By Xinhua writers Zhou Changqing, He Yue and Cheng Yunjie
CHANGCHUN, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- Less than a year after China's ruling party included the mission of fostering ecological civilization into its charter, scholars argue that local government officials are struggling to catch up.
Li Wenhua, a senior ecologist and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and International Academy of Sciences, said that ecological civilization and ecology share the same goal which is to pursue harmony between man and nature.
"It is out-of-date to think ecology as a science for human beings to purely study and preserve the eco-system as outsiders," Li said on the sidelines of the Changbai Mountain International Ecological Forum in Changbai Mountain Nature Reserve of Jilin Province. The forum concluded on Tuesday.
He said ecology has evolved into an integrated discipline requiring human beings to tackle social and economic problems as a member of the natural eco-system.
As some Chinese, including government officials, still mistakenly interpret ecology's goal as protecting the eco-system excluding people, the strategy of fostering ecological civilization is not smooth in the process of implementation, according to scholars attending the forum.
Professor Li Hongwei with the Marxism-Leninism Department of the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee said that a number of county-level officials that had trained in his school had been hesitant or perplexed about how to implement the ecological blueprint upon their arrival.
"Some county-level officials attending ecological civilization courses in our school had thought it was too early for the Party to bring ecological civilization to such a high level. A few indicated it was sort of separated from the actual conditions of China," said Li Hongwei.
Attributing such sentiment to a misunderstanding of the mission, the professor said that the essence of fostering ecological civilization still lies in development.
It is to pursue sustainable development while ensuring harmony between man and nature.
"The means is to change our mind-set and transform our growth mode into a healthy and sustainable one," he said.
Xu Zhihong, chairman of the China National Committee of Man and Biosphere Program, said many local government officials misinterpreted the mission to build mega infrastructures in nature reserves and ignored the significance of raising people's ecological awareness.
It is impossible to expect an individual lacking ecological awareness to behave in a way with the least possible damage to nature, he noted.
Li Wenhua warned that there was a tendency to over-exaggerate the positive role of forests to the natural eco-system in China against the backdrop of fostering ecological civilization as blind tree planting without consideration of the water-carrying capacity of soil for vegetation in some places is worrisome.
"All things are measured. When it comes to tree planting, we need to balance man-made forests and natural ones. As for fostering ecological civilization, economic development and ecological preservation must be balanced," he said.
The academician said he gave the Chinese leaders two thumbs up for proposing the strategy of integrating ecological awareness into China's economic, political, cultural and social development.
"As the Chinese get increasingly environmentally-aware, many new concepts such as eco-city and forest city have sprung up. Scientists have also designed a series of assessment indicators for them. During the implementation, we find them barely efficient if the Chinese people don't have an ecological culture," Li said.
"Considering we are in a world where utilitarianism and materialism prevail, it is very difficult to make a change in people's mind-set. I think this is the time to revisit the ancient Chinese philosophy of man and nature being all-in-one," he said.
Wang Song, researcher with the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and chair of the China National Committee for the International Union of Biological Sciences, said the problem with the country remains excessive development at the cost of ecology.
He said that improving the ecological awareness of decision makers in local governments was particularly critical, and suggested the formulation of compulsory guidelines for local governments to follow so as to boost economy and simultaneously ensure bio-diversity and ecological safety.
Long-term regional plans should be made to enable local government officials to stay on top of indigenous ecological resources and make prudent decisions on development, said Wang.
"We have made quite a lot of detours in term of ecological protection in the past, but it's not too late to make it right now," he said.
Ge Jianping, vice president of the Beijing Normal University and a member of Biology and Medical Science Committee of the Biology Science and Technology Commission under the Ministry of Science and Technology, said that ecological costs should be brought into the production costs while ecological services must be paid.
"We need to further reform our economic and administrative systems to prevent the utilization of ecological resources as enjoying a free feast," Ge said.
He shared his dream of boosting the ecological economy in China at the forum, saying that one opportunity arising from fostering ecological civilization is to explore a new growth engine with economic and environmental sustainability.
"Ecological resources and conservation practices have values. Having economists, ecologists and government work together will help determine their values and incubate anew economy. This is really my dream," Ge said.
Chang Xiuze, an economist with the Macro-Economics Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, proposed at the forum to turn Changbai Mountain Nature Reserve into a national demonstration area for the development of ecological civilization.
"Outside the reserve, blueberry plantation, timberland processing and tourism have been flourishing. This is a perfect place to explore the ways to promote harmony between man and nature by seeking development and simultaneously ensuring conservation, if local government and people can make all these industries environmentally-friendly," said Chang.
Shao Guofan, tenured professor of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University of the United States, agreed that it is significant to strengthen the protection of Changbai reserve from the national level.
Banning deforestation and protecting bio-diversity within the reserve are not enough, it is important to strengthen coordinated protection in its surrounding areas, Shao noted.
To advance China's ecological blueprint, Chang Xiuze said there could be many other kinds of experiments, but a primary premise is to encourage economists, ecologists and government officials to make innovations with shared goals.