Ecological Civilization is the emerging name of choice for the future to which we humans must now navigate. It evokes the epic nature of transformation in human thought and institutions required to align a global human society with a living Earth’s community of life.
In 2012, China officially adopted Ecological Civilization as its official national strategy and mandated its incorporation into “all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress.” China is a country of 1.3 billion people with a Communist government and the world’s 2nd largest capitalist economy. Experiencing the benefits and burdens of both capitalism and communism, it is uniquely positioned for leadership toward a new human framework that transcends both.
Parliament of the World’s Religious
Ecological Civilization has also been embraced by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which in 2015 issued a consensus Declaration on Climate Change that concluded with these words:
The future we embrace will be a new ecological civilization and a world of peace, justice and sustainability, with the flourishing of the diversity of life. We will build this future as one human family within the greater Earth community.
This statement clarifies the relationship Earth Community and Ecological Civilization. Earth Community refers to an interdependent self-organizing community self-organizing in concert with Earth’s geological structures and processes to create and maintain the conditions essential to their existence. Ecological Civilization refers to the human subsystem within a larger Earth Community. Coincidentally the two terms share the same acronym (EC), which can be used to refer to either or both.
The Earth Charter—the product of a broadly participatory global process begun at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit—was finalized and launched in 2000. As early as 2002, the Principles of the Earth Charter, were presented as the principles for an Ecological Civilization. In 2014, a gathering in China brought together Chinese officials, intellectuals, and activists working on both Earth Charter and Ecological Civilization initiatives to explore the intersection between and Ecological Civilization and the Earth Charter principles.
In 2015 an international conference held at Pomona College in Claremont California on the theme Seizing an Alternative — Toward an Ecological Civilization drew 1,500 leading thinkers, authors, academics, activists, theologians, philosophers, and scientists. Shortly thereafter, sponsors of the Claremont conference launched Toward Ecological Civilization (EcoCiv), a think and action tank dedicated to identifying “how social, political, and economic life needs to be organized if humanity is to achieve a sustainable, ecological society over the long-term.
The challenges of the transition are summed up in a paper by Chris Williams, “How will we get to an ecological civilization?” Williams concludes that:
It will not only be a question of constructing a new society, but deconstructing the old one. It is not enough to take over and reassemble the state,…; we will need to reassemble the whole world – every single aspect of humanity’s relationship with each other and the natural world. Just like the state, an infrastructure designed to dominate nature cannot simply be appropriated and used to good ends.
Ultimately, it is vital that fighters for social emancipation, human freedom and ecological sanity recognize that capitalism represents the annihilation of nature and a functioning and diverse biosphere and, thus, human civilization. A system based on cooperation, genuine bottom-up democracy, long-term planning and production for need, not profit,… represents the reconciliation of humanity with nature.
David Korten, “A Living Earth Economy for an Ecological Civilization.” Two versions are available on this site. The 2017 opening keynote presentation to the 20th annual International Week, hosted by the Global Education Program at the University of Alberta in Edmonton addresses implications for the academy and institutions of higher learning. An earlier version presented to the 2016 Donghu Forum on Global Governance in Wuhan China is addressed specifically to a Chinese audience and makes the case that among the world’s nations, China is positioned to take the global lead on advancing an Ecological Civilization.