world."

Recent discoveries of serious damage to the biosphere, however, are bringing new urgency to deep ecology's call for man to live in greater harmony with other forms of biosphere life: In 1985, British scientists discovered that gradual ozone depletion had caused a "hole" to appear in the ozone layer over Antarctica each spring. In 1987, it was disclosed that ozone had been depleted by 2.3% over much of the U.S, adding 5% to the risk of skin cancer. And on Feb. 17, U.S. government scientists found "incredible" concentrations of man-made chemicals in the stratosphere near the North Pole capable of destroying the ozone at a rate of 1% a day.

Devall, unfortunately, doesn't mention these discoveries because he wants us to preserve nature's diversity simply out of our obligation to other living creatures. Devall also undermines his cause by arguing against institutional reforms, for "grand solutions usually create more problems." Instead, Devall suggests a kind of Buddhist inward retreat that will only alienate deep ecology activists at a time when they could be lobbying: "Practicing is simple. Practicing is just practicing. Nothing forced, nothing violent, just settling into our place." Many of Devall's principles are compelling, but it seems unlikely that his "simple" means will lead to "rich" ends.

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