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