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Is Ecological Civilization the Path to Saving our Planet?

July 11, 2019

Almost everyone is aware of the reality of a rapidly changing climate… the damage it’s already done and the serious threat it carries for our future.  A strong majority also believes, based on lots and lots of solid science, that it is largely human-caused. (There is no good evidence not to believe this, despite the efforts of special interest propaganda and political lobbying.)

Where greater controversy comes is in how and how aggressively to fight climate change. Quickly pulled into the controversy is our idea of building “civilization”. Until recently, “development” (a sort of code word) of civilization has presumed more of the same use of resources, including non-renewable and polluting ones such as fossil fuels.

Of course, there are political moves toward shifting energy sources, particularly for lowering the release of carbon and the greenhouse gas, CO2. What is less visible are efforts underway to shift the broader systems of “civilization” toward sustainability, both short and long-term.

This involves a more thoughtful, planned integration of civilization with ecology… not sacrificing key benefits of development of economies and a better “standard of living” for those who particularly need it, but doing development in ecologically sustainable ways.

One of the leading organizations is the aptly-named Institute for Ecological Civilization or EvoCiv for short (found here). I have used their logo and website home screen graphics above, with permission.

EcoCiv is a natural outgrowth of the emphasis one aspect of progressive Christianity, Process theology, has maintained for decades on ecological issues.  This, and the broader agenda of Process as a movement of sorts, is an ecumenical and interfaith endeavor.  It also has sought collaboration with secular institutions and efforts.

One expression of this I experienced with a degree of awe about 4 years ago… a large conference called “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization”. This was held at the renowned set of Pomona Colleges, adjacent to the Claremont School of Theology (home of the Center for Process studies, etc.).  Some of the awe came from the sheer size and broad representation of the conference… over 1500 people, mostly academics and activists from all over the world, and representing a number of disciplines of science and the humanities, with a prominent presence of Chinese nationals – academics, activists, and even government officials.  I wrote about the conference here and here.

Let me briefly update my remarks in those previous posts about finding very few Evangelicals or people affiliated with Evangelical churches or institutions, such as the many small private colleges throughout the country: I’ve since discovered some active efforts among Evangelicals on climate and ecology issues, generally under terms such as “Creation Care” (existing previously to my belated discovery).  For example, the Lausanne Movement and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) have joined in broadening the Creation Care Task Force which was begun by the WEA in 2012.  The Creation Care page on the WEA website states this:

“After several years of fruitful collaboration the WEA Creation Care Task Force and Lausanne Creation Care joined together to co-lead one unifed creation care network called the Lausanne/WEA Creation Care Network (LWCCN).”

There are other organizational efforts sponsored by Evangelical denominations or non-profits, such as the Evangelical Environmental Network and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Similarly, Mainline denominations have various active organizations they sponsor internally or support ecumenically, in addition to EcoCiv, such as the Los Angeles County-based Pando Populus.  Also important are ecumenical efforts via various events, conversations and networks such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions and the World Council of Churches (and the less-resourced National Council of Churches).

Now… the short answer to my title question on ecological civilization: YES! 

And longer: If it is not “the” path to planetary survival, it is certainly a path we must go down! The world, like it or not, has become a highly interlinked, though massive “community”.  This is not just political “globalization”.

This level of community, and the ecological civilization we’re speaking of here, is something deeper, healthier, and more “for the common good” than what is generally meant by globalization (more a trade and international relations term). It also is not meant to imply “Western” civilization, under the implication that “developing” countries should be catching up to what has been developed mainly in Europe and North America… or emulating us overall, though perhaps with greater use of renewable energy sources.

Ecological civilization necessarily works for everyone, not just the elite or those particularly gifted or privileged by social location. For this reason, it will grow out of mechanisms, already designed and operating in certain locations – particularly towns and cities of moderate size – which use informed “citizen cabinets” and deliberative processes to find creative solutions. These are applied at a given level from hyper-local to national and even international.  (It’s certainly a long way from current USA state political processes – with possible exception of Alaska – and USA national politics. But this does not mean it is unreachable! There are serious and viable efforts underway.)

The final point I’ll add here is that people, particularly those pursuing or teaching in higher education, should be aware that an academic discipline (or “sub-discipline”) exists dealing with ecological civilization specifically.  The EcoCiv site describes this briefly here.  This well organized and relatively short article I highly recommend reading. It is in everyday language, so one need not have pertinent academic background.

One of the reasons I celebrate the development of this kind of academic research and application is that it is highly interdisciplinary.  By its nature and vision/goals, it requires integration of areas of study generally kept in separate silos, rarely communicating or seeking out cooperation.  It also serves as a key bridge, on various levels, between the discoveries of research and those who can apply the research, whether in business, governance, religious practices and communities, or wherever.

What can you add from your own related involvements, or knowledge that I, or my readers here, should know about? What inspiration might you offer? Your comments are desired!

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