03rd November 2021

Book in Focus

Toward a Healthy Planet

Edited by Gerard Magill and James Benedict

Our book Toward a Healthy Planet contains presentations adapted from a 2019 conference, part of an annual endowed series at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, USA. To acknowledge the first five years of this conference series, the book has several sections: the context of the Anthropocene; a vision for a healthy planet; a consideration of the significance of agriculture and food to foster a healthy planet; a discussion of health and the environment to nurture a healthy planet; illustrative global issues that threaten a healthy planet; and indicative generational challenges regarding a healthy planet. Also, to celebrate the first five years of this conference series, the discussion of ethics engages the ethical perspectives enunciated in the previous books in this series: the urgency of climate change, integral ecology, the global water crisis, and the global sustainability challenge.

As mentioned in the proceedings of the 1st conference on the topic of climate change, Pope Francis enunciated a bold and dramatic vision for the environment in his encyclical Laudato Si’, published in 2015. The approach of Pope Francis includes a commitment to “justice between generations” that promotes “intergenerational solidarity” and “intragenerational solidarity” (§159, §162). To implement this vision requires “major paths of dialogue” to address the “great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge” that we encounter (§163, §202). These insights are especially evident regarding the discussion in this book to foster progress toward a healthy planet.

Regarding ethics and the urgency of climate change, Pope Francis is intent on using his leadership to protect creation. He all too willingly concedes that “honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views”––but regarding the environmental crisis that we face, he unambiguously demands “a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair” to the extent that “we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation” (§61).

Regarding ethics and integral ecology, the insights of Pope Francis are captivating. To develop an integral ecology, he explains that we must engage the “relationship existing between nature and the society in which it lives” to seek “comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems”. His point here, as stated earlier, is breath-taking insofar as he integrates the environmental and social components: “we are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (§139). Pope Francis encourages us to adopt an advocacy perspective to “advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which could involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy” (§15). For example, he insists that “for new models of progress to arise, there is a need to change the ‘models of global development’”—in this regard, he boldly argues that “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” (§194). In sum, fostering an integral ecology constitutes a global ethical imperative.

Regarding ethics and the global water crisis, the insights of Pope Francis are especially challenging. Discourse on ethics and the global water crisis can adopt many lines of constructive inquiry, including media cover stories about running out of water which have highlighted who is at risk, who controls water, how to manage freshwater, and how to address flooding. Running out of water is a recurring theme among scholars as they try to grapple with the context of the global water crisis, often manifestly evident in local public health catastrophes. The concept of running dry expresses the looming crisis over water as a very precious resource as a global environmental catastrophe. The context of this crisis is one of widespread drought that will require both innovative monitoring approaches and an integration with emerging science and social policy, from sustaining groundwater resources to routine water management and water quality oversight such as for schools and basic care. This crisis has multiple complex causes, from climate change to systemic problems with oceans, watersheds and water remediation, as well as water trading and global business interest in a consumer society, such as privatisation and branding of bottled water. The pervasive concerns around this crisis have generated a new specialty in ethics, referred to as water ethics, which requires a values-centred approach to resolving the worldwide problems. Our era of the Anthropocene is now characterised by this devastating threat that constitutes the defining crisis of the twenty-first century and requires international water governance with a global ethics charter to guide contentious transnational politics. The pivotal issues that arise in the context of the water crisis urge progress in science and policy under the guidance of religion and ethics, and underscore the global nature of the problem. The most worrying global issue deals with international acrimony. That is, water scarcity and variability will become a trigger for security across political boundaries, making water politics and diplomacy a pervasive catalyst for peace and war. That acrimony will reflect the nexus between water, land use, food, and energy, each overlapping into the arena of social justice across the world, especially concerning megatrends in agriculture and technology. In sum, there is a global ethical imperative to protect the right to water.

Regarding ethics and the global sustainability challenge, discourse on the topic of sustainability reflects the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations Development Programme in 2015. These SDGs, also known as Global Goals, are a universal call to action in relation to protecting the planet, ending poverty, and promoting peace and prosperity for all by 2030. These goals are integrated in the sense of action in one area affecting outcomes in others, a crucial aspect not only for sustainable action in this area, but also for teaching on this topic. The point is that development must balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability in our dynamic age of the Anthropocene when the human species has such a dramatic impact on the natural environment. We are recognising the age of sustainability in which we live.

In sum, ethics discourse on this book’s topic, Toward a Healthy Planet, recalls the ethical discussion in the previous books related to the annual conference series that inspires these proceedings: the urgency of climate change, integral ecology, the global water crisis, and the global sustainability challenge. Hopefully, these perspectives will enable the reader to grasp and engage this global ethical imperative.


Gerard Magill, PhD, was appointed the Vernon F. Gallagher Chair for the Integration of Science, Theology, Philosophy, and Law at Duquesne University, USA, in 2007, where he is a tenured Professor in the Center for Global Health Ethics. He received his PhD from Edinburgh University, and has published over 70 scholarly and professional articles. He is also the author, co-author and editor of 13 books, including works in healthcare ethics and governance ethics.

James Benedict, PhD, is a Scholar-in-Residence in the Center for Global Health Ethics at Duquesne University, USA, having received his PhD degree from this institution in 2015. He has published one book (on transplantation and consent) and has co-edited two volumes. He has also published numerous study guides, and several scholarly and popular articles on ethics and religion, and served for over 30 years in parish ministry in the Church of the Brethren.


Toward a Healthy Planet is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.

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