Peace to you, and welcome to my first post for "In All Things," where I will be writing about ecological concerns. My name is Elizabeth Groppe and I am a teacher of theology at Xavier University, a Jesuit school nestled in the rolling hills of the Ohio River Valley. I am also the mother of an exuberant 7-year-old boy. The invitation to write this blog was a challenge to my recent resolution to spend less time working at the computer, plugged into a coal-fired electric grid and staring at a screen. I realized one evening after hours spent trying to tame an out-of-control email account that I was setting a bad example my son, whom my husband and I rarely permit to use the Internet. In an era in which the average person can, by one estimate, recognize 1,000 advertising logos but fewer than 10 plants and animals native to his or her locality, Richard Louv emphasizes the importance of getting children out from behind screens to play in parks, cultivate gardens and roam in woods (see his Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder). According to one study, the average amount of time children spend out of doors declined by 50 percent between 1981 and 1997. Meanwhile, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University concluded in a 1998 study that people who spend even a few hours a week online experience increased levels of depression and loneliness. Internet addiction is a growing problem among today’s youth.
And yet the World Wide Web is an important means of transcontinental communication in a complex world facing urgent challenges. It is an essential tool in many disciplines and in international humanitarian work, including the research of scientists studying climate change and the efforts of organizations like the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change to address the climate crisis. Never before in human history has so much encyclopedic information on so many topics been so readily and broadly available.
Why, then, is it the case that many of us appear to be unaware of many of the basic ecological facts of life? Last week, one of the television monitors that now fill our public spaces with an endless stream of words and images was broadcasting the results of an election year poll as I was standing in line at a bank: “What issues are most important to you in this election?” the poll asked. The results: the economy, the national debt, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration, health care, gun control and gay marriage. Why was there no reference to the fact that the very systems that support life on this planet—the climate, the forests, the oceans, the soils—are in jeopardy? Did no one mention this? Or did the structure of the poll not allow for consideration of the health of the biosphere?
Missing in so much of our electronic media is a holistic view that sees the world as a whole and offers a frame of meaning with which to understand and interpret it. America magazine tries to do just this, providing a forum for reflection on current issues that is informed by Catholicism’s vision of a cosmos that is intended to mediate the beauty, goodness, compassion and justice of the God incarnate in Jesus Christ. So, here I am, sitting at the computer writing this blog. And here you are, reading it. After we are done, shall we go outside and see what we behold?