HSU Sociologist, Environmentalist Dies in Trinidad

Jul 01, 2009

Arcata - Bill Devall, Humboldt State University professor emeritus of sociology and a well-known environmental author writer and activist, died at his home in Trinidad on June 26, 2009.

A tenured professor in sociology, Devall taught HSU courses outside the confines of his discipline, including wilderness and forest issues and the effects of radioactive wastes.

Inspired by the works of Arne Naess and Gary Snyder, Devall’s first book, Deep Ecology, with George Sessions, introduced the philosophy and practice of deep ecology to the North American audience in 1985.Widely cited as the key reference text for the field, it remains in print. The San Francisco Chronicle called the book “subversive, but it’s the kind of subversion we can use.”

The book was designed to advance environmental thinking and action from the reformist impulse to a new ecological philosophy and practice. Devall argued that continuing environmental breakdown should be understood as a crisis of character and of culture, which he believed required a shift in outlook from the “destructive anthropocentric to the eco-centric.”

The philosophy hinged on what Devall termed “Earth wisdom – the dance of unity of plants, animals, humans and the earth.” His subsequent books, Simple in Means and Rich in Ends (1988) and Living Richly in an Age of Limits (1993), laid out how to put the idea into practice. Living Richly was written as a manifesto for America’s middle class of the time.

Devall’s last book, The Ecology of Wisdom, was published late in 2008.

An activist in conservation and environmental causes at both the local and national levels, Devall was a founding member of the North Coast Environmental Center in Arcata and involved in efforts to establish recycling and the protection of local beaches, forests and endangered species. Nationally, he championed protection of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. In 1990, he took part in Redwood Summer–blocking access to northern California forests and lumber production—which led to a national campaign to bear witness to the clear cutting of ancient trees. Funded by the Foundation of Deep Ecology, the national drive led to the Sierra Club’s publication of a pictorial book, Clear Cut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry (1995), which Devall edited.

Born in Kansas City, Devall earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, followed by graduate degrees at the University of Hawaii and the University of Oregon. He taught briefly at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and spent the rest of his teaching career at Humboldt State. His home in Trinidad became a congregation point for students, faculty and environmentalists participating in environmental campaigns and issues.