The ecological challenges facing our world are unlike any humanity has faced. Educating students about these pressing 21st century challenges necessitates a 21st century resource: a free, online environmental science textbook for upper-level secondary school and beginning college students. Such a work is the goal of the International Jesuit Ecology Project.
Called Healing Earth, this book will address major ecological challenges from an integrated scientific, spiritual, and ethical perspective using an Ignatian pedagogical approach that invites students to “see scientifically, reflect spiritually, judge ethically, and act concretely.” In the process, Healing Earth will also provide a platform for students around the world to share their perspectives on environmental issues in real time.
“The Society of Jesus has identified environmental sustainability and ecological challenges – which disproportionately affect the lives of the poor and marginalized – as a major area of concern. All Jesuit institutions, especially universities, have been called on to address these issues, something which we are uniquely qualified to do,” says Michael J. Garanzini, SJ, Higher Education Secretariat in the Jesuit Curia and President and CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Loyola University Chicago. “With its electronic format and free distribution, Healing Earth can take advantage of the worldwide Jesuit network of schools to not only teach our students, but to start a productive conversation among those students about environmental problems and solutions.”
With support from Father Garanzini and Patxi Álvarez de los Mozos, SJ, Director of Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat in the Jesuit Curia, the International Jesuit Ecology Project was initiated in the fall of 2011. Soon after, Healing Earth was identified as the project’s major initiative. In October 2012, a team of 31 experts from 10 countries gathered at Loyola’s retreat and ecology campus for a week of conceptualizing and outlining the textbook. “It was a pleasure to work with a group of such talented and dedicated international experts,” says Michael Schuck, PhD, project co-director and associate professor of theology at Loyola University Chicago. “In just a week, chapter teams were formed, content outlines were developed, and a project timeline was identified.”
Healing Earth will cover six environmental challenges with case studies, basic science, and spiritual and ethical reflection:
- declining biodiversity
- water quality
- food systems
- energy and fossil fuels
- earth resources and extraction
- global climate change
The goal of the textbook is to provide students with a holistic view of these problems and a hopeful, action-oriented response at the local level.
“Healing Earth is going to frame ecological issues in a unique way,” says Nancy Tuchman, PhD, project co-director and the director of Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability. “Environmental problems are not solely the concern of environmentalists. They involve scientists, ethicists, theologians, and anyone who eats, breathes, or drinks water. Healing Earth is the first environmental text to take this approach.”
As of February 2014, the Healing Earth introduction and chapters on water, global climate change, and biodiversity have been completed and are ready to be tested with high school students as the remaining chapters are brought to completion. Jenny Snyder, an environmental science and biology instructor at Loyola Academy, a Jesuit college preparatory high school in Wilmette, Illinois, sees great potential for Healing Earth. “This textbook will allow my students to share data on issues like water quality with students across the globe,” she says. “It will make these problems, which can seem theoretical at times, very concrete.” Since 2013, every student at Loyola Academy has been required to purchase an iPad, which makes a free, online textbook, like Healing Earth, practical.
Keith Esenther, SJ, an ESL instructor at Arrupe College in Harare, Zimbabwe, sees the project’s benefits from another perspective. “In Zimbabwe, the Internet is much easier to access than printed textbooks,” he says. “Healing Earth will help us understand how to use the world’s resources in a way that is fair and honest and recognizes their limitations, and its online format will allow us to deliver this information to students in the developing world.”
With international students in mind, in 2014, the completed textbook has been tested at schools in such places as Indonesia, Poland, Brazil, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe. Student and teacher feedback will guide final editing and fine-tuning. Healing Earth is slated for completion in January 2015.
This article is part of the 2015 Yearbook of the Society of Jesus that focused on ecology, published by the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in September 2014. Ecojesuit was given permission to feature stories from this publication and share these more broadly.
Latest update: Loyola University Chicago and the IJEP launched Healing Earth last April 2016, the free, online environmental textbook intended for fourth-year secondary school students, first-year university students, adult learners, and independent learners worldwide. To view the text, visit Healing Earth, to learn more about the project and explore collaboration, visit the IJEP, and the Healing Earth Facebook pag.