Ecological civilization is the final goal of social and environmental reform within a given society. It implies that the changes required in response to global climate disruption and social injustices are so extensive as to represent another form of human civilization, one based on ecological principles. Broadly construed, ecological civilization involves a synthesis of economic, educational, political, agricultural, and other societal reforms toward sustainability.
Although the term was first coined in the 1980s, it did not see widespread use until 2007, when “ecological civilization” became an explicit goal of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In April 2014, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the International Ecological Safety Collaborative Organization founded a sub-committee on ecological civilization. Proponents of ecological civilization agree with Pope Francis who writes, "We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature." As such, ecological civilization emphasizes the need for major environmental and social reforms that are both long-term and systemic in orientation.
In 1984, former Soviet Union environment experts proposed the term “Ecological Culture” (экологической культуры) in an article entitled “Ways of Fostering Ecological Culture in Individuals under the Conditions of Mature Socialism" which was published in Scientific Communism, Moscow, vol. 2. A summary of this article was published in the Chinese newspaper the Guangming Daily, where the notion of ecological culture was translated into Chinese as 生态文明 (shēngtài wénmíng), or ecological civilization.
Two years later, the concept of ecological civilization was picked up in China, and was first used by Ye Qianji (1909–2017), an agricultural economist, in 1987. Professor Ye defined ecological civilization by drawing from the ecological sciences and environmental philosophy.
The first time the phrase “ecological civilization” was used as a technical term in an English-language book was in 1995. Roy Morrison, an environmentalist, coined the phrase in his book Ecological Democracy, writing that “An ecological civilization is based on diverse lifeways sustaining linked natural and social ecologies.”
The term is found more extensively in Chinese discussions beginning in 2007. In 2012, the Communist Party of China (CPC) included the goal of achieving an ecological civilization in its constitution, and it also featured in its five-year plan. In the Chinese context, the term generally presupposes the framework of a “constructive postmodernism,” as opposed to an extension of modernist practices or a “deconstructive postmodernism,” which stems from the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida.
Both “ecological civilization” and “constructive postmodernism” have been associated with the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. David Ray Griffin, a process philosopher and professor at Claremont School of Theology, first used the term “constructive postmodernism” in his 1989 book, Varieties of Postmodern Theology.
The largest international conference held on the theme “ecological civilization” (Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization) took place at Pomona College in June 2015, bringing together roughly 2,000 participants from around the world and featuring such leaders in the environmental movement as Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, John B. Cobb, Jr., Wes Jackson, and Sheri Liao.
Since 2015, the Chinese discussion of ecological civilization is increasingly associated with an “organic” form of Marxism. “Organic Marxism” was first used by Philip Clayton and Justin Heinzekehr in their 2014 book, Organic Marxism: An Alternative to Capitalism and Ecological Catastrophe. The book, which was translated into Chinese and published by the People’s Press in 2015, describes ecological civilization as an orienting goal for the global ecological movement.
A defence of ecological civilization as the ultimate goal of humanity, has been mounted by Arran Gare in The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization: A Manifesto for the Future,  which was published in 2016.
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- Cobb, Jr., John B.; Scwhartz, Wm. Andrew (2018). Putting Philosophy to Work: Toward an Ecological Civilization. Minnesota: Process Century Press. ISBN 978-1940447339.
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- "Spotlight: Organic Marxism, China's ecological civilization drive in spotlight at int'l conference", last modified May 1, 2016, Xinhua News Agency, accessed November 1, 2016. See Philip Clayton and Justin Heinzekehr, Organic Marxism: An Alternative to Capitalism and Ecological Catastrophe (Claremont: Process Century Press, 2014).
- Philip Clayton and Justin Heinzekehr, Organic Marxism: An Alternative to Capitalism and Ecological Catastrophe, trans. Xian Meng, Guifeng Yu, and Lixia Zhang (Beijing: The People's Press, 2015).