Since the purpose of this study is to explore ways in which a new philosophical Daoism can inform, inspire and assist both those already engaged in the environmental movement and especially those who see the situation as too hopeless to make such a commitment, we might best begin with an overview of environmentalism generally. It will not be our purpose here to provide a detailed history of environmentalism or to discuss its many modern expressions; we will assume our reader is not only well informed of the need for environmental concern, but also of many of its expressions. We will rather paint with a broad brush with a view to highlighting those pivotal areas of evolving emphases to which philosophical Daoism has, in our view, a significant contribution to make. As ideas, these are in reality relatively few and simple and are already widely espoused by many. Our intention is not so much to introduce new ideas as to provide those already entertained with a deeper philosophical rationale and a framework for their realization in practice. This latter is the hinge upon which any significant contribution by philosophical Daoism must turn. Earlier, we made brief mention of the need for a transformation in consciousness as a likely requirement for humanity to turn the tide on its own self-destructive trajectory. By this we do not mean some form of traditional or New Age religious practice with the promise of an “awakening”, but rather a much more prosaic, and to our thinking realistic, growing approximation of new and healthier perspectives.
Under the overarching rubric “Environmentalism” we will consider three broad expressions: Conservationism, Environmentalism, and Deep Ecology. This is convenient to our purposes, but it should be noted that the philosophies of each bleed over into those of the others and our representations of them will be an oversimplification. And while we see the first as progressively evolving toward the last, and take Deep Ecology as offering the best hope for the preservation of the environment, we recognize the value of each in its time. However, since the other two are still widely subscribed to within the larger movement, we will make the case for a shift toward the latter facilitated in part by the contributions of philosophical Daoism.