Bill Devall (2 December 1938 – 26 June 2009)

Bill Devall holding a seashellDeep ecology sociologist Bill Devall died at the age of 70 at his home in Trinidad, California. Originally from Kansas City, he received graduate degrees from the University of Hawaii and the University of Oregon, writing a thesis titled “What is the Governing of a Voluntary Organization: Oligarchy and Democracy in the Sierra Club.” He taught sociology at the University of Alberta for a time before joining the Sociology Department at Humbolt State University (California) in 1968 where he remained for the duration of his teaching career, teaching non-traditional sociology classes on topics such as forestry, radioactive waste, and wilderness. Inspired by the early work of Arne Naess and the poetry of Gary Snyder, Devall co-wrote the 1985 book Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered with George Sessions (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books) that became a classic text of deep ecology. Devall devoted his life to protecting nature in the classroom and in the socio-political realm. He was a founding member of the North Coast Environmental Center in Arcata, California and was locally active to protect the beaches, forests, and natural species of northern California. Active in efforts to protect old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, he participated in Redwood Summer 1990, a campaign funded by the Foundation of Deep Ecology and led by Earth First! to bear witness to and block logging access to old growth redwood forests in northern California. This led to Devall editing the pictorial book Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1995). For Devall, deep ecology united environmental philosophy and environmental practices. Devall’s and Sessions’ 1985 book Deep Ecology, along with Michael Tobias’ edited anthology Deep Ecology (Avant Books, 1983), presented deep ecology to a wider English-speaking audience. Devall and Sessions sought to redirect environmental thinking and action from a shallow, anthropocentric perspective to a deep, holistic, ecocentric perspective that reoriented and reclaimed the environmental movement from a humanistic, resource-conservation, reform position to grassroots actions inspired by deep ecology. Deep ecology was not something brand new but, rather, a reawakening of a very old Earth wisdom that would help us understand the current environmental crisis as crises of character and culture. Devall’s books Simple in Means, Rich in Ends: Practicing Deep Ecology (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1988) and Living Richly in an Age of Limits (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1993) were further elaborations on the philosophy and practices of deep ecology. With Alan Drengson, he co-edited The Ecology of Wisdom: Writings by Arne Naess (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2008). As a member of the Arcada Zen Group, Devall was a practicing Buddhist who linked Buddhist principles and practices to environmental thought and practices. His home in Trinidad, California was a congregation point for environmentalists, faculty, students, and other house guests participating in environmental campaigns and issues. There will be a memorial service in his honor at the Universal Unitarian Center in Bayside, California on 10 October 2009, and the online The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy will be doing a memorial issue in his honor in 2010. For more about Bill Devall, please visit his Facebook page.

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