Shallow or deep?  No, this does not refer to what end you like to get into at the swimming pool but instead refers to two forms of ecologism. What is ecologism, I hear you ask; well, carry on reading, and you will learn about these types, as well as the meaning of ecology, its characteristics, purpose, and principles.

Ecologism Ecologism

Create learning materials about Ecologism with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    Ecology meaning

    Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and their environments, the first law of ecology is that everything is related to each other. Whilst in the western world, ecology was once solely considered a branch of biology that studies the relationship between organisms and their environment, since the mid-20th century, it has developed into a political ideology in the form of Ecologism.

    Ecologism is a political ideology which focuses on the partnership between humans and nature. It argues that we must take action as the current consumption and economic growth rates are unsustainable.

    Our planet is currently under severe threat. These environmental threats include climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation and waste. At the current rate of destruction, there is a chance that the earth will soon be unable to sustain life on the planet. This threat to the earth has placed ecologism at the forefront of 21st-century politics.

    An issue with ecologism as a political ideology is that there is frequently an erasure of the fact that non-western religions and cultures have had historic care for the world and therefore should be consulted when thinking of ecologism. It is important to not position westerners as the only possible saviours of the environment, as this eradicates the centuries of expertise and knowledge that non-western cultures have established in relation to the environment.

    Ecologism purpose

    The purpose of ecologism is to shed let on the relationship between humans and the environment and encourage moral considerations for the environment in various fields ranging from politics to economics. Much of ecologism advocates for a fundamental transformation in how the environment is understood, as it believes that just reform is not enough.

    Ecologism The beauty of the natural world StudySmarterFig. 1 The beauty of the natural world

    Principles of Ecologism

    There are several defining principles in ecologism. These are ecology, holism, environmental ethics, and environmental consciousness.


    Ecology is a term that German Zoologist Ernst Haeckel coined in 1866. Human beings have often been placed as the masters of nature due to their increasing civilisation, evolution and position at the top of the food chain. Ecology challenges this idea and sees humans as just one link in a long, interconnected chain. It argues that by believing they are the masters of nature, humans have actually upset the balance of nature due to their inconsiderate actions.

    Despite his importance in the field of Ecology, Ernst Haeckel was a notorious racist and eugenicist, and some of his research was even used as Nazi propaganda.

    Ecology views the world as a network of complex and overlapping ecosystems. These ecosystems are natural and strive to achieve harmony through self-regulation; however, ecosystems are not always closed and therefore react with each other. All ecosystems are part of a larger network that constitutes the global system.


    As a result of the advancement of science and technology, the environment has been viewed through a mechanical lens where each part has been taken apart and examined. This view argues that science views the natural world like a machine in which its parts can be repaired, tested and altered through scientific methods.

    Holism rejects this mechanistic view of the natural world and instead seeks to view the world as a whole. This means an emphasis on the interdependence of different parts of the world and a belief that we can't understand the different parts of the world unless we look at the big picture.

    Environmental ethics of ecologism

    Environmental ethics advocates for a non-human-centred approach to morality and ethics. Environmental ethics extends problems of morality to future generations of people, other animals, and the material world around us, instead of concentrating on what is good and evil or right and wrong in terms of human beings which is typical of ethics.

    Ecologism Person holding up a sign that reads eco not ego StudySmarterFig. 2 Promotion of ecocentrism

    Environmental Consciousness in ecologism

    Environmental consciousness is a state in which one is attuned to, aware of and concerned with the world, including nature. There is a need to adjust what it means to be environmentally conscious, particularly within the western world. Western environmental consciousness has often taken an anthropocentric approach instead of an ecocentric one. This idea is typical of deep ecology, which also believes that if we were to achieve environmental consciousness, there wouldn't be a need for environmental ethics.

    Anthropocentrism refers to the idea that humans are the central or most important element of existence, especially as opposed to animals.

    Ecocentric refers to the idea that all living and non-living beings are of equal importance.

    Ecologism characteristics

    Some of the main characteristics of ecologism include post-materialism, sustainability, and anti-consumerism.

    Post-materialism in ecologism

    Post-materialism refers to the rejection of materialism. Human beings need to restructure their entire way of thinking, which has consistently perpetuated the belief that the acquisition of material goods makes humans better and happier. This way of thinking is incompatible with ecologism, a fundamental restructuring of the way in which human beings view material consumption must occur according to Ecologists.

    Sustainability in ecologism

    Sustainability encourages human beings to live within their environmental means. The earth was previously viewed as having the resources for an unlimited amount of consumption as science and technology have continually found solutions to issues. However, the principle of sustainability rejects the idea of unlimited resources and calls for the recognition that the earth is a closed ecosystem. Sustainability sets limits on the consumption of non-renewable resources and aims to reduce damage to the environment.

    Anti-consumerism is an important component of sustainability, in order to encourage sustainability individuals must tackle consumerism which is a phenomenon that has continued to grow over time. Anti-consumerism encourages the re-use of goods and opposes the actions of businesses that encourage consumerism at the detriment of the environment for the purpose of financial gain.

    Forms of Ecologism

    Now that we have agreed that the study of the environment is important, the question remains how best to approach our relationship with it. It seems even ecologists can't decide on the best approach either and therefore and a number of forms of ecologism exist. The three main types are deep ecology, shallow ecology, and social ecology.

    Deep ecology

    Deep ecology is a school of ecology that advocates for fundamentally altering how people and nature interact. According to deep ecology, humans and nature are equally valuable. Nature must not be seen in regards to its use to human beings, in fact, it is the duty of humans to aid in sustaining nature and not the reverse.

    Society must restructure itself to reflect this. Deep ecology is anti-growth, ecocentric, ecologically conscious, and supports the idea of holism. Deep ecology encourages population control alongside living economies and living democracies.

    Shallow Ecology

    Shallow ecology, also known as Modernist or Reformist Ecology, is an attempt to balance anthropocentrism and nature. This results in the idea of 'enlightened anthropocentrism'.

    The key principles of shallow ecology are weak sustainability, limits to growth and intergenerational equity.

    • Weak sustainability is the idea that we can develop a more environmentally friendly capitalism rather than fundamentally changing the economic system.

    • The acknowledgement that there are limits to our growth due to limited resources.

    • Intergenerational equity which argues that we have an obligation to preserve nature for future generations.

    Those who follow shallow ecology usually promote the most common policy approaches; green capitalism, managerialism, and technological solutions.

    Green capitalism is the idea that a free-market economy is the best way, or at least a viable option, to solve environmental issues.

    Managerialism is the idea that governments and international organisations will be able to use regulations to target environmental issues.

    Social Ecology

    According to social ecology, today's climate crisis and the environment's continued degradation are the results of unfair hierarchical structures and relationships. As an essential feature of social ecology is its provision of a framework for understanding how human actions and behaviours affect the environment. Social ecologists examine relationships between people and their environment in order to suggest alternative ways to create a sustainable society. It is the principal aim of social ecology to create a society in which humans live in harmony with nature.

    Usually, social ecology ideas involve radical transformation as deep ecology does, but it also includes radical social change, in order to break down these hierarchical systems of oppression. There are several different forms of social ecology. These include Ecosocialism, Eco Anarchism, and Ecofeminism.

    Key Thinkers in Ecologism

    Many scholars have contributed to the field of ecologism. Some of the most important key thinkers include Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, E. F. Schumacher, Murray Bookchin, and Carolyn Merchant.

    Aldo Leopold, 1887-1948

    Aldo Leopold played a critical role in the development and understanding of environmental ethics. Leopold promoted the need for wildlife conservation and protection and viewed conservation as the harmony between humans and land. He argued that conservation fails because it's still based on an economic system that doesn't value nature.

    Rachel Carson, 1907-1964

    Rachel Carson was a marine biologist from the US who wrote ‘The Silent Spring’. Carson’s work is credited with helping advance the environmental movement across the world and contributed to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. She particularly focused on pollution and the harmful impact of chemicals like DDT.

    Ecologism Portrait of Rachel Carson StudySmarterFig. 3 Portrait of Rachel Carson

    E.F. Schumacher, 1911-1977

    Ernst Friedrich Schumacher was best known for his proposals for human-scale, decentralized, and appropriate technologies. Schumacher published ‘A Guide for the Perplexed, in which he critiqued materialistic scientism. After his travels to Burma Schumacher established his idea of Buddhist economics. This form of economics sought to centre people and aimed to produce the most amount of well-being with the least possible amount of consumption.

    Murray Bookchin, 1921-2006

    Murray Bookchin was both an anarchist and an ecologist thinker. Bookchin coined the term 'social ecology' and looked at ideas of domination, which argued that destructive social structures need to be overturned. He combined anarchist ideals with ecologism to propose that ecological principles should be applied to the organisation of society. Bookchin was the founder of his own libertarian and socialist ideology called communalism.

    Carolyn Merchant, 1936 – present

    Carolyn Merchant was an early pioneer of Ecofeminism. She argues that the death of nature is intrinsically linked with gender oppression. She, therefore, argues for the overthrow of the Patriarchy and a new social structure which centres on nature as an equal partner with humans.

    it's important for your studies to be able to name a few thinkers and what their contributions to ecologism were if you want to score highly in your exam questions.

    Ecologism - Key takeaways

    • Ecologism is the study of living things and their environment and developed the political ideology of ecologism in the 20th century.
    • Ecologism argues that the mechanistic view of nature should be rejected and nature should be seen as a whole with many interconnected parts.
    • The key principles of ecologism are ecology, holism, environmental ethics and environmental consciousness.
    • The key characteristics of ecologism are post-materialism, sustainability, and anti-consumerism.
    • There are three main forms of ecologism; shallow ecology, deep ecology and social ecology.
    • The key thinkers of ecologism are Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, E. F. Schumacher, Murray Bookchin, and Carolyn Merchant.


    1. Fig. 1 Environmental engineers ( by Garysisto1( licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 ( on Wikimedia Commons.
    2. Fig. 2 ManifClimatBerne-28sept2019 ( by MHM55 ( licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 ( on Wikimedia Commons.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Ecologism

    What is ecology?

    Ecology is the study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment.

    What are the features of ecologism?

    The main features of ecologism are ecology, holism, environmental ethics, and environmental consciousness. 

    What is the difference between Ecologism and environmentalism?

    Ecologism is a political ideology that believes in the transformation of society, whereas environmentalism believes that dangers to the environment can be tackled within the existing political, economic, and cultural order.

    What are the main forms of ecologism?

    The main forms of ecologism are shallow ecology, deep ecology, and social ecology.

    What is ecologism in political theory?

    Ecologism is a political ideology which focuses on the partnership between humans and nature. It argues that we must take action as the current consumption and economic growth rates are unsustainable. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who coined the term ecology?

    Which of these is a key feature of deep ecology?

    What does holism seek to reject?


    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Ecologism Teachers

    • 11 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App