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What Does China's 'Ecological Civilization' Mean for Humanity's Future?


What Does China's 'Ecological Civilization' Mean for Humanity's Future?

Jeremy Lent

Imagine a newly elected President of the United States calling in his inaugural speech for an “ecological civilization” that ensures “harmony between human and nature.” Now imagine he goes on to declare that “we, as human beings, must respect nature, follow its ways, and protect it” and that his administration will “encourage simple, moderate, green, and low-carbon ways of life, and oppose extravagance and excessive consumption.” Dream on, you might say. Even in the more progressive Western European nations, it’s hard to find a political leader who would make such a stand.


China knew that economic development was largely going to throw the environment under the bus. It openly acknowledged that the burning of coal would be a menace first and foremost to its air quality and later to the climate. The deep appreciation for nature, is however well steeped in Chinese culture, as its traditional art so often reveals. Let’s hope that this ethic is revitalized.

(Forgive me if this is Japanese, who traditionally held essentially the same appreciation of nature.)


The US has had a strong environmental movement since the 1970s. The US has made great strides in dealing with environmental problems since that time. But there have been speed bumps and the election of Trump is one of them. There are also strong environmental movements in Europe. To a large extent what Xi seems to be doing is responding to all the anger in China over the severe air pollution problems in many of China’s cities. Also, China has severe water pollution problems. Xi’s main goal I think is to stay in power so he is responding to all the anger in response to pollution. The people can’t vote him out of office so the only way to get him out of office is to overthrow the government. The Communist Party in China wants to stay in power so Xi has to respond to the horrendous pollution problems that China is dealing with.


What is usually ignored by the West is that China is the only successful Marxist-Leninist state. The fall of the Berlin Wall may in the end prove far less significant than the massacre of Tianamen Square. The fact that many private corporations are flourishing in China, and that no other country can compete with its roaring economy, is not evidence that capitalism has triumphed since all corporations are under strict supervision of the state, and in fact many corporations are directly controlled by the state or by the armed forces. The acceptance of so much “capitalism” by the Chinese Communist Party is similar to Lenin’s short lived but successful New Economic Policy in which ultimate control remained with the state, and which was abolished when Stalin came to power. The current Marxist-Leninist state is and remains just as much of a dictatorship as Soviet Russia and the increasingly one man rule of Xi is as predictable as Stalin’s control of the USSR was. None of this is to say that the Chinese state may not be the planet’s best or only hope for leadership in the era of devastating climate change that is already upon us.

Personally, I find this prospect depressing because it means that democracy has failed its greatest test, and I certainly do not look forward to a world in which human survival is dependent upon the kind of Orwellian state the communist party has created in China.


George Monbiot was certainly impressed by Jeremy Lent’s new book, “The Patterning Instinct”.

And China’s leader is seeing reality - that is obvious.

A culture, any culture, is, if you think about it, a form of democracy.

I believe I will be getting this book asap.

Here is a quote of philosophy from my favorite mountaineer, Bill Tilman, quoted from his time behind enemy lines, WWII, Consiglio Forest, just SE of Belluno, Italy, while ensconced on a freezing cliff in winter as enemy troops searched for he and the partisans, now three days without food:

“We became halting disciples of Socrates, striving to accept the master’s dictum that ‘to want nothing is divine - to want as little as possible is the nearest approach to the divine.’

So eastern thinking and western, if we consider ancient Greece western, are not that far apart in the time of Socrates.

But Socrates was overthrown, shall we say, and devolved into the modern western world - an unsustainable cultural shift - hence the Balkans - hence now.


If China is objectively applying the risk management principles taught in business schools around the world, the only logical conclusion is that 21st century conditions dictate that taking the ecological path is has a lower risk of failure than the slash and burn model that a majority of nations have embraced through human history.

The US gubmit would come to the same conclusion that China has, if it was not owned by corporations making huge profits from slash and burn.


How is the Chinese economy Marxist or communist?


Fascinating article.

I suppose we have to wait to see what Jinping intends, but this can or could be done, depending on the will of those involved at high station. Hopefully, he’s not just making noise.

The way forward involves care for Earth, but also care for people, since deprived people ruin the earth around them. China has done this badly, in general, but that is far from unique, and very far from being an exclusively Chinese action, since it is in large part what remains of both military and economic imperialism. I do not mean by that to paint Chinese rulers as innocent, but responsibility distributes broadly, as usual.

On the other hand, the “circular economy” that Lent mentions here is more centrally a circular ecology of human processes, a central principle in any system that may regenerate itself. This is a major part of what adequate care of people would require.

China may do this because it is a practical measure, even when viewed through the warpings of “global chessboard”-style realpolitik. She has nothing to gain but subservience by following the Western example of military adventurism to lever transient gains.

Even were China to surpass the US in military technology, there’s no utility in blowing up the world twice. China needs a deterrent; it has one: done. The matter will need ongoing attention, but by sticking mostly to deterrent rather than trying to game all players at all levels, China may keep to the quicker course, with greater resources to resolve more authentic problems and to resolve them in more durable ways. Meanwhile, the shell games of Western banking and its underlying reliance on American explosives largely blow themselves to a thousand winds.

By providing an example of workable ecology, China can or could provide a workable way forward for the many nations of the world that might be happy to throw aside their current subserviences. Could nations arrive at such accord with so very authoritarian a nation? I don’t see why not. Nations and peoples have seen much of supposed Western non-authority, with its bribes and bogus loans, its threats and assassinations, its torture and mafia rings, and its repeated bombings, mostly of civilian populations. In whatever aspects China is not better, it is not because no opportunity for that exists.

In John Liu’s Lessons of the Loess Plateau we see something of the potential: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QUSIJ80n50


I don’t think the Chinese system of government would thrive in other countries as it does in China. China has a thousand years of continuous big government along with a strong ethic of orderly respect for government, and governmental responsibilities as laid out by one of their own, Confucius. To each, his own is their philosophy, too, as China does not seek to build other nations in its image.
The biggest problem I see is that the West has been going around breaking up countries into itty bitty pieces, which cannot negotiate easily against a giant.


China’s environmental concerns are much more like your circular economy. Environment is air for people to breathe, water for people to drink and fish in, and land for people to farm.
And you’re right, that is where we are in today’s populous world.


"But how can we break the death-grip of a global system built on continually feeding the growth frenzy of gigantic transnational corporations voraciously seeking a never-ending increase in profits to satisfy their shareholders? "

In tackling overpopulation, China began the process. It has had to deal with problems from sustaining an aging population to defense, competition and pollution. But it is heartening to know that it is leading in the right direction. One that promises to achieve harmony with nature despite the pressures from ignorance and superstition.


The Richard Smith essay this author links to is very good. Lengthy but well worth reading.

“…China’s economy is likely to continue leading the drive towards planetary ecological collapse. Short of nuclear war, China’s economic engine poses the greatest threat to life on Earth… Xi’s problem, like our problem, is that there’s just no way to grow an industrialised economy without growing resource consumption and pollution …When all is said and done, the irreducible fact is that, in the absence of some miracle deus ex machina, there’s just no way to radically suppress China’s CO2 emissions that’s compatible with continuing economic growth. Xi Jinping can create an ecological civilization or he can build a rich superpower. He can’t do both…”


I said that China is Marxist-Leninist, the system originated by Lenin and continued by Stalin. This was the model on which Mao based his state: party control of the entire economy, communal farming, and a police state. In the 1980s Gorbachev tried to introduce democracy to the Leninist system, but it was incompatible. The Chinese politburo, in contrast, suppressed the demand for democracy at Tienamen and moved toward a supervised kind of capitalism but never gave up ultimate control of the economy. It is the one state which could choose to move quickly toward a non-fossil fuel economy because all decision-making power is ultimately vested in the dictatorship. China remains the last truly totalitarian state and this is why I find the rationality of its leaders about climate change so frightening.


We are going to have to get over ourselves - thinking we have democracy and are not an authoritarian regime.

We are authoritarian, just a variant which we have disguised from day 1.

And everyone in power sees the environmental catastrophe unfolding, including The Pentagon and V. Putin.

Christianity and Islam at their cores are expansionist.

I can’t wait to read Jeremy Lent’s “The Patterning Instinct”.

I have read his Wiki bio - an interesting man indeed.

And David Korten’s “Change the Story Change the Future” I have read - a Club of Rome report in fact.

The first Club of Rome report I read was the MIT “Limits to Growth” back in '72.

Progress at the academic level is being made.

It needs now translation into the real world, and if Xi of China is to believed, then this is now underway.

Here is David Korten in his book cited above, Chapter 1 - its first ten lines:

“Choice-making beings of many possibilities, we humans live by shared cultural values. They are the lens through which we view reality. They shape what we most value as a society and the institutions by which we structure power. When we get our story wrong, we get our future wrong. We are in terminal crisis because we have our defining story badly wrong. Seduced by a fabricated Sacred Money and Markets story, we live in indentured service to money-seeking corporate robots and relate to Earth as if it were a dead rock for sale”

In my own life, I dumped the ‘Sacred Money/Sacred Markets’ story long long ago - and I have never looked back.


Maybe you should look up the definition of democracy before claiming the US is not a democracy


“There are none so blind as those who cannot see.”


And some see too much, namely conspiracy theorists.


And just where do you get off thinking you will educate me?


I don’t follow your last statement. Why is of that you find a country which discusses rational solutions to climate change more frightening than a country whose leaders do not accept climate change at all?


You found a definition that matches the US quite nicely. I’m ok with that. I just don’t see the holiness in democracy. Given the fact that it can legitimately or otherwise produce the likes of a Trump.
What about calling it an authoritarian, plutocratic or oligarchical democracy, where all of us get to vote, but then, so what?