The Danger of Technologies: How Outdoor Childhoods Are A Thing Of The Past

There is something wonderful, magical even, about being outside with the wind against your face. The tranquility that nature provides cannot be found in a prescription bottle or on the internet. Today’s society is so in touch with technology that they are forgetting the very basics. We need the sunshine for vitamin D, and we need fresh air to help boost brain activity, get clarity, and improve our learning ability. You don’t see kids out playing in creeks or riding their bikes much anymore. Are children becoming slaves to the technological revolution?

Alarming Statistics

According to The Washington Post, teenagers spend an average of seven and a half hours on technology each day. The average teen only spends 20 minutes out in the fresh air, some spend no time at all outside. Watching television, playing video games, and surfing the web, has become the new normal. Technology can be dangerous. Children are enamored with the “hybrid life.” They don’t understand how wonderful it can be to make mud pies, watch the stars, swing in a hammock in the backyard, or collect rocks. It’s the simple things that the generation of today is missing, and it is causing great problems.

Childhood Obesity Numbers Point To Trouble

Ask any child of the 1970’s – 1980’s and you will find that most spent an enormous amount of time playing outside. According to KidsHealth.org, one in three children today are categorized as obese. Children are being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, joint problems, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and other weight related issues. When researchers delve deeper into the numbers they find a variety of things that are contributing to the problem. It all comes from poor eating habits, lack of sleep, and not enough exercise.

Another concerning issue is the fact that children of today are not learning the social skills they need to survive. Many can communicate over social media or through text messages, but they have no clue how to have a conversation in person. It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen to talk, but texting and blogging will do little to help tomorrow’s generation with their careers. They need old-fashioned people skills.

Fresh Air Is Just What The Doctor Ordered

Kids of today don’t know what it feels like to play out till you crash from exhaustion. They don’t know how it feels to get your feet dirty, your skin sun-kissed, and your hair lightened from the sun. They don’t know the great feeling of jumping on a bike and having races with the neighbor kids. What about running through the sprinkler? Do kids even do that anymore? Technology has its place. When it is raining, or snowing outside, children need something to keep them busy. However, when the sun is shining and the weather is beautiful, kids need to outside enjoying nature.

Wilderness therapy is becoming increasingly popular as it encourages children to be outside. Children need to learn to appreciate all that there is beyond their four walls. According to The Mayo Clinic, there are more than 50 million Americans, both children and adults, taking antidepressants in this country. “Symptoms of ADD in children can be reduced through activity in green settings, thus “green time” can act as an effective supplement to traditional medicinal and behavioral treatments” says the University of Washington, College of Environment. If these researchers are correct, the remedy for what ails many people would be getting more fresh air.

Encourage Outdoor Play

Children today have been done a great disservice. They don’t know how wonderful it can be to spend the day running and playing outside. The American Pediatric Association recommends no more than one hour of technology for any child, per day. Encourage children to go outside. Save the games for a rainy day.

Meeting the Middle: Why a Balanced Message Promotes Sustainability

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Its been 10 years since “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Al Gore film, first hit the big screen. Do yourself a favor; go back and rewatch it.

When it first hit theaters, I took my entire company to see it — a team of scientists and engineers working to solve problems with social and environmental impact. I was surprised when one of my engineers turned to me before the showing and asked, “Do you really believe in this climate change stuff?” By the time the showing was over, however, he was saying, “I don’t know why I ever doubted it.”

That’s the power of messaging. By driving home a well-researched message that was hard to refute, the film transformed conversations about climate change and effectively jump-started the sustainability movement we know today. It did so by moving the opinion of the masses rather than rallying the extremes.

Unfortunately, the majority of documentaries and campaigns that have come in the 10 years since have failed to sway the masses in the same way that this landmark film did.

Where have these campaigns gone wrong? By focusing on the most extreme — and most refutable — studies, important environmental issues are being kept on the fringe, never making the impact they truly deserve.

A Black-and-White Message in a Sea of Gray

Not all environmental problems have a clear-cut solution. Even for the most environmentally conscious consumer, it can be difficult to sort out the best approach to sustainable living.

As such, many environmental lobbies try to simplify the equation by taking a more extreme position — even if that position doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny.

Look at “Cowspiracy,” a recent documentary outlining the massive impact of industrial animal agriculture on the environment. With a wide-angle view, the message is spot-on — the meat and dairy industries carry a massive carbon footprint. But the documentarian continually cites one study stating that the byproducts of animal agriculture are responsible for 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions — a figure that isn’t corroborated by any other scientific study.

As a result, when people discuss the documentary, they tend to focus less on the issue and more on the data used to back it up. Environmental “haters” are quick to discard the entire premise because the data was cherry-picked to make an extreme argument. An otherwise important message is clouded by the veracity of a single statement. The result is rallying the fringe rather than imparting change by moving the masses.

The anti-GMO movement uses some of the same tactics. Too often, these campaigns tout the extremes — single, oft-refuted studies — rather than the wealth of data showing the safety and benefits of genetically modified foods.

Now, I’m not arguing that use of genetic modifications has always resulted in absolutely beneficial results. But to ignore the positives that have occurred is just as ignorant. Golden rice, for example, is a genetically modified alternative in the Philippines that contains important nutrients — ones that populations in Asia and Africa desperately need.

The GMO labeling effort could gain more support if the information given to the public about genetic modification wasn’t so one-sided and extreme. By painting all GMO foods with the same large brush, many life-saving crops are cast in a negative light — tainting the message behind the effort.

The setting aside of consensus isn’t a strictly partisan problem, either. Fringe environmentalists may tout far-fetched statistics, but the anti-vaccination movement has been guilty of the same. After falsely claiming a link between vaccinations and autism, the anti-vaxxer movement opened up the world to dangerous illnesses like measles or whooping cough that had once been nearly wiped off the map.

The most radical study will only convince the most radical minds, and the most conservative statistic will only satisfy the most conservative viewpoint. Undecideds are left untouched.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

The ultimate goal of any campaign shouldn’t be a shocking headline — it should be a truly inclusive look at the issue.

This means looking beyond the catchiest, most clickable statistic and relying on the bulk of literature to drive home a message. Which message is better: saying that global temperatures will rise four degrees or saying that they will rise two degrees, with some studies suggesting they could rise as high as four? The latter may be more nuanced, but it’s also harder to refute, and the potential damage is just as significant.

Don’t set aside sound science for sound bites. It’s not about convincing those on the edges of the issue — it’s about swaying those in the middle. That’s what creates a true impact.

As long as environmental issues are viewed as fringe, they will never succeed. However, by taking a balanced and nuanced approach, campaigns can begin to sway the minds of the masses and cultivate real change.

What is Green Social Work?

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The Urban Renaissance Center of Civic Park Neighborhood in Flint is a new field placement area for social work students this Fall.

Whenever something is called ‘green’ many of us tend toward skepticism. Let’s be real, when something touts itself as environmentally friendly, so often it’s just trying to hide a toxic underbelly.

So, green social work … is it just hype?

Hardly. It’s the real deal. It’s a reframing of how we talk about social issues, the planet, and the intersection between the two. It’s as green as they come.

In 2010 the Council on Social Work Education declared sustainability the number one social justice issue of the new century. Since then, the area of green social work has evolved and come into its own.

Green social work is a branch of social work that deals with the impact of the faltering environmental stability upon human populations. It is essentially a broadening of the definition of environment, sociologically speaking, from referring exclusively to someone’s immediate surroundings to referring to the planet that we all share.

After the CSWEs 2010 announcement, it became quite clear that social workers globally were eager to enter a realistic conversation about how climate change affects people, impoverished groups in particular, and that they were ready to take action.

There was no more denying that the extreme flooding, hurricane damage, or broken levees of the age impacted people beyond reason.

Annie Muldoon, MSW, of Carleton University has very poignant reasoning behind her belief in the need for green social work: “Attempts to improve social conditions may be lost,” she said, “if society itself lacks clear air, drinkable water, and adequate food.”

This newfound awareness in the social work field was met with an air of embarrassment. Experts began acknowledging that social work had always had an ambivalent understanding of its relationship to the natural world. And that while their work had always been based upon a “person-in-environment” principle, it had long neglected the “environment-in-person” aspect. There was a certain level of rose-tinted metaphor to the whole thing: the flaws of the field of social work were represented within the flaws of the human condition. In short, we all waited too long to see the inevitable truth about global warming and it was our collective responsibility to do something about it, fast. 

Soon the conversation shifted from revelation to action.

In the Aftermath

Arguably the most profound impact of the new green edge to the field of social work comes in the form of professionals on the ground in the aftermath of a natural disaster. They flood to the South after devastating hurricanes; they establish shelters for people who are forced to evacuate their homes; they provide aid plain and simple. Social workers fill the need for emergency management that focuses on people instead of their insurance policies.

According to Case Western Reserve University, another benefit of having social workers on the ground during the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster is that they are able to address poverty and other structural inequalities at the same time as they’re working to enhance the quality of life of the residents. A social worker stationed in a region prone to hurricanes, for example, will build relationships with local families and be better equipped to cater to their particular needs – like helping the parents of a child with disabilities prepare for the hurricane before it hits. The simple fact of the social workers’ proximity to affected peoples and issues makes them better advocates.

The best part is that all of this is just a matter of course. If social workers place themselves at the scene to help, their training just kicks in.

Environmental Justice

Another beneficial outcome of the advent of green social work is Environmental Justice.

It is defined by the EPA asthe fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Once social workers started examining the real-world participation and understanding of environmental programs in their communities, it became clear that many barriers still exist.

Dawn Philip and Michael Reisch outline some of these barriers in “Rethinking Social Work‘s Interpretation of ‘Environmental Justice’: From Local to Global.” The issues range from not having the resources to access vital health and environmental data to not being able to afford the technical supplies that help social leaders communicate environmental concerns to the community.

Before the introduction and focus of green social work, these issues would just get lumped into the broad category of general organizational dysfunction. It’s quite clear though that health concerns of this magnitude are something entirely different. Think Flint, Michigan.

Environmental Refugees

In this era of environmental catastrophes that knock out entire regions, entirely new social issues have become a reality. For example, the 1951 Geneva Convention defined “refugees” as people who are outside their home-state due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. But, as noted by Melahat Demirbiek in his paper “Environment, Environmental Refugees and Green Social Work,” high-level environmental degradation – aka sea level rise, flood, drought, desertification, and deforestation – has created another kind of refugee. The environmental refugee.

There is no proper technical classification to aid this sort of person.

While political refugees are entitled to food and shelter, environmental refugees are not yet recognized by international law. It is the job of green social work to shed light on this problem and support the people caught in its crosshairs.

All in all, green social work is a movement that has been a long time coming. And I hate to say it, but we were a little late to the game. It’s time to be of help however we can. Someone needs to empower the communities most affected by climate change – because these environmental disasters are happening whether we’re ready for them or not – and social workers are some of the best equipped to do so.

Want more? Read Lena Dominelli’s book Green Social Work: From Environmental Crises to Environmental Justice.

Have you seen green social work in action firsthand? Please, share it in the comments!

Water A Necessary Resource But Not Available to All

Over two billion people in the world are unable to secure either access to safe water, or enough water to survive, over 4,000 Children die every day due to lack of clean water through dehydration or diseases.  Water-related diseases that affect these children and their families include malaria, schistosomiasis, salmonella, dysentery, and giardia.

Drinking_waterMore than half of the beds in medical facilities around the world are occupied by people with diarrheal diseases. Additionally, all of these diseases are treatable through having sanitary water and water sources.  Most of these diseases require something as basic as chlorinated filters or simple antibiotics to prevent ailments.  Scarcities in access to clean water however is an issue that is still a struggle for many organizations around the world.

Efforts through activism have been approaching this issue through awareness and involvement.  The World Health Organization (WHO) have declared the decade of 2005-2015 the International Decade for Action: Water for Life.  Through these efforts, a report in 2011 states that 64% of the world’s population has had improved access to sanitary conditions.  Unfortunately this still leaves over one third of the world without improved access.  Other organizations have been making strides at resolving this discrepancy.

The Food & Water Watch work to educate those that actively seek information on the internet with global figures on the issues pertaining to our daily sustenance.  Action Against Hunger educates and acts in emergencies to install storage and reservoirs, decontaminate water supplies, and repair/build pipe water to villages and care centers.  The Water Project works to educate and implement solutions to the water crisis.  For those that wish to get involved further with the water project, one can start a fundraising page through The Water Project’s website.

There has also been numerous water challenges that have occurred to spur conversation and action toward ending the water crisis.  The Water Project has introduced a two week challenge, daring people to forgo any liquid but water and donating the resulting savings toward helping end the water crisis.  Here in Denver, Colorado, Global Health Connections has challenged sixth graders in the Denver/Aurora Schools to come up with ways to end facets of the water crisis through innovative and creative ways.  They have mentors help the youth think critically about the issue, and develop their ideas into tangible and sustainable solutions.

Efforts like this to rouse a new generation to become globally-minded and work to help end an issue that will continue to plague future generations unchecked.  To get involved with these organizations, or see how your organization can foster support, follow any of the links above.

5 Charities That Help Fight Global Climate Change

The fight to prevent climate change is a big part of the consciousness in modern society. The recent extreme cold weather conditions are causing more people to be concerned about the effects of global climate changes. As we all try to implement changes to make our society greener in smaller ways, there are few organisations doing real work towards improving the environment. Despite these worthwhile efforts, much of the fight against global climate change falls heavily on the charity and nonprofit sector. Getting involved in charity work is a great way to help fight against climate change and make a real difference to your children’s future. It can also help to improve your chances of finding environmental work in the commercial sector, and here are five charities to consider supporting.

Greenpeace

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Greenpeace.org

It’s just about impossible to talk about charity work in the climate change sector without talking about Greenpeace. Greenpeace is a huge international charity which works around the world to help protect and conserve the environment. If there is an environmental cause, Greenpeace are likely to be involved in finding a solution. The charity works to protect the worlds oceans and ancient forests, campaigns against toxic waste and works to promote green energy and sustainable agriculture.

Renewable Energy Foundation

It is hoped that renewable energy will be able to meet our energy needs and reduce the harm done to the environment by the use of fossil fuels. The Renewable Energy Foundation is a charitable organisation which works to promote green power as well as energy efficiency. It is privately funded, with no affiliations to any major commercial organisations. The charity works to provide accurate reports on environmental data as well as consultancy services on renewable energy.

The Global Cool Foundation

The Global Cool Foundation is another charity which works towards a greener and more sustainable future. The charity runs an online magazine which works with celebrities to promote green issues and green trends. The foundation also works with large organisations such as Vodafone and Eurostar to help promote a sustainable lifestyle around the world.

The Woodland Trust

Whilst some charities operate on a global scale, some focus on a particular region and issue. This can help them to have a bigger impact on a smaller scale. The Woodlands Trust is a UK based organisation which works to help preserve, restore and grow the ancient forests and woodland across the UK.

The Canal & River Trust

The Canal and River Trust is another UK based charity, but this is focused on preserving and protecting rivers and canals across the UK and the wildlife they support. The organisation takes on the responsibility of looking after 2,000 miles of waterways, maintaining bridges, aqueducts, reservoirs and more. There are a huge range of opportunities for volunteers all across the UK to get involved in the work they do.

Careers in Charity Work

Charity work is a great way to get involved in protecting our environment and fighting against climate change. It can be a hugely rewarding career and requires a wide variety of skills and talents. If you are interested in finding work in the environment and climate change sector, working with a charity is a great place to start.

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