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17th International Forum on Ecological Civilization Conference Retrospect

Claremont Eco Forum Group Photo

The Venue

Claremont is a suburb-like city situated within the vast, desiccated Los Angeles basin where city limits abut adjacent to one another. Claremont has the academic distinction of being home to a concentrated amalgam of no less than seven distinct colleges, of which the interdisciplinary Pitzer was our host for the conference. On the morning of the opening ceremony, I embarked on foot from our Motel 6. The front desk informed me it was “just a couple miles” so I wanted to enjoy a pleasurable walk to familiarize myself with the environs. When I got to the intersection demarcating downtown Claremont, I began asking friendly people, “which way to Pitzer College?” I was told repeatedly, “just over there and off to the left.” I soon had vivid phenomenological awareness of the full extent of the spread of the seven-campus system. With each new horizon I reached, I discovered that the view extended still farther to a new horizon. I didn’t mind so much because the campus grounds were aesthetically pleasing and very well tended, yet what I thought was going to be a short walk evolved into more of a morning excursion. I finally turned one corner toward the top of the hill and saw ahead of me a mature fellow getting out of his car and adjusting his suit, which informed my senses that I must have arrived at the conference (this gentleman turned out to be the mayor of Claremont!). I will add here that what I especially enjoyed within the Claremont campuses, reaching zenith at Pitzer, was the most exquisitely beautiful and artistic xeriscaping I have witnessed anywhere.

The Cast

The Claremont EcoForum was a joint production of a number of entities, which included: the Center for Process Studies, the Institute for Ecological Civilization, as well as the Institute for Postmodern Development of China, among others. This last partner is highly significant because it turned out that the demographic of conference attendees was about half Chinese. Nothing in my prior knowledge of the event prepared me for that pleasant surprise—and I say “pleasant” because I recently have been fascinated with Chinese culture and cosmology, especially through a concentrated study of Taoism and Taoist self-cultivation exercises. Of course, then, my life trajectory would resonantly bring me to a place like this. The Center for Process Studies first aroused my interest way back through awareness of the work of John Cobb, Jr., who I first read back in the 90s in a collaboration with the economist Herman Daly entitled, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (1994). A wizened John Cobb, Jr., pushing 100 years was centrally featured at the Claremont EcoForum. Also featured were Philip Clayton and Wm. Andrew Schwartz, who first came to my attention with their 2019 collaboration What Is Ecological Civilization? This book and this concept were introduced by PCC faculty Matthew Segall as a comprehensive solution to the global polycrisis in a class with Sean Kelly entitled “Collapse and Regeneration.” With all this familiarity with the cast, I felt right at home in the intellectual atmosphere of the conference.

The Message

John Cobb delivered a plenary speech which set the tone for the Eco Forum. After reviewing the development of the concept of Ecological Civilization, which was presented as a vital concern for both China and USA, Professor Cobb dedicated this 17th EcoForum—and the first to convene in-person since the pandemic—as an occasion to launch an energetic new trans-Pacific dialogue between these two great nations. Cobb proposed that it was among academics and NGOs, as opposed to the State Departments of governments, that the most productive and fruitful conversations could be initiated. I felt a wellspring of optimism surge inside me as this message was delivered since I intuited that I could participate at some level. Even though there was robust applause from the enthusiastic bi-nation audience, I wished Professor Cobb had not used the word “enemy” so many times to make his point. With his sophistication, I had to wonder if there was some hidden purpose behind it, for we in the audience were surely befriending. The plenary speech of John Cobb, Jr., can be viewed here.

My Paper

For Spring Semester 2024, I took a class in the CIIS department of Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion titled “Ecology in a Time of Planetary Crisis.” This class reviewed a litany of details concerning the ongoing and apparently worsening global polycrisis. I recalled initially learning about details of the ecological crisis 30 years ago when I first entered Liberal Arts education, and so with this review I became agitated and quite dismayed that there has been no concerted governmental response at the scale required to avert catastrophe. Accordingly, for the Final Paper in this class—perhaps in a spirit of activism—I wanted to go deeper than before and attempt to expose what I perceive to be the core issue responsible for both the polycrisis and ensuing governmental negligence: that of power: its misunderstanding and misuse. The final paper was thus entitled, “Identifying the Root Cause of Systemic Global Collapse: The Quaternion Power Structure”—where the quaternion power structure was identified as Civilization, God, Christianity, and Capitalism. This is surely a provocative theory—especially for a conference identified so explicitly with both Civilization and Theology—yet, nevertheless, that paper was newly minted and there was no time to deliberate alternatives. The paper I presented to the 17th Claremont EcoForum can be found on my Academia page.

Conclusion

It appears that the astrological forecast for the conference as being favorable for the initiation of warm and jovial friendships has indeed manifested. I am currently in regular contact with two new scholarly Chinese friends: Xinlin Song and Shunni Cao, and we plan to continue and strengthen our friendships. I recently spent a wonderful afternoon with Shunni, her daughter Alina, and a Chinese educator named Angela at a burgeoning EcoVillage project near Salem, Oregon called Cobb EcoFarm. Just a few nights ago there was an amazing live virtual tour of a traditional village named Peitian in Fujian province. Some of our Chinese friends, including Xinlin, are actively preparing the village as an experiential education center and I am excited about the prospect of incorporating field research at the Village into my evolving degree. With so much opportunity in the air, I have decided finally to begin formally taking classes in Chinese at University of Oregon. My study of Taoism continues to deepen: I am poised to write the paper, “Neo-Taoism as Proto-Religion for the Gaianthropocene,” which will be my response to the concept of Ecological Civilization. I envision delivering that paper at next year’s Claremont Eco Forum so it would be thrilling to do so among a contingent of fellow Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion student colleagues!

Christopher Mare’s academic career began in 1993 with his first Permaculture Design Course. Inspired by the multidisciplinary sustainability philosophy of designing human systems modeled after natural systems, he decided to enter university to formalize this type of education. Integrating travel to study at the world’s premier models, he completed a transdisciplinary BA entitled “Village Design: Ekistics for the 21st Century”—the world’s first formal degree devoted to EcoVillage Design. From there, he obtained an MA from Antioch University Seattle’s Whole Systems Design program and completed earned his PhD at Fielding Graduate University with a dissertation entitled “Designing for Consciousness: Towards a Theory of Environmental Design Using Neurophenomenology as Methodology.” During his doctoral days Christo participated in the founding of Gaia Education, the educational arm of the Global EcoVillage Network, and became their Curriculum Coordinator, a position which morphed into Program Development Coordinator. He am currently enjoying the most satisfying days of his academic career as a doctoral student in the Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion program at California Institute of Integral Studies.