Definitions of "Ecology"

Originally, "ecology" was just a branch of biology (studying ecosystems like a swamp, prairie, or forest). But now it is becoming, as well, a system of social and political thought which sees environmental destruction as only one more symptom (along with poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth and power) of our entire unhealthy modern worldview and belief system. This emerging field focuses on the goal of environmental sustainability, using the biological concepts of healthy ecosystems as metaphors for society as a whole. The primary idea in ecology is that healthy, stable (biological) ecosystems manifest interdependence, diversity, and responsiveness to feedback. The field of ecology has become the organizing principle in the effort to address these world problems because it contains both the problem and the "solution." Ecological collapse is an issue that no one can evade, and it is the direct result of our lifestyle, worldview, and assumptions. Ecology is an example of systems-thinking and is therefore becoming a metaphor for understanding social systems as well as the science of biological systems.

A distinction is sometimes made between environmentalism and ecology. In this sense, environmentalism is used to refer to a piecemeal approach to the problems: focusing on saving whales, then owls or redwoods. Ecology, however, is used to refer to a whole new world-view, including a new social theory and a new economic theory.

At times, particularly in Europe, ecology is referred to as one of the “new social movements”—of ecology, peace, and feminism. They all have shared ideas and value systems so that each is about more than their particular issue, for although they talk about their particular goals, the movements are primarily about larger concepts. Thomas Rochon in Mobilizing for Peace: The Antinuclear Movements in Western Europe, describes these "new social movements:"

new social movements are said to be important primarily because of their commitment to radically democratic political procedures based oninterpersonal solidarities that are fundamentally antithetical to large organizations and to political legitimacy based on appeals to material interests. Rejecting the present organization of authority and material production, new social movements are said to give primacy to issues of lifestyle and social relations. Harmony and complementarily are emphasized as the proper basis for relations between people, and between man and nature. The role of the new social movements is to substitute new habits of thought for the old. This may seem to be a great deal of individual and social change to expect from a political movement. It is. (p. 2 italics added).


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