The Socio-economic Context that Ecological Aesthetics Produces
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The necessity of the economy and society produced by ecological aesthetics must explain whether the form of human civilization should achieve a new transition from industrial civilization to ecological civilization.
The necessity of the economy and society produced by ecological aesthetics must explain whether the form of human civilization should achieve a new transition from industrial civilization to ecological civilization. This chapter first introduces two deeply and widely influential books, Silent Spring and The Limits of Growth, then it explores the problems of “disenchantment” and “Reenchantment,” and finally it gives concrete accounts of the arrival of the age of ecological civilization and the contemporary ecological condition of China.
1.1 Humanity is Already at the Crossroads—Humanity is Transitioning from Industrial Civilization to the Initial Awakening of Ecological Civilization
Rachel Carson and Silent Spring
An Allegorical Revelation—Humanity Endangers Herself
The Merciless Denunciation of an Era Dominated by Industries Trying to Make Money at Whatever Cost
Revealing the Law of the Balance of Nature
The Critique of Humanity’s Arrogant Fantasy of “Controlling Nature”
Warning that Humanity is Standing Where Two Roads Diverge
In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson points out the seriousness of ecological problems and issues a solemn warning to humanity. She states, “we stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one ‘less traveled by’—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”8 What she calls “the road we have long been travelling,” is actually that of humanity destroying itself by polluting the ecological environment, while the other seldom travelled fork in the road is that of humanity and nature balancing, harmonizing and unifying.
1.2 The Limits to Growth—The Other Model of Development that Humanity Should Choose
Thinking on the Model of Human Development—Peccei and the Club of Rome
The Three Great Transformations of the Model of Development in Human History
The Limits to Growth brings up the three great transformations of the model of development of human history. First is the transformation of the model of economic social development. The author remarks, “Human history has witnessed several structural transformations. The agricultural and industrial revolutions were the most profound examples”.10 These two transformations both arose out of “shortages” and “deficits,” and were forced as the result of having no other alternative. The agricultural revolution was humanity’s successful coping with a shortage of wildlife species.11 Due to population growth, the decrease of wild animals in the hunting economy could no longer satisfy people’s needs, so humanity settled down and became sedentary, choosing crop growing and the agricultural economy instead. Some nomadic regions of Chinese Inner Mongolia no longer adopt the nomadic model of production, but developed into a enclosure-raising model instead. I once went to a huge pasture in Inner Mongolia, but scenes of “wind blowing the grass and the sight of cows and goats” are already hard to find, the grass grows very short, and although the locals say that grass is very nutritious, it ultimately reflects the trend of insufficiency of soil fertility and an originally nomadic people being forced to turn toward agriculture under the pressure of the growth of population and demands.
This is a revolution in consumer society that makes people maintain a “suitable” consumption of material life;
This is a revolution in making “sustainable, efficient, plentiful, equal, better and collective” the highest values for society as a whole;
- 3.This is a revolution in respecting the following principles:
The economy is a means and not an end, it serves the welfare of the environment and not the reverse;
Build efficient and renewable energy systems;
Build efficient and closed-cycle material systems. That is build material systems that can recycle waste or render waste harmless. In June of 2008 China gradually began halting the manufacture and usage of non-decomposable plastic bags, which is an exceptionally good policy measure.
Technological designs reduce waste emissions and waste products to the absolute minimum, and the whole of society decides not to produce waste emissions and waste products that technology and nature cannot treat. In developed nations, the sorting of trash is very strict, differently colored plastic bags hold different trash, organic materials are separated from inorganic materials, and so is the decomposable from the non-decomposable, and trashed that is mixed together must be taken back;
Maintaining the diversity of ecosystems. The ancient adage goes: “what is harmonious grows with one another, what is homogeneous does not transfer.” Any species on earth is a member of the ecological chain, no matter how extremely unimportant humanity might view them, every species has its right to survive, and plays its own unique function in the chain of life;
The reason for living and the reason for wanting to make your own living conditions improve no longer involve the increase of material enjoyment.16 Of course, we want to guarantee necessary material satisfaction. We want to build a comfortable society, but cannot endlessly seek material enjoyment and possession.
Several Key Terms
For the sake of explaining the relationship between development, resources and environment, The Limits to Growth creates a unique vocabulary, which reflects the author’s basic thought and constitutes the key terms of the whole book.
For renewable resources, demand the sustainable rate of use to be no higher than the rate of renewal. For instance, the amount of fish caught cannot be higher than the growth rate of the population of remaining schools of fish.
For non-renewable resources, demand the sustainable utilization rate to be no higher than the sustainable rate of utilization of the renewable resources used to replace them. For example, the utilization rate of oil cannot be higher than the production rate of such new resources that replace oil like wind, electricity, and photo-electricity, otherwise when oil is all used up, the resources used to replace it cannot satisfy demand.
“Sink” is nature’s capacity of absorbing and purifying human waste. For “sink” there is also a principle of sustainable development—“the rate of sustainable emission cannot be higher than the speed at which the waste is recycled, absorbed and harmlessly decomposed in the sink.”17
The economist Herman Dali describes these three previously mentioned principles “the three simple principles of the sustainable limits to the capacity of matter and energy to absorb and emit”.18
The idea of an “ecological footprint” is a new concept arising from ecological philosophy, specifically from the book Limits to Growth (third edition) from the 1990s. The term becomes an important keyword for the book. The term “ecological footprint” refers to “the relationship between the human needs of the planet and the capacity that the earth can provide”,19 specifically “providing resources for the international community (food, feed, trees, fish and urban land) and the area of land needed to absorb emissions (carbon dioxide)”.201.3 billion people survive on 9.6 million square kilometers of land in China. To contrast, only less than 40 million people live on more than 10 million square kilometers of land in Canada. China’s ecological footprint is much smaller. In the past, Chinese textbooks often talk about China’s “vast territory and abundant resources.” However, from the perspective of ecological footprint theory, China’s pressure on environmental resources is very large: China has neither a vast territory, nor abundant resources. Mathis Wackenagel predicted the following by using ecological footprint theory: in the 1980s (1980) human demand and the Earth’s carrying capacity are roughly equal. By 1999, human demand had exceeded the Earth’s carrying capacity by 20%. WWF also noted in a report that the world’s average ecological footprint is 2.2 hectares per person, much more than the 1.8 hectares that the Earth can offer. Since the 1960s, China’s average ecological footprint has doubled. The current demand is more than double the amount of sustainable supply in the country,21 which demonstrates the seriousness of the problem.
“Exponential growth” refers to a way in which populations, capital and economies grow. ““That is, the process of doubling, doubling, and doubling, is very surprising, and it is so fast to produce such a huge number.”22 This is to say that when a quantity increases with its existing ratio, it grows exponentially. For example, when somebody deposits $100 into the bank at 7% interest, it will to $107 in the first year. In the second year, the 7% rate will lead to a growth of $7.49. At this rate, the initial deposit will be able to grow to $196.72 by the tenth year, almost doubing in value. To contrast, if you put $ 100 in a jar and add $7 per year, you will only have $149 after ten years, which is linear growth. By the end of the 50th year, the money in the bank account would be 6.5 times greater than that of the jar at almost $2500. According to the author of Limits to Growth, the population growth in less developed regions has increased exponentially over the past half century, and the population has doubled in 19 years, while the population in more industrialized areas has grown linearly and more gently. Regarding the exponential growth of the population, there is a real problem in front of us: regarding our ecological footprint, is there a growth limit population demands and ratios of people to land? And if so, where is the limit?
The World has a Choice
The world has no limits and can grow infinitely, the result of which is squeezing the earth dry to the point of collapse.
The limit is closing in, and humanity cannot possibly respond appropriately, the result of which is also collapse.
The limit genuinely exists, and in some respect we have overshot it already, but with enough time we may possibly reduce humanity’s ecological footprint, and continue to evolve toward a much better world for the absolute majority of human beings on earth.
The author of Limits to Growth tells us that for the third model, “from the evidence we have mastered, from the world data to the computer model, it shows that it is credible and achievable”.25 This is the conclusion of Limits to Growth.
1.3 The New Relationship between Human beings and Nature—From “Disenchantment” to “Reenchantment”
On the “Disenchantment” of the world and some “Reenchantment”
The so-called “enchantment” view of the world holds that ghosts, demons and other superstitious entities exist. In ancient agricultural societies, science and technology was not yet developed, and people did not understand natural phenomena. They therefore believed that many mysterious phenomena arose due to the gods or ghosts, thereby “enchanting” nature. In some parts of China’s rural areas in the past, snakes, foxes, and other animals are often sacred because of their color, and cannot be killed, as doing so would bring about disaster. In industrial society, science and technology have developed, and people’s ability to know the nature has been greatly enhanced. As a result, nature’s mystery began to fade away. During the Enlightenment, Francis Bacon proposed that “knowledge is power” and believed that knowledge can change everything, which is a heroic declaration of human respect for knowledge and the self. Rene Descartes put forward the idea that “I think so I am”, and believed that reason is above all else, and therefore that the rational subject is above all else. They estimated too highly of experimental science as the representative of scientific forces, and believed that the power of relying on technology can do everything. They therefore put forward the idea of the “Disenchantment of the World”. According to research, it is the famous German sociologist Max Weber who first proposed the idea of the “Disenchantment of the World.” In fact, the “disenchantment” had already begun during the Enlightenment. Immanuel Kant’s famous saying: “Man made legislation for nature “, clearly demonstrates this view position. Weber put forward this statement when introducing one of Christianity’s reformed sects, “Calvinism” in in Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1904 to 1905. He said, “This great historical process of religious development - the magic is eliminated of the World, where it reached its logical end.”26 The Elimination of the World is also translated as “the loss of the world’s magic.” Weber specifically interpreted it as, “rejecting the magic of the Eucharist as a path to salvation.”27 “The magic of the Eucharist” means that Jesus will give his disciples wine and bread that will symbolize his own blood and flesh during the last supper so that they can be rescued after his martyrdom. Refusing to take part in this religious practice is also “disenchantment.” The translator interprets it as “a very important aspect of Weber’s more extensive rationalization process, where he sums up his philosophy of history.”28 In other words, “disenchantment” is an important aspect of Weber’s rational process, not only confined to religion.
D.R. Griffin, the contemporary American philosopher directly criticized Weber’s view of the “disenchantment of the world” in the article “Peace and Postmodern Paradigm”, advocated some “Reenchantment”. He writes, “Max Weber once pointed out that this kind of world’s Disenchantment is an important feature of the present era, which naturally is seen as a dead thing, it is composed of lifeless objects, there is no divine nature of life in it. This kind of ‘natural death’ leads to a variety of catastrophic consequences.”29 On the contrary, he proposed a Reenchantment of the World, claiming that, “This requires the realization of the Reenchantment of the World, postmodern paradigm will help this ideal”.30 He will have “the Reenchantment of the World” as a theoretical achievement of postmodern paradigm. What does “the Reenchantment of the World” mean? Is it possible to return to the “everything has spirit” in the agricultural society?—of course not.
Nature is Magical, Sacred, and Worthy of Fear
This is a matter of intense debate. Someone once raised the idea of “fearing nature” based on the relationship between human beings and nature some time ago. In response, it was strongly opposed by some well-known scientists and humanists, who instead believed that this is to have the relationship between human beings and nature turned upside down. It is only human beings who are great and worthy of fear. The author believes that we should maintain a modest fear of nature, because until now, nature still has some kind of mystery and magic for our human beings, and this phenomenon will continue forever.
When discussing how the universe was generated, Engels used two instances of “do not know” consecutively in the Dialectics of Nature. He said, “ This much is certain: there was a time when the matter of our island universe had transformed a quantity of motion—of what kind we do not yet know—into heat, such that there could be developed from it the solar systems appertaining to (according to Mädler) at least twenty million stars, the gradual extinction of which is likewise certain. How did this transformation take place? he also said: We know just as little as Father Secchi knows whether the future caput mortuum of our solar system will once again be converted into the raw material of a new solar system.31 In fact, how the universe is generated in the end, at present we do not know. Currently the theory about the universe are just hypotheticals about “Nebulae,” “particles,” “the big bang,” and so on. Regarding humankind’s domination of nature, Engels had a very famous saying. He wrote, “We should not be too fascinated by our human victory in nature; for every such victory, nature has retaliated against us.”32
The development of natural science is also a challenge to the “disenchanting” of nature. The first to be overridden is the scientific determinism represented by the natural mechanics of Isaac Newton. One substantialt representative is the French scientist Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace. He claims in his Introduction to Probability in Philosophy: “If a wise man knows all the forces in the universe, knows the locations of all objects, then through ‘the simple calculation’, the future and the past will show in his eyes.” However, this approach to scientific knowledge has been overthrown by modern natural science. In the first place, thermodynamics denies it. Thermodynamics indicates that a liter of gas contained in a sealed container contains tens of billions of atoms. However, it is impossible to know the position of each atom. One can only describe the state by probability theory and statistics. Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle also points out that we can’t know exactly where a particle is and how fast it is moving. Then the meteorologist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz put forward “chaos” theory in 1961, which claims that a very simple system will eventually become unpredictable and contain very complex movements and consequences. This is, the famous “butterfly effect.” A butterfly flapping its wings on the Amazon River can potentially set off a storm in the Mississippi River Basin. “Chaos” theory also pointed out that people can’t know where the solar system or planet will be in one million years’ time.
As for the sanctity of nature, this should also be self-evident. First of all, nature is the mother of humankind. Human beings came from nature, and will finally return to nature. At the same time, nature is also the home of humankind. Humans rely on the natural provisions of sunshine, air, water, and food to survive, and can’t be separated from nature for a moment. Humankind is great, but is small in the face of nature. It is perfectly desirable to maintain a moderate fear of nature.
1.4 We Have Been in the Era of Post-industrial Civilization—The Era of Ecological Civilization
Constructive Postmodernism and Ecological Holism
The Arrival of “Anthropocene” and the Era of Ecological Civilization
It has been thought that the geological period in which we live should be “Holocene”, which is about ten thousand years after the end of a recent glacial period. However, more and more scientists have begun to gradually accept the theory that the earth has entered another period of development – the “Anthropocene,” during which the human impact on the environment is no less than that of nature itself.
Paul Grutzen, the Nobel Prize winner pointed out at the recent European Science Forum in Stockholm that humans are rapidly changing the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the planet on which they live, and the most significant “achievement” of theirs is causing climate change.
At the same time, the leader of the International Plan for Crust and Biosphere Research, Will Steven, believes that the“Anthropocene” and the development of human society in the early quiet environment has a huge difference. The future we will face will be in huge environmental turmoil.
Through the computerized “earth system” simulation experiment, scientists have revealed to humans the importance of protecting our planet from catastrophic changes. According to the computer simulation experiments with the global warming trends further intensified. The Amazon rain forest will disappear, while the Sahara will become more moist and green. (This latter change will exacerbate the Amazon disaster.) In other words, in the foreseeable future, Amazon and Sahara may swap roles with one another.
Additionally, scientists are also closely watching the North Atlantic circulation, the western Antarctic glaciers, the Asian monsoon, and so on. These changes are due to changes in the Earth’s environment prompted by human beings. The marine research professor, Catherine Richardson from Denmark pointed out that the ocean now contains 50% more carbonic acid than that in the air. Ocean acidification will also lead to a lack of marine plants, a lack of animal groups, and even mass extinction, which will accelerate global warming.
Towards Ecological Modernization
History tells us that the development of contemporary ecological theory has gone through three stages:
The first stage, occurred during the 20th century, and lasted for about 60–70 years. This stage refers to the sudden environmental problems and the awakening of human beings that it led to. With Silent Spring, Limits to Growth and other works published as a symbol of this stage, questions began to arise and were reflected upon. However, there have been cases of going too far, including such erroneous trends as “anti-modernization,” “anti-industrialization,” “anti-productive forces,” and “anti-technology.” Some even propose going back to the Middle Ages, which is not only wrong, but also unrealistic and does not work. Some people exaggerate that the happiness of our present life is not necessarily better than the medieval peasants in the United Kingdom, which is an attitude far removed real life. In fact, most of human rural life has been very hard, and has not improved until recent years. Additionally, the very low productivity of the Middle Ages cannot be ignored. Therefore, we should remain cool and calm regarding the ecological environment.
The second stage came after the 1980s with the idea of development and environmental synchronization being put forward. The idea of economic growth and environmental pressure is inversely proportional, this is the “ecological modernization” theory put forward by the German scholar Huber. Ecological modernization refers to a mutually beneficial coupling of modernization and the natural environment, and can be understood as the ecological transformation of the world’s modernization. Europe, the United States and other developed countries have generally done this. They basically realized that economic growth rate exceeds the pressure of environmental growth.
The third stage refers to developing countries represented by China, who are on the road of ecological modernization. China is in a situation of rapid economic growth, and in the process of modernization. However, China is also taking the road of ecological modernization. In other words, besides the four areas of modernization of “industrial, agricultural, national defense, science and technology,” there is a fifth, “ecological modernization.” This goal is planned to be achieved in 2050 or so, so that China’s economic development and environmental degradation can be completely decoupled, thereby ensuring that the habitat and environment fully meet the standard of the major developed countries.
To guarantee ecological modernization, one must construct an advanced ecological culture. Culture is the leader, supporter, and guarantor of ecological modernization, which is in need of an advanced ecological culture to pilot, support, and guarantee itself. Limits to Growth tells us that “the world is not a destined future, but a choice”.35 Choice is a kind of attitude, a kind of values, a culture. We should advocate an “aesthetic attitude towards nature,” and a cultural attitude of “enough is enough” instead of the wrong attitude that treats nature as an enemy,”—“the more the better.” Therefore, we must not only adjust the development model, but also construct ecological culture, including ecological philosophy, ecological ethics, ecological economics, ecological sociology, and ecological aesthetics. Ecological culture is an advanced culture in line with the direction of social development, and the development of ecological culture is where our responsibility lies.
1.5 The Realistic Urgency of Ecological Civilization Construction in China
China as a resource-constrained country is facing increasing environmental and resource pressures
Recently, China’s environmental problems have become increasingly serious, directly threatening the success of modernization and the survival of the people
According to authoritative statistics, China’s annual environmental pollution caused by the economy accounted for the proportion of GDP is very alarming. Authoritative people point out more profoundly that the Environmental Problems in the developed capitalist Countries in the past hundred years occurred in China in 20 years suddenly. Accidents are frequent, and the problem is serious. Due to the impact of the development model, China has not properly accepted the transfer of environmental pollution in developed countries. To a certain extent, there should be more emphasis on the seriousness of environmental problems.
The problems of resources and environment directly contradict the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the development policy of a “people-oriented” in China
In recent years, China’s average annual growth is about 10%, but if you get rid of the economic losses caused by environmental pollution, the growth rate is very small. Practice has proved that the path of “post-pollution control” is impractical because it will pay a much higher price. It will not only pay an economic price, but also will pay the price of people’s health, good life, and even lives. This is contradictory to the “people-oriented” approach in China’s scientific development. The United Nations stipulates that environmental rights are also a human right, and everyone has the right to live with dignity in a beautiful environment.
Imagine if there is no clean drinking water: we would all go crazy to grab a small amount of mineral water or rush around for a bucket of water. Would people in this way live with dignity? When we are closed upstairs by “SARS” virus, only to get a little life supplies in the window through the basket, will we be living with dignity? In this case, can we take the kind of arrogant, conqueror’s attitude to nature, or can we be moderately fearful of nature? That is to say, when a quantity increases in proportion to its existing one, it grows exponentially. For example, depositing $100 in a bank will increase to $107 in the first year at a 7% interest rate. The growth rate in the second year is 7% of $107, or $7.49. By the tenth year, it will grow to $196.72, almost doubled. If you put $100 in a jar, and invest $7 per year, then after 10 years, it will be $149. This is linear growth. By the end of the fifth decade, the money in the bank account will be 6.5 times more than in the jar, almost $2,500. According to the authors of Limits to Growth, the population growth of underdeveloped cities has grown exponentially over the past half century, and the population has doubled in 19 years. The population of industrialized areas has grown linearly and is relatively flat. For the exponential growth of the population, there is a real problem before us. That is to say, under a certain ecological footprint, is there limit to the growth of human needs and land ratio, and where is this limit?
Peichao , p. 115.
Carson , p. 192.
Ibid., p. 11.
Carson , p. 162.
Carson , p. 215.
Ibid., p. 39.
Carson , p. 263.
Meadows , Forward page.
Ibid., p. 223.
Ibid., p. 248.
Ibid., p. 249.
Meadows etc. , p. 250.
Meadows etc. , p. 254.
Meadows etc. , p. 52.
Meadows etc. , p. 3.
Ibid., Forward page.
Cited from Reference News June 11, 2008.
Meadows etc. , p. 19.
Meadows etc. , p. 2.
Ibid., p. 262.
Ibid., p. 263.
Weber , p. 79.
Ibid., p. 185, note (19).
Ibid., pp. 185–186, note (19).
Ray Griffin , p. 218.
Griffin , p. 222.
Engels , (Vol. 9), p. 424.
Ibid., pp. 559–560.
Griffin , p. 23.
Ibid., p. 227.
Meadows, etc , p. 262.
Quoted from the Reference Message December 22, 2007 “World Factory is also the world chimney.”
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