An Ecological Civilisation

What is the “ecological civilisation” that we hear the Chinese government talk about? Has China got the answer for creating a society that will safeguard its environment and ensure that we have a planetary home? Can it actually make the change that’s needed?

Just the phrase is enough for the eyes of environmentalists to light up and ears to prick up. Even better when this term emerges from the lips of the powers that be in the new unstoppable state of China. We often secretly suspect that theirs is the system better able to respond to our challenges. We’re all quite weary of the Fox-dominated, Trump main-stage, Tea Party side- stage, CIA backstage, Clinton-Sanders Show that sometimes goes by the name of western democracy.

So what is this ecological civilisation?
Is this the emperors’ new clothes or a genuine commitment that may save the planet? Not that many people seem particularly interested in saving the planet – as long as they have their cars, houses and plasma TVs, they aren’t that bothered as to where they are situated. Why worry about environmental sustainability when social sustainability is plenty bad enough to occupy our thoughts and clearly more important!

Moving on from that diversion – does this mean that we can all relatively soon take a deep breath, put our feet up, and get on with whatever we really enjoy – planting flowers, reading books, doing the DIY or watching the plain old rugby?

Well this idea isn’t new as such. It was in fact the goal of the last PRC Premier, Hu Jintao. It’s in the constitution of the Communist Party of China and reflected in the 12th 5-year action plan. And now it’s safely embedded in the 13th 5-year action plan, “the Shi San Wu”. The environment is one of the 5 tenets of the plan.

President Xi Jinping - 13th 5 Year Action Plan: the You Tube Clip

President Xi Jinping – 13th 5 Year Action Plan: the You Tube Clip


You just need to turn to the Central Document no 12: To quote from the Steps Centre, as my Chinese isn’t too good either,:

“These mechanisms include potentially significant new ways to punish and reward officials, by abandoning “economic growth as the only criterion in government performance assessment” and establishing a “lifelong accountability system”, which would ensure for the first time that environmental violations will affect an official’s chances of promotion and environmental black marks will stay on the work record for the rest of his or her career.”

That’s pretty good going as it is. Whilst the Americans have been thinking about whether the founding fathers meant that all people could or should carry guns, the Chinese have been using their own 21st century minds to include what they think is right in their constitution. One step ahead for sure.

The Emperor’s New Clothes
Getting to the Emperor’s clothes issue, is this anything other than words? What’s happening on the action front? It looks as if the PRC has got a plan. It includes more renewable energy and nuclear, reducing energy intensive industry in China, and a series of targets for all sectors of the economy including those that the West would rather forget about, like aviation. Who would want to be the spoil support and suggest that a holiday in the Caribbean and a few city breaks over the year isn’t acceptable any longer?

To pull out a few bits and pieces. China now leads the EU on investment in low carbon power generation, it has 5 of the worlds top wind turbine companies, in the next 5 years it plans to double its wind capacity and treble it’s solar power. It’s more than a collection of projects but a strategy of sorts, as is evident from this E3G report

Change seems to be taking place:

China's changing emissions

China’s changing emissions

Taking the risks – being strategic
They seem to have the mettle required to make a change, willingness to take the short term pain. So many of those steel workers in Hebei province, who sadly are often affected by respiratory problems as a result of the polluted air, will now be out of a job. Fortunately, it is not so bad. The government is thinking about new skills and new jobs. And admittedly it’s not in everyone’s interest to produce buckets full of steel that no- one needs, filling one’s lungs with particulate matter, and then then having to spend your savings on doctors fees and holidays to give ones lungs a break.

We may all feel thankful for the communist party, but it’s not quite as easy as all that. Can you imagine trying to crank around a state owned enterprise with a lot of powerful people depending on it for jobs and related income? The same old same old vested interests operate here too.

Will it work?
There is hope. Renewable power has been increasing in China; carbon hasn’t increased in proportion to the growth of the economy. There seems to be better planning of transport and increased attention to buildings combined with a determination to stop deforestation.

A lot of questions remain unanswered as to the speed and depth of cutting carbon emissions in China, and whether the end result will be carbon emissions elsewhere. It’s unclear whether carbon prices and buildings standards will be high enough.

A new philosophy
On the philosophical side, we’re still some way away from a new way of thinking. There has been a small renaissance of Buddhist thinking here which may help with countervailing the impetus to have more and more. But on the whole, the dominant way of thinking remains materialistic. Though for many people in China there is still some way to go before they have decent homes and the comforts they are beginning to expect, so it may be that things will change once people have enough.

Confucianism appears to help. The respect for leaders and the high level of trust seems to allow for change rather than the backbiting stagnation of the USA.

So it looks as though China is going to play a major part in a new greener world order. It hasn’t yet quite developed the ideology needed to sustain a different approach. But it has got the political framework and a general technocratic leaning, possibly supported by Confucianism, that mean that it may well take the lead in achieving a new ecological civilisation. It’s a shame about the free speech issue – a genuine shame – maybe it will change. If it fails to take the lead things could be worse – perhaps we will be looking for another planet. Lets keep urging it on. In the meantime, that other show will continue – Trump or Clinton main stage, Tea Party side stage, and the unknown backstage.