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By Lynn and Bob Gillen

Links for Learners | June 2002

"Renewing the Face of the Earth: Jesuit Al Fritsch”


Finding Curriculum Connections
Understanding Basic Terms
We Already Care For Our Environment, Don't We?
Appalachia—Signs of Hope for the Environment
Appalachia and Catholic Social Teaching
Related Environmental Resources
Research Resources

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Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

• Science—conservation; renewable sources of energy
• Christian lifestyles—faith and ecology; bishops' pastoral letters
• Social science—working for economic and social justice

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article.  Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Link for Learners. 





Responsive science


Renewable-energy projects

Solar energy

Mixed mesophytic forest

Resource assessment

We Already Care For Our Environment, Don't We?

Yes. We're all accustomed to participating in conservation efforts at a basic level. We recycle water bottles and aluminum soda cans. We turn off lights when we leave a room.

And yes, we know about and may even support the work of environmental activists. We've seen members of Greenpeace try to stop whale hunting in our oceans. We followed Julia Butterfly Hill several years ago when she spent 738 days high up in a redwood tree in northern California to protest logging industry practices. Maybe our school collects money to adopt acres of rainforest or protect endangered species. We've all heard about the conservation efforts of the Sierra Club.

Aren't we doing our part?

Father Al Fritsch raises the bar on environmental awareness for us. From his workplace in Appalachia, he challenges us to think about "renewable energy sources" and "sustainability." We must put back into our social and ecological community as much as we take out, so that these communities will be sustainable for future generations.


Appalachia—Signs of Hope for the Environment

According to the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, the Appalachian environment is being degraded "at an alarming rate." Central Appalachia makes up the most diverse and productive temperate forests in the world and is home to the oldest rivers and streams in the United States, as well as valued coal and timber resources. The region's history of weak governmental oversight of extractive and polluting industries contributes to the degradation of Appalachia.

Appalachia, one of the poorest regions in America, has few advocates to serve its needs. The region's economy depends on industries that are being mechanized or leaving the country. Local politicians have a reputation for close ties to industry. Much of the land is owned by absentee landowners.

Father Al has been a lifelong protagonist for Appalachia. In a recent Web interview, Father Al discussed his ecological research organization called Appalachia—Science in the Public Interest (ASPI). "ASPI," he says, "seeks to make science and technology responsive to the needs of low-income people in Central Appalachia." His "scientific credo" preaches sustainability, that is, self-sufficient, simple living with minimal reliance on outside fossil fuels and food. Nonrenewable energy sources, which basically come out of the ground as liquid, solid or gas, and cannot be replenished over a short period of time, need to give way to renewable energy, such as solar, wind and biomass (organic).

Reliance on renewable energy is growing on both a national and a global level. In the United States wind power captured with giant turbines, originally a California phenomena, now supplies electrical power in a number of other states, including Texas, Minnesota and Iowa.

The Secretaries of Energy for member countries in the European Union (EU) recently announced their cooperative position on renewable energy. The EU anticipates that by 2010, 20 percent of all their power production will come from renewable energy sources. Germany, for example, has more installed wind capacity than any country in the world, and Denmark produces 16 percent of its power from wind.

Appalachia and Catholic Social Teaching

In advocating the environmental health of Appalachia, Father Al does not ignore the poverty and powerlessness of its residents. His belief echoes Catholic social doctrine. In 1995 the bishops of Appalachia issued a wonderful pastoral letter called "In the Web of Life". This letter, according to St. Anthony Messenger magazine, "draws hope from the life-affirming experiences of Catholics throughout Appalachia who have begun to build sustainable communities."

The bishops said, "We too do not see the crisis of nature as separate from the crisis of the poor, but see both as a single crisis of community. For the land and the poor people are victims together of the same materialistic consumer society, which promotes the culture of death. It does this by undermining all community, by frequently treating people and the rest of nature as if they were useless waste from the throw-away consumer society."

"In the Web of Life" documents the history of the people and ecology of Appalachia. It goes on to promote the concept of sustainability. We are co-creators with God, called to use talents and technologies for the good of our land and our people.

A letter 20 years earlier from the same Catholic bishops, titled "This Land is Home to Me," was so moving that missionaries and clergy from Latin American countries responded. The plight of Appalachia was the story of their own people "whose land, resources and energies have been exhausted with little return or reward for those left behind with the sludge and erosion."

Citing the gross materialism of the American culture, Father Al calls for voluntary lifestyle changes on both individual and organizational levels. Claiming that even churches can take on the same materialistic values of the prevailing culture, he asks, "Is this meaningful witness?" To promote sustainability, ASPI fields a group of consultants through its Service Resource Auditing Service to conduct environmental assessments for churches and other organizations. Father Al urges that church communities have an environmental assessment of their property, develop a plan for simplification, then implement the plan.

Your class or discussion group may profit from reading the bishops' pastoral letter, especially the section on "sustainable families." We can't always wield significant influence on large-scale political and ecological issues. We live in home and school families, however, that can sometimes be "devastated from the inside in the very soul." Feelings of powerlessness can lead to various destructive addictions. But, the bishops tell us, "addictions block a person's creativity." Rebuilding self-worth requires prayer and forgiveness, and trust in Jesus' love.

We can learn as teens to be emotionally sustainable. Young women can work to find their true personal power in family and public life, and young men to find the spiritual depth of their inner souls. "If men can grow in inner power," said the bishops, "we believe that their outer power will become more balanced, and find harmony with women's power."

Related Environmental Resources

See the 1997 feature article in St. Anthony Messenger titled "Sustaining Life and Faith in Appalachia."

See the Automobile Club of Southern California's Westways magazine article, "The Winds of Change," for a discussion of wind as a power resource.

Publications are available from Appalachia—Science in the Public Interest.

Comprehensive maps are available online for the Appalachian region from East Tennessee State University, and for the Appalachian mountain range and Appalachian environment from Morehead State College.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers an 88-page "Guide to Environmental Issues" in PDF format with focus on citizen participation in resolving environmental concerns.

The business magazine Fast Company publishes an extensive online list of social-justice resources.

You can find free clip art to dress up your class projects and presentations in's environment pages.

Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further general reference.  Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The New American Bible

Documents of Vatican II 

The Vatican

The New York Times

The Los Angeles Times

The Chicago Tribune

The Washington Post

The Miami Herald

The Associated Press

Time Magazine



ABC News

Pathfinder—Access site to a number of online news publications

People magazine

The History Channel

The Close Up Foundation Washington, D.C.-based organization

Channel One —online resource for the school channel

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