Ecological Civilization: Challenge and Opportunity

Eric Schaetzle
Member, ALICE Board of Directors

For many years, and even more so today, there’s been a growing awareness that the health of living systems is the foundation for a healthy society, that these systems are dynamically interconnected, and that creating an ‘ecological civilization’ — one that returns us to a story of living in harmony with the Earth — can help to safeguard both our present and future health. 

From its inception, the Alaska Institute for Climate and Energy’s (ALICE) goal has been to connect Alaskans with the best solutions available for living in harmony with healthy living systems. Working to identify, promote, and implement the best available solutions in our state is clearly a bigger job than any single organization can accomplish, and the timelines for effective action are challenging to meet. It will truly take all of us. 

In this work we are fortunate to have allies across the state, and the privilege to draw upon the inspiration of organizations who have established the foundations for this sort of work. In this blogpost, I’d like to introduce you to some of the people and organizations who have contributed to the growth and development of the “EcoCiv” movement. 


In June 2015 the “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization” conference was held that brought together leaders from around the world including Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, John B. Cobb, Jr., Wes Jackson, and Sheri Liao. Following the conference Philip Clayton and Wm. Andrew Schwartz co-founded the Institute for Ecological Civilization

In 2017 the Australian environmental philosopher Arran Gare wrote a book titled The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization: A Manifesto for the Future, and in 2019 Clayton and Schwartz published What is Ecological Civilization: Crisis, Hope, and the Future of the Planet. These are two excellent resources for the curious reader, whether you want a general introduction or a higher-level exploration. 

The concept of an ecological civilization has been developed by countries around the world, including some of the largest parties to international agreements on the climate and environment, like the United States, Russia, and China. This has the benefit of making the framework a useful tool for establishing common ground and working across a diversity of understandings. Other environmentalist voices, such as David Korten and Jeremy Lent, have sought to popularize the idea.  

As of today, the Institute for EcoCiv website has over 30 podcasts and dialogues on global systems change that feature interviews with influential thinkers from around the world on current social and environmental topics and the many ways in which these intersect. 

Despite all the challenges Alaskans face today, it’s helpful to remember that we are also the beneficiaries of an incredible wealth of cultural knowledge. As Arran Gare noted in a recent interview, “The universe is genuinely creative, the future is to some degree indeterminate, and we can influence which possible futures will be realized.” 

Our current path seems to point in the direction of increasing disharmony and disruption of living Earth systems, and we are witnessing these impacts on our well-being, as Kate Raworth noted in a recent EcoCiv dialogue. Reversing these dangerous trends is the task to which we must now apply our knowledge and abilities. By working together, I believe we can address these challenges. 

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