I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

April 11, 2010

Nature Deficit Disorder and National Environmental Education Week (April 11-17, 2010)

This week is National Environmental Education Week.  By teaching our kids more about the environment we will hopefully reduce Nature Deficit Disorder (this is NOT a medical condition, but is related to modern lifestyles).

NOTE: I have posted a number of these links on the “Parenting Resources” page.

Nature Deficit Disorder Resource Center (Education.com)

What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

from http://www.education.com/facts/quickfacts-ndd/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder/

A lack of routine contact with nature may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This unwanted side-effect of the electronic age is called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods in order to explain how our societal disconnect with nature is affecting today’s children. Louv says we have entered a new era of suburban sprawl that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. But, as Louv presents in his book, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn’t quite ready for the overstimulating environment we’ve carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt. Those who don’t develop the symptoms of NDD, which include attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they’re right in our own backyards.

Source: Johanna Sorrentino “Nature Deficit Disorder: What You Need to Know”; Richard Louv “Nature Deficit Disorder”

The site notes that

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2006 to pediatric health care providers on ways to increase physical activity in children and adolescents.
  • The authors stated that lifestyle-related physical activity, as opposed to aerobics or calisthenics, is critical for sustained weight loss in children, and recommended free, unorganized outdoor play as a method of physical activity.

[Ed. note: The above is from a post entitled “Is NDD linked to obesity?” It may be linked, but there are a lot of other factors beyond physical activity (or lack thereof) and diet.  But more on that in another post.)

Source: National Environmental Education Foundation. “Fact Sheet: Children’s Health and Nature

This fact sheet describes a number of recent research findings on the effects Nature Deficit Disorder might have on children’s health.

National Environmental Education Week, April 11-17th

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson encourages educators and students to get involved in National Environmental Education Week, April 11-17th. A week-long effort involving thousands of teachers and more than a million students, EE Week connects educators around the country with environmental resources to promote students’ understanding of the environment. Join EPA Administrator Jackson and take part in EE Week 2010.

Teaching resources

Highlights

EPA Resources

Environmental Education

http://www.epa.gov/education/index.html

National Environmental Education Act of 1990http://www.epa.gov/education/whatis.html

Federal Legislative Authorities for Environmental Educationhttp://www.epa.gov/education/flaee.html

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April 4, 2010

Are we too busybusybusy?

I reencountered a song a week or two ago that is absolutely hilarious.

“BusyBusyBusy” (sung by Kevin Kline, Song #13 in Philadelphia Chickens [1])

First verse and refrain (imagine this sung non-stop with almost every syllable being sung on an eighth note—and with no rests in each verse):

We’re
very, very busy
and we’ve got a lot to do
and we haven’t got a minute
to explain it all to you
for on SundayMondayTuesday
there are people we must see
and on WednesdayThursdayFriday
we’re as busy as can be
with our most important meetings
and our most important calls
and we have to do so many things
and post them on the walls.

Perhaps because of the song I pulled Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses[2] off the shelf it had sat on for a while and flipped through it.

A couple of chapters immediately caught my eye.  With chapter titles ranging from “A.D.D. Nation” and “24/7 Connectivity” to “The Infidelity of Busyness” and “Interrupting Ourselves” to “Overwhelmed” those alone sound what life is like nowadays.

Kabat-Zinn says that our entire society suffers from ADD and ADHD.

Learning how to refine our ability to pay attention and to sustain attention may no longer be a luxury but a lifeline back to what is most meaningful in our lives, what is most easily missed, ignored, denied, or run through so quickly that it could not possibly be noticed.

Kabat-Zinn notes that the combination of increasing processing speed and miniaturization and cheaper and cheaper electronics…

proffers a seduction in computer systems for work and home, consumer products, games, and portable electronic devices that can easily lead to outright addiction and the loss of all measure of direction as we respond willy-nilly to the increasing volumes of e-mail, voice mail, faxes, pages, and cell phone traffic coming in from all corners of the planet.

Hmm, makes me wonder whether he’s heard “BusyBusyBusy”:

we have to hurry far away
and then we hurry near
and we have to hurry everywhere
and be both there and here
and we have to send out messages
by e-mail, phone, and fax
and we’re talking every minute
and we really can’t relax
and we think there is a reason
to be running neck-and-neck
and it must be quite important
but we don’t have time to check.

I guess what I find most fascinating about this song is that while this might be what an adult’s life looks like to children at times, this is often how my life feels like to me.  Boynton (and Kevin Kline) capture that feeling perfectly.

And so Kabat-Zinn’s question resonates.  “But what about balance,” he asks, “and how do we regulate the pace of instant and ubiquitous connectivity, and the expectation of instantaneous responding?”  He notes that with our cellphones and wireless devices we can be in touch with anyone and everyone at any time.  “But,” he continues, “have you noticed that, in the process, we run the risk of never being in touch with ourselves?”

Saying that our primary connection to life is through experiencing our own bodies and our own senses, he says “we need moments that are not filled with anything, in which we do not jump to get in one more phone call or send one more e-mail, or plan one more event, or add to our to-do list, even if we can. Moments of reflection, of mulling, of thinking things over, of thoughtfulness.”  (Reminds me of Elaine Aron’s advice to Highly Sensitive Persons about what is needed to avoid becoming overwhelmed.  Everyone needs downtime.  Unfortunately with the world becoming increasingly frenetic, it seems that we are all less likely to get it and indeed burn ourselves out.)

Kabat-Zinn asks:

With all this talk of connectivity, what about connectivity to ourselves?  Are we becoming so connected to everybody else that we are never where we actually are?

As noted in “BusyBusyBusy”…

THEN
we have to hurry to the south
and then we hurry north
and we’re talking every minute
as we hurry back and forth
and we have to hurry to the east
and then we hurry west
and we’re talking every minute
and we don’t have time to rest
and we have to do it faster
or it never will be done
and we have no time for listening
or anything that’s fun.

In starting to read Coming to Our Senses I’ve realized how far I have to go.  (So is that why I’m sitting here at this computer typing another blog post? Ah, irony.)

References:
1. Philadelphia Chickens. [Book and CD] Music by Sandra Boynton & Michael Ford. Lyrics and Drawings by Sandra Boynton. New York: Workman Publishing, c2002.

One of the interesting things about this book and CD is that among the singers and performers were the Bacon Brothers (one of whom is, yes, Kevin Bacon), Meryl Streep, Scott Bakula, and the late Natasha Richardson.  If you have young kids (or nieces or nephews) it would make a great gift.  (I have not checked to see if “BusyBusyBusy” is available for listening anywhere on the Web, but perhaps you can find it somewhere.)

Note: A portion of the proceeds from the book goes to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation on behalf of all the artists who performed on the album.

2. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. New York: Hyperion, c2005.

March 17, 2010

EPA and Children’s Environmental Health

Lax regulations on toxics put kids at risk, experts testify

(from CNN’s “Paging Dr. Gupta” blog)

The above post concerns a hearing held to hear about a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on EPA’s progress in protecting children from environmental threats.  It discusses the challenges EPA faces in protecting children’s health.  (To be fair, many people acknowledge that shortcomings in the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, are responsible for EPA’s being unable to protect children and others from environmental pollutants.)

I’m not usually one to plug particular networks, but I thought the following mentioned in the Dr. Gupta blog might be of interest.

CNN editor’s note: Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at the environment and health in an upcoming hourlong investigation, Toxic Towns USA, airing April 24 at 8 p.m. ET

Documents from the hearing

Children are exposed to many sources of potentially-harmful environmental pollutants

from the GAO Report Highlights

Selected report contents:

  • Background
  • EPA Has Not Focused Attention on Children’s Health in Agencywide Priorities, Strategies, and Rulemakings

Includes a figure showing the steps where children are considered in the EPA rulemaking progress.  The report does note that some offices within EPA more consistently incorporate considerations for children’s health in their work than others, but notes that at least one other federal agency does not even seem to do that.

  • In Recent Years, EPA Has Not Fully Utilized Its Office of Children’s Health and Other Child-Focused Resources
  • Opportunities Exist for EPA to Lead and Coordinate National Efforts to Protect Children from Environmental Threats
  • Recommendations for Executive Action
  • Matter for Congressional Consideration
  • Appendix II
    EPA Policy on Evaluating Health Risks to Children
  • Appendix III
    Executive Order 13045 and Amendments
  • Appendix IV
    EPA Regulations Subject to Executive Order 13045

From GAO’s summary: “In 1997, Executive Order 13045 (from the EPA website) mandated that agencies place a high priority on children’s risks and required that policies, programs, activities, and standards address those risks. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Office of Children’s Health Protection and convened the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee….

“…While EPA leadership is key to national efforts to protect children from environmental threats, EPA’s efforts have been hampered by the expiration in 2005 of certain provisions in the executive order. For example, the Task Force on Children’s Environmental Health provided EPA with a forum for interagency leadership on important federal efforts, such as the National Children’s Study.”

GAO recommended that Congress consider the following:

Because EPA alone cannot address the complexities of the nation’s challenges in addressing environmental health risks for children, Congress may wish to consider re-establishing a government-wide task force on children’s environmental health risks, similar to the one previously established by Executive Order 13045….

Full Committee Hearing entitled, “Hearing on the Government Accountability Office’s Investigation of EPA’s Efforts to Protect Children’s Health”

The hearing mentioned in CNN’s blog – Held by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Wednesday, March 17, 2010, 10:30 AM EDT

[Webcast]

From the Committee’s Hearing page:

Chairman Barbara Boxer will convene the Full Committee for a hearing on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) children’s health program. The committee will also examine what can be done to strengthen protections for children.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is also expected to give testimony on the federal government’s role in investigating children’s health issues and how that can be improved.

GAO documents

Environmental Health: High-level Strategy and Leadership Needed to Continue Progress toward Protecting Children from Environmental Threats
GAO-10-205,  January 28, 2010
Summary (HTML)   Highlights Page (PDF)   Full Report (PDF, 83 pages)

Environmental Health: Opportunities for Greater Focus, Direction, and Top-Level Commitment to Children’s Health at EPA

GAO-10-545T,  March 17, 2010
Summary (HTML)   Full Report (PDF, 12 pages)

EPA’s response

Peter Grevatt, the director of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, stated in his written testimony:

EPA agrees that the GAO report reflects well the early history and progress of the Agency’s children’s health protection efforts. The report accurately portrays the Agency’s challenges in addressing children’s  environmental health, and sets forth sound recommendations on steps that could be taken to better incorporate protection of children’s health as an integral part of EPA’s everyday business.

Grevatt also noted that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had designated the protection of children’s health as one of her top priorities.  He then described how EPA would implement its strategy to protect children’s health.

EPA’s strategy on children’s health (starts on p.4 of the testimony—specific components are listed under each item in the testimony)

  1. EPA will use the best science to ensure that regulations provide for protection of children’s environmental health by actively addressing the potential for unique childhood vulnerability and exposure. Our goal is to reduce negative environmental health impacts on children through rulemaking, policy, enforcement and research that focus on prenatal and childhood vulnerabilities.
  2. Protecting children through safe chemicals management.
  3. Coordinate national and international community based programs to eliminate threats to children’s health while measuring and communicating our progress.

Children’s health protection at EPA

Office of Children’s Health Protection website

Basic information about the Office of Children’s Health Protection

America’s Children and the Environment

(more…)

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