Ideas and Action

A consistent principle that informs all of the activities undertaken by the Foundation for Deep Ecology is that the present eco-social crisis demands a response—that individuals who recognize the great unraveling of natural and human communities across the globe have a responsibility to act to stop it. Working to reverse the extinction crisis and build a more sane and sustainable culture requires both defensive and proactive strategies.

Founder Douglas Tompkins’s early conservation activism sprang from his love for wilderness and experience as a mountaineer. Climbing trips around the globe provided a disturbing view of how wild nature everywhere was under assault by human activity. His ecological worldview deepened during the 1970s and 1980s through a self-guided immersion in ecological literature including the writings of Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Naess, father of the deep ecology movement. “I suppose it was logical, given my love affair with mountaineering and adventuring in the wilderness,” Tompkins has written, “that the influences of Arne Naess, John Muir, David Ehrenfeld, Paul Shepard, Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold and many others put me so firmly on a 'deep' ecological path.”

By the late 1980s Tompkins saw how the consumer culture that he’d helped promote as a businessman was another destructive manifestation of an industrial growth economy toxic to nature. He decided to sell his stake in the fashion company Esprit that he’d cofounded, and to use his wealth to endow an environmental foundation with an activist orientation. Along with the writer and activist Jerry Mander, Tompkins created the Foundation for Deep Ecology in 1990. Since its inception, the foundation, whose name and ethos comes from the Deep Ecology Platform articulated by Arne Naess and George Sessions, has embodied the idea that strategic philanthropy can support innovative, biocentric activists tackling the root causes—not merely the symptoms—of ecological destruction.

Over the years the foundation's work has taken multiple forms—grantmaking, coalition and campaign development, operating an in-house book publishing program, and investing in the intellectual infrastructure of the conservation movement. This work has been accomplished with countless partners, but a common thread is a commitment to action—vigorous and uncompromising advocacy on behalf of wild nature.