Before the rise of city-based cultures, a much smaller population lived in a relatively sustainable way with other animals and the natural world. We have much to learn from this phase of human history. Today’s disastrous treatment of our natural environment expresses a profound alienation from it, one that is both intellectual and spiritual.
The new systems sciences offer compelling data on the consequences of human actions to the ecological systems on which we depend. These sciences unearth the real relations in the natural world, which exists as systems of systems of systems. Organisms continually evolve; complex natural systems self-organize; new kinds of agency emerge; actors and ecosystems are interdependent.
Decades of empirical studies reveal ecosystems to be tapestries in which all the threads are interwoven. Indeed, our fate hangs by a thread; to remove ourselves from the systems of life, and to destroy them, is to destroy ourselves as well. To “seize this alternative” is to call into question the reigning paradigm within which science today is being interpreted: anthropocentrism, binarism, and dualism. Not idealistic thinking but science itself challenges these old paradigms,
An ecological civilization would not need to give up every action that modifies nature, but it would learn to do so in ways that learn from nature and from its ability to create ecosystems that increase in complexity and richness over time. Of all the limitations of the modern worldview with which the natural sciences have so strongly allied themselves, the one with the most immediate relevance to our survival is excluding from scientific explanation of the distinctive characteristics of life. Without understanding the dynamics of living systems, how can one protect them?
Ecological civilization, as represented by the “Seizing an Alternative” movement, is a genuinely new field of study that involves bringing big ideas (philosophies and worldviews) to work in the world through concrete actions and policies. Because it is about civilizational change, the movement touches on all aspects of society. The intersections of theory and practice, global and local, environmental and social, scholarship and activism are among its central features.
Ecological civilization is more than sustainability, but it must be sustainable. It’s more than environmentalism, but it must involve living in harmony with nature. It’s more than a philosophy, but must involve a change in worldview. As a paradigm for living in harmony with one another and the planet, it emphasizes the inevitability of a comprehensive transformation (top to bottom, and all that’s in between) of human civilization.
That isn’t to suggest that modern civilization needs a fire sale, where everything must go. There are aspects of contemporary society that we can and should retain. Nevertheless, the ecological civilization movement is about moving toward a new reality—seizing an alternative. It’s a vision of hope for a better future.