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Evolution of an Ecological Civilization

POLLUTION CAUSING GREEN PAIN: Industrial development is posing a serious threat to the ecological environment

With the rapid economic and industrial development, human beings are faced with increasingly serious ecological
and environmental crises threatening the existence and survival of the human race. In the face of these crises, the industrial civilization mode that has prevailed globally for centuries is being questioned. Pan Yue, Vice Director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, shares his ideas on a new pattern of civilization—that is, ecological civilization. His main opinions follow:

Civilization is the result of human cultural development and also mankind’s achievement in both material and spiritual fields in the process of a changing world. It is a symbol of social progress.

So far, human civilization has undergone three phases: the primitive civilization, the agricultural civilization and the industrial civilization. The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain in the 18th century opened the era of modern life, which has endured for 300 years. The major part of civilization is man, who changes nature and reflects on what he has done. From this perspective, civilization can be further divided into three groups. The first is material civilization and spiritual civilization. The second is agricultural civilization and the industrial civilization. The third is that different regions can produce different kinds of civilization, such as the African civilization and the Indian civilization. These three groups can all exist simultaneously.

The industrial civilization that began 300 years ago is characterized by mankind’s efforts to conquer nature and the development of global industrialization has pushed the culture based on the conquest of nature to its limit. However, a series of global ecological crises show that the earth can no longer sustain development of this kind and a new pattern of civilization is required for the very existence of humanity—-that is the ecological civilization. Just as the agricultural civilization is called “yellow civilization” and the industrial civilization “black civilization”, the ecological civilization is called “green civilization”.

Only when man has changed the law of natural ecology and begun to influence nature can civilization come into being.

Ecological civilization is a kind of cultural ethics that aims at the harmonious coexistence between nature and man, society and man and man and man. This civilization targets a virtuous cycle, overall development and sustainable prosperity. Ecological civilization results from man’s reflection on the material civilization that has been guiding humanity for so long. As natural materials will eventually run out, material wealth is thus limited, which means we need to liberate ourselves from the endless pursuit of material wealth and regard spiritual and cultural life as a more important pursuit. If this civilization succeeds, fundamental changes will take place in the pattern of society.

First is the change in ethic values. According to Western traditional philosophy, mankind is the most valuable part of the world while nature and other forms of life are targets for our domination and therefore have no value. Therefore, morality is only designed for man and there is no need to act morally towards nature or any other forms of life. This is the philosophical basis for the concept of man ruling nature in the industrial civilization. The ecological civilization, however, believes that value exists in both man and nature; nature is also endowed with the power to take the initiative; and all forms of life depend on nature, including mankind. Therefore, man must respect life and nature, as the earth is home to both.

Second is the change in the mode of production and way of life. In the industrial civilization, from raw materials to castoffs, production is a non-cyclic process and people’s lifestyle adheres to the principle of materialism, characterized by high consumption. It is believed that more consumption means a greater contribution to economic development. The ecological civilization, however, aims to create an environmentally-friendly society that is based on the resource capacity, conforms to the law of nature and to the policies of sustainable social, economic and cultural development. People will then lead an energy-saving life characterized by moderate consumption, a demand for basic living standards and the pursuit of a cultural life.

As a new trend, it was thought that an ecological civilization would first appear in developed countries, as it is in those countries that ecological crises first occurred. Nevertheless, this expectation has failed to materialize. One reason is that Western countries are able to relieve themselves from ecological crises by depending on their strong technological and financial capacity. The other reason is that the strong inertia of Western industrial civilization will last for a long time and third is that the Western developed countries are transferring ecological problems to less developed regions. While the Western world is losing the opportunity to develop an ecological civilization, there is a possibility for China to realize a leap-forward in this regard.

Ecological civilization and China

The Chinese civilization failed to catch up with the pace of the industrial civilization, but its essence conforms to the internal requirement of an ecological civilization. Ecological ethics have always been an important part of traditional Chinese culture, which makes it possible for us to reflect on and transcend the material-oriented civilization that has been guiding humanity since the Renaissance in the 14th century.

In the Chinese history, every dynasty had ecological protection laws and regulations, not because the rulers realized the importance of doing so, but ecological conservation is an indispensable part of Chinese culture. Centering on Confucianism, over thousands of years, a systematic ecological code of ethics has taken shape in Chinese civilization.

China’s Confucian ecological culture emphasizes virtue, with “the integration of nature and man” as its essence. It values the “unification of nature and man”. Stressing the internal value of everything in the world, Confucianism suggests treating nature in a benevolent way.

The ecological wisdom in China’s Taoism is a kind of naturalistic wisdom, which proposes to improve oneself by respecting everything in the world. Taoism stresses that man should act in accordance with the laws of nature.

The ecological wisdom in Chinese Buddhism encourages people to disengage themselves from misery by caring for everything in the world. Based on the belief of kindness to all sentient beings, Buddhism puts “not killing” first in its Five Precepts. Here ecological ethics is included in the principle of compassion in the relationship between man and nature. People are encouraged to realize their own value by doing good things to others.

The essence of Chinese civilization is often thought of as “self-improvement” and “social-commitment”, which conforms to the internal requirement of an ecological civilization. This spirit provides the cultural basis for the solution of the ecological crisis, and will help us to transcend the industrial civilization and build up the ecological civilization. Some Western ecologists have proposed that Western ecological ethics should now turn to the oriental philosophy for help. In 1998, 75 Nobel Prize laureates made the conclusion in Paris that “if mankind hopes to survive in the 21st century, the wisdom of Confucianism that dates back 2,500 years must be revisited.”

That the essence of the Chinese culture begins to receive more attention implies the beginning of a more profound problem. While refraining from copying the principles in the traditional culture, we must at the same time value scientific rationality in the process of China’s modernization. It’s important to combine traditional culture with the ecological rationality, just like the combination of Western and Eastern civilizations.

Humanitarian spirit has a role to play in preventing the tendency of absolute trust in scientific rationality.

We live with Chinese culture, but our modernization drive is based on Western logic. However, it’s not a wise choice to copy the Western model of industrial modernization, especially in China, because that model will result in serious conflicts with the environment and resources in such a developing country as China. In this sense, it’s necessary to turn to the traditional Chinese culture for a correct guideline in our modernization and our cultural structure and to make the ecological wisdom in the Chinese civilization an important component of the ecological civilization.

Ecological civilization alone is not enough, so we need tangible practice—that is to promote the transformation of industrial civilization-based socialism to one based on the ecological civilization.

Ecological civilization and socialism?

The transformation of civilizations makes it necessary for the reforms in social, political and economic systems. The agricultural civilization promoted the emergence of feudalism, the industrial civilization, capitalism and the ecological civilization, the overall development of socialism.

While stressing the human-centered principles, socialist ecological civilization is opposed to the extreme and imbalanced emphasis on human beings or on ecology. The former has resulted in a serious survival crisis, while in accordance with the latter, human society must stop any activities that may change nature. In an ecological civilization, man possesses the central position, but he is not able to dominate nature. The overall development of mankind must be based on the overall development of nature. As for sustainable development and equality and justice, ecological civilization basically conforms to socialist principles.

An ecological civilization is a platform for the integration of different branches of socialist theories. Having transcended the industrial civilization, the ecological civilization represents a more advanced state of human civilization. Likewise, having transcending capitalism, socialism represents a more advanced ideal of social harmony. The internal consistency between ecological civilization and socialism makes it possible for the two patterns of civilization to be complementary and promote the development of each other. An ecological civilization helps the integration of different branches of socialist theories at a higher level and socialism is the system guarantee for an ecological civilization.

An ecological civilization is possible only with socialism. Capitalist developed countries can only achieve the harmony between man and nature in their own countries, and will never undertake the responsibility of environmental conservation all over the world.

A material civilization, political civilization and spiritual civilization are indispensable from an ecological civilization. Without good ecological conditions, it’s impossible for people to enjoy high-level material, political and spiritual life. Without ecological security, humanity will be reduced to an irreversible ecological crisis.

In response to the problems resulting from globalization—ecological problems for example—ecological socialism has provided new guides for the future development of society. Although the theory is yet to be proved, it will surely show that socialism is fundamental to dealing with global problems.

The deep-rooted traditional ecological harmony concept in Chinese culture is a solid philosophical foundation for the realization of an ecological civilization. Today, a series of new political concepts put forward by the Communist Party of China, like scientific development, the construction of a socialist harmonious society and an environmentally-friendly society, are complementary to such concepts as ecological socialism, sustainable development of the world and also China’s traditional culture. The integration of these concepts is expected to promote the ecological civilization in China, the great revitalization of the Chinese nation, the new trend of sustainable development around the world as well as the overall development of mankind and the harmony of human society.

In the cause of building up the ecological civilization, China has an important role to play.