Nature Deficit Disorder and Stewardship: Crisis in Creation by Tom Collingwood

In the last post (Catechesis on Creation) an outline was provided for a series of articles on the need for addressing what should be our faith response to the various environmental crises. Any such discussion must begin with looking at our human role as stewards and what keeps us from meeting that responsibility. Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to express the state of disconnection between all of us but especially youth from nature and creation. It is an alienation and detachment from nature that leads to a reduced appreciation of the environment with additional human costs such as diminished use of senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional problems. It can also lead to the lack of a stewardship ethic and lifestyle for many.

The effect of nature deficit disorder is reflected in the fact that over the last 25 years there has been a 50% drop in youth and adults in America who spend time outdoors. Part of this lack of nature attachment is because so many of us live in urban and suburban areas with limited space for outside activities but it also due to our over structured and busy lifestyle. There is little free time to discover nature and we are over stimulated with technology.

Associated with nature deficit disorder is what can be called “exercise deficit disorder”. It as a parallel alienation and separation but from physical activity and from the natural movement our bodies were intended for. Its affect is reflected in recent statistics showing that over 50% of American youth get little or no daily exercise with an estimated result that 50% of American youth are obese or overweight. The technological revolution affecting nature defect disorder is also affecting activity patterns with the latest surveys showing that most American youth spend seven (7) hours a day in front of a screen (computer, cell phone, TV and games).

These two “disorders” are roadblocks to the development of stewardship, especially as barriers to progressing though the first few steps toward developing a stewardship lifestyle. A model for stewardship development can be viewed as a five phase process:

  1. FAMILIARITY with creation through experiences with the natural world leads to an
  2. APPRECIATION for the natural world which can be accomplished by reflecting on experiences with creation that leads to an
  3. AWARENESS that there is more to know of nature, environmental problems and a faith based ethic for how we should respond to those problems that leads to a
  4. CONCERN for the environment. This precedes taking action and provides motivation for the final step that leads to a
  5. STEWARDSHIP lifestyle to act to respond to environmental issues.

In turn, encountering, exploring and engaging experiences are necessary for one to progress through these five phases. The question to rise is how to provide such experiences, especially for the next generation? One key approach is through providing faith based outdoor education programs. Environmental educational experiences have been provided for years through school, church, community recreation and youth organizations (YMCAs, Boys and Girl Scouts). The challenge is how to provide such services with a faith based rationale and ethic that leads to a true and lasting transformation toward a stewardship lifestyle? That will be the topic of our next article in this series.

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