Synthesis

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If you have carefully worked through each chapter of Healing Earth, you have begun your formation as an Integral Ecologist, a person with scientific literacy, ethical grounding, spiritual awareness, and a motivation to act. The international group of scientists and humanists who continually work on Healing Earth welcome you to our community of hopeful environmentalists, a group realistic about the ecological challenges we face and resolute in our determination to address them.

Our realism has alerted us to these challenges:

  • declining biodiversity
  • natural resource depletion
  • overdue transition from fossil fuels
  • water shortages and pollution
  • damaging food systems and food insecurity
  • global warming

Our determination has been focused on these goals:

  • protecting and preserving biological diversity
  • supporting and expanding renewable energy
  • decreasing extractive industry damage to the environment
  • conserving and protecting water
  • promoting sustainable food systems and food security
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • promoting a sustainable and integral development

These are the challenges and goals we invite you to draw into your life. Healing Earth has offered you an approach to environmental science aimed at not just informing you about the environment, but embedding Earth care into the way you live. That is the mark of an Integral Ecologist.

You will notice that one goal stated throughout Healing Earth remains to be addressed: promoting integral development. We will conclude with a discussion of this goal and some final words.

Integral Development

From the standpoint of environmental science, integral development can be defined as action that enhances human living conditions while simultaneously protecting and healing Earth’s environment. One way to capture the essence of integral development is to remember the
4 m’s: methodical, moral, mindful, and measured.

Methodical

Integral development relies on sound empirical data: facts and theories that have stood the test of the scientific method. All the scientific information communicated in Healing Earth is based on tested observations that have been recognized, continually explored, and re-confirmed by scientists worldwide.

Science continues advancing our empirical knowledge of the natural world. For the most current scientific information on the topics covered in Healing Earth, consult these reliable sources:

Moral

In each Healing Earth chapter, the discussion of ethics came before spirituality. In real life, however, spirituality comes before ethics. Before we even begin thinking about the environment, we already have a predisposition, or attitude, toward it. This basic ‘inner spirit’ we bring to the natural world may lean in the direction of commodification; that is, seeing the natural world primarily as a collection of objects to be used or consumed indiscriminately. A different inner spirit may lean us in the direction of companionship; that is, an attitude that pictures the natural world as a community of subjects with which we are a part. With this orientation, our use and consumption of natural resources would be respectful and discriminating. Each of us have inner spirits located somewhere along this continuum from commodity to community.

The environmental ethic that you have learned in Healing Earth leans toward community. It is this community spirit that underlies all the ecological virtues we have studied: gratitude, courage, justice, prudence, temperance, and generosity. The ethical foundations and principles given in Healing Earth also lean toward community. Consequently, only a person predisposed to this sense of community with nature will truly understand and feel the:

  • Intrinsic value of nature
  • Correct meaning of nature’s Instrumental value
  • Value of sustainability

and the principles of:

  • Care for creation
  • Human dignity and rights
  • Common good
  • Universal destination of goods
  • Preferential option for the poor
  • Subsidiarity

Each of these ethical foundations and principles compel a ‘leaning into’ a community relationship with nature.

Mindful

The personal shift from leading a life that ‘leans away’ from nature to a life that ‘leans into’ nature is called an ‘ecological conversion’. At the very beginning of Laudato Sí, Pope Francis recalls the legacy of Pope John Paul II who

. . . warned that human beings frequently seem ‘to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption’. Subsequently, [Pope John Paul II] would call for a global ecological conversion.

One either already has an inner spirit that is mindful of nature or has to undergo a ‘conversion’ to nature.

A person mindful of nature has (1) given a positive meaning to nature in their lives, has (2) opened themselves to the experience of awe in nature, and has (3) arrived at respect for the nature-related beliefs and practices of the world’s religions.

Measured

The outcome of this practiced methodology, morality and mindfulness is measured action. An Integral Ecologist:

  • Sees an environmental problem to be addressed
  • Gathers and analyzes information on the problem
  • Proposes actions to address the problem and selects one
  • Performs the action and assesses the results

Assessment of the action can include the environmental indices of the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). In our world today, the typical measurement of social progress is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is the monetary value of all finished goods and services produced within a country over a specific period of time. In GDP measurement, natural resources are seen as commodities and no costs are assessed for damage done to the environment in the production of goods and services. In fact, environmental degradation resulting from actions such as mountain top removal mining, can lead to costly remediation and restoration efforts such as planting trees, reducing erosion, and containing toxic heavy metal runoff. When calculating GDP, both the mining and remediation would significantly contribute to the country’s GDP. So GDP is indiscriminate, and does not represent well-being and health, but rather all spending of capital whether it be for destructive or constructive purposes. The GPI, on the other hand, factors in environmental costs (and many other social factors) to determine whether real social progress has been made over a specific period of time. For example, real social progress in the GPI includes

  • reduction in water and air pollution and increased water security
  • restoration of soil, wetlands, and forests
  • reduction in CO2 emissions
  • increased use of renewable energy

The GPI measures progress in a manner closer to that of Pope Francis. As he boldly states in section 194 of Laudato Sí,

"Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress. Frequently, in fact, people’s quality of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth."

All this is what constitutes the final, overarching goal of Healing Earth’s environmental ethic: promoting integral development. The following graph displays the pedagogical movement of Healing Earth in relation to the progressive levels of action that advance environmental sustainability and the goal of integral development.

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    created by HE staff

Final Word

We have come to the end. But in a ‘living’ textbook there really is no end. We are constantly updating and upgrading Healing Earth. There are important topics in environmental science that need to be added in the future, such as the impact of human population on the environment, human health and the environment, economic structures driving environmental degradation, toxicology, and pollution. For now, we need your help. Let us know your assessment of Healing Earth. What has worked for you and what has not? Do you have anything you would like to add to the text? Do you have a paper or project that we can announce on the Bulletin Board? Would you be willing to write a case study like those that open each of the Healing Earth chapters, that reflects a problem being experienced in your country or geographic region? Can you help us to translate the text into your language for broader accessibility? Contact us: ijep@luc.edu