Section V: Ecological Civilization

Track 6: (Bilingual) Birth-pangs of Ecological Civilization
Barbara Muraca and Fubin Yang, chairs


The world as a whole is still dominated by people for whom the sustainability of wealth and power are more important that the sustainability of food and water. Still people are recognizing the need for radical change and creating movements to implement this change. This track will consider how what this conference calls for can build on what is already happening.

This section addresses the challenge of an Ecological Civilization worldwide with a specific focus on perspectives and ways out of the current crisis. It offers a platform for discussing different worldviews, approaches, and models for a sustainable development around the world and their role for the Chinese debate on an Ecological Civilization: what commonalities can be useful for a worldwide alliance towards an ecological civilization? What can we learn from each other?

The final session is dedicated to a group discussion about possible paths for transformation and the role of social actors, institutions, and politics.


Track Sessions:

  1. Introduction

Sustainability, Ecological Civilization, Biocivilization, Socio-ecological Transformation, Postgrowth & Co. Is this a common background for a global alliance towards an ecological civilization? How can we join efforts worldwide for an ecological civilization that requires individual, collective, and institutional transformation? What is the contribution of Process Thought and Whitehead’s philosophy to sustainability and ecological civilization?


  1. Session one: Friday June 5, 2:00pm – 3:30 pm

Presentation: Prof. Barbara Muraca (Oregon State University)

Giving voice to different perspectives on an ecological civilization

  1. Session Two: Friday June 4:00pm – 5:30 pm

Presentation: Prof. Arran Gare (Swinburne University, Australia)

Ecological Civilization and Process Philosophy

  1. Framing new civilization patterns and paths for transformation

In the following sessions we will explore different ways of understanding civilization and development from different countries and traditions in the world. We will have a joint session with the Track on Indigenous Wisdom, then address the idea of Biocivilization and Buen Vivir from the Central and Latin American experience and struggles of indigenous people. Finally, we will have an introduction to the Chinese understanding of Ecological Civilization and the new model of green development in China.

  1. Session Three: Saturday June 11:00am – 12:30 pm

Join Session with Session VII, Track 6: Re-thinking Indigeneity towards an Ecological Civilization

Presentation: Prof. Jeannette Armstrong (Canada Research Chair in Okanagan Indigenous Knowledge and Philosophy)

Indigeneity as an Alternative: A Move Toward an Ecological Civilization


Presentation: Jaki Daniels (Natural Healing Arts Practitioner in Calgary, Canada)

Becoming Indigenous: Moving from a Western to Relational Worldview


  1. Session four: Saturday June 6, 2:00pm – 3:30 pm

Presentation: Prof. David Barkin (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in México City)

Biocivilization and Buen Vivir: an indigenous path towards an ecological civilization.


  1. Session five: Saturday June 6, 4:00pm – 5:30 pm


Prof. Weilie Jia

Ecological Civilization: The Chinese Experience


  1. Session six: Sunday June 7, 11:00am – 12:30 pm

Presentation: Prof. Joachim Spangenberg (SERI and UFZ (Environment Research Center), Germany)

Beyond Circular Economy and Environmental Modernisation – Towards Social and Ecological Transitions


  1. Session seven: Sunday June, 2:00pm – 3:30pm

Presentation: Prof. Ute Stoltenberg (Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany – associated with the Unesco-Chair for sustainability education)

Envisioning alternative futures – learning and transformation for an ecological civilization 

Response: Lourdes Brazil Santos (UFF/Gênesis/FABAT)

  1. Session eight: Sunday June 7, 4:00pm – 5:30pm

Presentation: Haying Lin

Countermovement of China’s Economic Growth: Social Demarcation and Self-Protection in Response to Intractable Social Problems


Final Discussion


Topics for discussion:

  • Ecological Civilization (debate in China – history, background & perspectives)
  • Envisioning a path for a Social and Ecological Transformation of Society (debate in Europe)
  • Economic Democracy/ Green New Deal (worldwide debate on alternative growth paths. Workers Unions)
  • Buen Vivir/ Socialism of the XXI century (Debate in Latin American Countries, focus on the struggles of Indigenous people for a different understanding of common living, development, and the role of the economy)
  • Biocivilization (the term has been coined by the People‘s Summit at Rio + 20 as an alternative to the mainstream concept of a Green Economy)
  • Circular economy as a chance for a sustainable development
  • How does Process Thought and Whitehead philosophy offer a path for an Ecological Civilization?
  • Case studies and success stories: what can we learn for an ecological Civilization?
  • Learning as process of societal transformation
  • Developing skills and competences for an ecological civilization: what knowledge? What learning?
  • Role of institutions and social actors for an ecological civilization
  • The role of worldviews for the transition to an ecological civilization
  • Human-nature relations and the role of cultural and environmental heritage
  • Different models and approaches in the world – how do they overlap with the Chinese path?
  • What can we learn from other experiences and worldviews?
  • Inhabiting the Land/ Future of the Land


Bios of presenters:


Prof. Jia Weilie

Jia Weilie is the vice president and researcher of Beijing Academy of Eco-Civilization/ Beijing Eco-Civilization Club. He successively worked at the State Economic Restructuring Committee/Economic Restructuring Office of the State Council, Ministry of Finance, State Environmental Protection Administration/ Environmental Protection Department and other relevant departments. He is in research related to economic development strategies, environmental economics, regional economics and ecological civilization studies. He previously served as a key discussion leader for China’s philosophy and social science key project “The Ninth Five-Year Plan- The Basis for Information Propagation of Ecological Civilization and Eco-Theories.” He is the author of various prominent works, including An Outlook on Ecological Civilization, Toward an Ecological Civilization, Basics of Ecological Civilization, Ecological Civilization Concepts and Modes.


Prof. Barbara Muraca

Assistant Professor of Environmental and Social Philosophy at Oregon State Unviersity, Oregon. Her main research areas include sustainability theory, degrowth, political ecology, and social justice. She studied philosophy in Turin, Italy, and Greifswald, Germany and completed her Ph.D. in Philosophy with a dissertation on the philosophical foundations of Strong Sustainability. She has published several articles in international journals and books on sustainability, degrowth, and environmental philosophy.

Her favorite quote about what philosophy is from Alfred North Whitehead’s book Modes of Thought: “Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains”. Whitehead’s philosophy is an important guide to her work both in research and in teaching. She worked for many years on sustainability theory, environmental and social philosophy, and feminist philosophy. Currently, her research focuses more specifically on the philosophical foundations of political ecology and on global environmental justice.

Her current project explores the role of concrete utopias and social experiments for a social ecological transformation, by focussing on the Southern European ‘Degrowth’ movement and discourse


Prof. Ute Stoltenberg

Senior Professor for Sustainability Science and Professor emeritus of Education for Sustainable Development at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany. Associated with the UNESCO-chair for sustainability education. She has directed several international projects on sustainable education and environmental communication and worked with stakeholders involved in Local Agenda 21 Processes, and especially with schools and educational institutions.


Prof. Dr. Haiying Lin

Haiying Lin (PhD, George Mason University) is an assistant professor of public policy and corporate sustainability at the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo.

Prof. Lin teaches courses on strategic management for sustainable business and international corporate responsibility and is the principle investigator of a Social Science and Humanities Research Council grant in Canada entitled “Cross-sector Solutions to Environmental Issues” (2012-2017). Her research centers on cross-sector partnerships, strategic alliances for sustainability, corporate environmental strategy, voluntary environmental programs, stakeholder involvement in environmental governance, and global corporate sustainability. Dr. Lin can be reached


Prof. Joachim H. Spangenberg

With a PhD in economics, but an academic background in natural sciences (MSc in biology, post-graduate in ecology) Joachim is an interdisciplinary researcher by education and dedication. He works professionally as a macro economist for the Sustainable Europe Research Institute SERI Germany and the Helmholtz Centre for Environment Research UFZ on ecosystem services and their valuation, sustainable development strategies, ethics and indicators, environmental conflicts and on sustainable consumption and economic growth. His current projects are located in Vietnam, the Philippines and Europe, past project locations include South Africa, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan and China. Before joining the UFZ he worked for SERI Vienna, the Wuppertal Institute, and the Institute for European Environment Policy.

Joachim’s work is not only interdisciplinary, but transdisciplinary. His past voluntary activities included working with the IPCC (at ar 4), membership in the EU Economists’ Expert Group on Resource Efficiency (until 2014) and the OECD Task Force on Green Growth and Sustainable Development (until 2014), but also the chairmanship of Friends of the Earth Europe. Currently he is member of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management, Steering Committee member of the Ecosystem Services Partnership ESP, board member of the International Sustainable Development Society ISDRS, and chairman of the Economic Policy Commission of Friends of the Earth Germany.


Prof. Arran Gare

Arran Gare is Reader in Philosophy and Cultural Inquiry, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia and founder of the Joseph Needham Centre for Complex Processes Research. The focus of his research is on transforming culture to create an ecologically sustainable global civilization. He has published widely on environmental philosophy, the history of ideas, process metaphysics, the metaphysical foundations of the sciences, complexity theory, human ecology, the emergent theory of mind, social and cultural theory, Chinese philosophy, ethics and political philosophy. He is the author of a number of books, including Postmodernism and the Environmental Crisis (London: Routledge, 1995) and Nihilism Inc.: Environmental Destruction and the Metaphysics of Sustainability (Sydney: Eco-Logical Press, 1996). In 2005 he founded Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, of which he is an editor.


Lourdes Brazil Santos

She began participating in  projects the education for sustainability at the end of the 80s. She worked with group of women and black people. The complexity of environmental issues and a desire to participate more actively, took her to the master’s and doctorate.

Both were in the area of Social Ecology. From then focused its activities on children living in segregated urban areas, it has developed a methodology specific to work with them.

In 2005 she organized a center of Environmental Education Center that develops projects for schools, religious institutions and companies.

One of the most important projects is entitled Building Paths to Sustainability, awarded in Brazil and abroad.

In addition to the work with children, conducts research in the area of town and sustainability.


David Barkin

David Barkin, doctor in economics from Yale University (1966 ), is Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Xochimilco Campus, Mexico City where he has been since 1975. In 1974 he was a founding member of the Ecodevelopment Center, created by the Mexican Science and Technology Council as an independent research organization. He was a recipient of the National Prize in Political Economy in 1979 for his analysis of inflation in Mexico. He was elected to the Mexican Academy of Sciences in 1992 and is an emeritus member of the National Research Council.

He has published numerous books on problems related to Mexican economic development, food systems analysis and sustainable development. His doctoral dissertation was an analysis of the strategy of river basin development to promote regional economies, and since then he has continued working on problems of watershed management as a tool for socio-economic analysis. His most recent books, Mexican Innoations in Water Management. (México: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, 2001) and Urban Water Management in Mexico (México: Universidad de Guadalajara, 2006) are widely read among students of public services and those more specifically interested in water management issues. Another of his books, Wealth, Poverty and Sustainable Development, a bilingual essay that was distributed by in the USA, enjoyed wide circulation throughout the hemisphere; it is now available for downloading free in Spanish and English.

During recent years he has directed doctoral students in work with groups of communities in many parts of Mexico to examine projects designed to promote sustainable regional resource management. These projects are designed to promote local capacities for self-government and ecosystem management, as well as consolidating their ability to increase local production of basic necessities good for self-sufficiency while diversifying the productive base to generate new sources of income and employment. Among the areas in which these projects have functioned are: ecotourism, productive development of natural protected areas, forest rehabilitation, conservation and development, and waste water treatment plants for peri-urban communities. In each of these instances, the work is designed to generate new productive opportunities for communities; in the case of the last project, the objective is to develop an approach to environmental management that will make it financially attractive for communities to build aste water treatment facilities by generating new lines of production that can take advantage of the processed effluent.


Abstracts of the presentations:


Prof. Barbara Muraca (Oregon State University)

Giving voice to different perspectives on an ecological civilization

Civilization has many names and moves along different paths. The idea of progress as a linear path of development based on the depletion of non renewable resources, the overexploitation of the land, and the oppression of people considered as ‘underdeveloped’ has been challenged by many scholars, activists, and citizens all over the world. The idea of an Ecological Civilization can become a platform for different traditions, initiatives, and efforts towards a radical social-ecological transformation of society. Ecological Civilization is rooted in and points towards a different understanding of the relation between societies and nature and among human beings.


Prof. Joachim Spangenberg (SERI, Germany)

Beyond Circular Economy and Environmental Modernisation – Towards Social and Ecological Transitions

Closing loops can reduce resource demand and waste generation; it is an important element of Green Growth strategies and leans mainly on technical progress, only marginally on changing behavioural patterns.

  1. A truly circular economy is physically impossible. Today 45% of flows are energy carriers (thus a circular economy must be fossil-free), the infrastructure stocks are still growing even in Europe, physical transformations consume energy, chemical transformations are never exhaustive, recycling requires resources as physic-chemical processes are not reversible (following a hysteresis curve), miniaturisation and nanotechnology can save material but makes recycling virtually impossible, bioeconomy is no way out, metal contents of mining operation decreases and thus overburden per ton of metal increases, and entropy increases all the time.
  2. Physically slimming the economy is mandatory, in the EU (with stagnant flows since the 1970s) as in China (with CO2 emissions/cap higher than in Europe), and even more so in the USA. A dematerialisation is needed; suggestions range from a factor 5 (von Weizsäcker) via a factor 10 (Schmidt-Bleek) to a factor 20 (WBCSD). This will require more than technical efficiency improvements and closing loops (although both are important), namely a change of paradigms, from growth mania to socially sustainable degrowth, from resource squandering to resource use capping, from production efficiency to satisfaction efficiency, from permanent household consumption growth to sufficiency (core fields: construction & housing, transport & mobility, nutrition).
  3. This implies re-writing the market rules, not necessarily abolishing them. However, they have to by socially contained and complemented by other allocation mechanisms. Which goods are market goods, merit goods, common pool or public goods is a political decision a society has to take.
  4. However, while a market based economy based on private property and competition (vulgo: capitalism) could still be flourishing under these constraints, degrowth causes severe distributional problems, and challenges the legitimacy of institutions built on an illusion or false promise of a better life in the future. So besides a solution to social problems, we need to substitute the idea of a good life for the one of a better life (good is better than better).
  5. In every year, the wealth produced is distributed between the labour force, the company owners and the state. Although there can be overlaps, when the total is shrinking, growth in one section (e.g. higher salaries) can only be realised at the expense of the others. In Europe, this would imply shrinking incomes due to shorter working hours to employ those becoming redundant through growing labour productivity, and thus shrinking consumption (defined as purchases of consumer goods).
  6. Redistribution is necessary, but not sufficient even if successful (there are not that many super rich persons); consumption must be redefined from buying consumer goods to enjoying services (durable but more expensive products are cheaper per service delivered – a challenge to design for sustainability to optimise use and satisfaction efficiency, beyond production and distribution efficiency.
  7. For many goods, like cars, private ownership is the most inefficient way of providing services: access, not ownership is key, stocks of wealth are less important for a good life than the access to flows of services. Given the limitations from degrowth, substituting access to services for ownership becomes a condition for maintaining the standard of living. Service providers can be public authorities, individuals, community firms, etc.
  8. With sharing, repairing, stigmatising excess consumption etc. the civilisation changes, slowly. This “cultural revolution” will also have to include a changed relation between paid and unpaid work, and between gender. A value transformation is part of a socio-ecological transition. It may be painful, but less so than the ecological and social collapse we are otherwise confronted with.
  9. For all these steps there are already grassroot organisations, civil society groups, scientific initiatives, etc. promoting them, but a broader, unifying and generally accepted framework is missing, a joint compass and sense of direction with which initiatives never come together like small streams flowing together to result in a river breaking all mountains. We need such social movement, across continents, generations and societies, to change and save the world.


Prof. Jeannette Armstrong (Canada Research Chair in Okanagan Indigenous Knowledge and Philosophy)

Indigeneity as an Alternative: A Move Toward an Ecological Civilization

I will be presenting a perspective on the idea of Indigeneity. My life work has been to revitalize the Syilx Okanagan knowledge into contemporary practice. I was fortunate to have been born into a family that maintained the Syilx Okanagan traditions, including maintaining the Nsyilxcen language as a living, spoken language. My life work has been to revitalize cultural knowledge through recovery of the Nsyilxcen language-use in application in all aspects of the social lives of our communities. The Syilx language and knowledge documentation system provided a way to navigate contemporary decision-making faced by the Syilx communities regarding land and people. I will be presenting on the Syilx societies concept of egalitarianism which is first based in the concept that diversity is vital and necessary and therefore must be a central consideration in any decision-making process to subvert imbalances of power and privilege through soliciting a knowledgeable collaborative process of reasoning for decisions. My Ph.D. research, my life work and now my Canada Research Chair is focused on the Indigenous Syilx Philosophy regarding the idea of “Indigeneity” as a social paradigm which I propose as an alternative to the dominant globalization paradigm. I propose a philosophy of Indigeneity based in a set of principles which considers the health of the land and all its local inhabitants as an ecological way-of-being rather than the racialized or politically colonized and constructed idea of “Indigenousness”. I am interested, not only for the academic view, but in how humanity might be shifted from the dangerous and destructive view entrapping us all.


Jaki Daniels (Natural Healing Arts Practitioner in Calgary, Canada)

Becoming Indigenous: Moving from a Western to Relational Worldview

This presentation will focus on my evolving personal experiences with what Chris Daniels, PhD has termed ‘becoming indigenous’. As a Western born and educated ‘white’ woman, the past 17 years has seen a complete re-structuring of my worldview,

including the way I experience life, nature, relationships, and in particular, how I learn. One of the most striking features of this change is that I was not dissatisfied with my approach to life or looking to change it. However, due to a significant and unexpected experience with nature I was introduced to a different way to ‘be’. In this session I will be discussing the stark contrast between my previously held worldview and my current relational one. This contrast reveals where humankind has gotten off track and embraces a perspective that inherently considers ‘all our relations’. For the past decade I have been guiding others to live and experience in a similar way. I believe that if we re-engage with the earth and each other in the ways of our indigenous ancestors and current Indigenous peoples—personally and directly experiencing the interconnectedness of all life—we will come to know what will be best for all, not just for ourselves.


Presentation: Haying Lin

Countermovement of China’s Economic Growth: Social Demarcation and Self-Protection in Response to Intractable Social Problems

Using Chinese agricultural households as our research setting, we explore the limits to economic growth and unfold a social demarcation and self-protection movement in China as a response to intractable social and environmental problems. We build on the Polanyian concepts of embedding and the ‘double movement’ to explain the ongoing “self-protection” movement in China, where market failures and collective action dilemma incent agricultural households to seek self-governance and produce different type of food for self, friends, and strangers. They, as consumers, also leverage differential purchasing to gain access to organic food items for their sake of family health. We outline these households’ survival, communal (social), and economic rationalities, and explain how these varied rationalities inform their varied differential producing and purchasing  (self-protection) behaviors in response to food safety crisis. We examined the phenomenon using survey data from 312 households and semi-structured interview data from 19 households in Hunan province, China.  Our results demonstrate a social demarcation among the agricultural households. One social group shows stronger “survival” rationality—they tend to be better educated and show stronger concern of the food security risk; they may reverse the risk by conducting differential purchasing. One social group is more oriented towards “social rationality”, they have stronger values and responsibilities to protect families and communities, and have stronger communal relationships and kinships; their self-protection may focus on self-sufficient (autarky) and differential purchasing (especially when the household has kids under 2 year old). While there is another social group tends to anchor on “economic rationalities” and leverage differential production for self-protection—they tend to produce different types of food for self, friends, and strangers, and saving the safe items for self, families and friends. This study thus unpacks the nuanced of self-protection behaviors when confronting intractable social environmental problems. Such a social demarcation provides tension but also opportunities for communal-based development that help address complex social and environmental issues.