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Taking the Environment Personally
By Susan Hines-Brigger


A Moral Issue
Taking on Our Responsibility
For Teens: The Three R's
For Kids: Care for the Creatures

This past year I’ve become very aware of our environment. And no, it has nothing to do with Al Gore or any reports on global warming. It does have everything to do with stories like the one about the school near my house that recently closed because of concerns for the health of its students. The school is located directly across the street from a chemical plant.

And it has to do with a 2006 report by the American Lung Association in which my city (Cincinnati) ranked 20th in metropolitan areas most polluted by short-term particle pollution.

But most of all, my concern for the environment is driven by my five-year-old son, Alex. He has had breathing problems since he contracted respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and bronchiolitis when he was just four weeks old. But this past year, his problems have noticeably worsened. We’ve been to doctor after doctor in search of relief. And with each smog alert, he’s spent more and more time playing inside—exactly where he doesn’t want to be.


A Moral Issue

But there’s also something bigger that drives my concern for the environment and all its inhabitants. And that is my faith. The Catholic Church has a long-standing commitment to caring for God’s creation.

From the creation story in the Book of Genesis to St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology, the Church has often reminded Catholics that we are stewards—not masters—of the earth and must care for it. Oftentimes, the Church points out, environmental issues have implications for social-justice issues. The U.S. bishops’ Environmental Justice Program ( works to raise awareness of those connections.

Taking on Our Responsibility

So if it’s our responsibility to help care for the earth, now’s the time for us to step up to the plate and get busy. Here are some ideas for ways to fulfill our role of stewardship:

Start at home. Have your family start taking on environmental issues. Begin recycling. Try to reduce the amount of trash that you are generating. Start implementing environmentally friendly measures like using fluorescent lightbulbs. Turn down the temperature on your water heater. Open the windows when it’s nice outside rather than run your air conditioner.

Outside, try your hand at composting. Your plants will love it, and it’s a great way to get rid of yard waste. Set out buckets to collect rainwater to water your plants when necessary. Just be sure not to let the water sit for too long or you may be breeding lots of mosquitoes.

For more ideas, search Internet sites such as The Environmental Protection Agency (, your local environmental office or You can also find ideas in books at the library or check to see if there are any programs offered on this subject in your area, such as at local parks.

Be kind. Because our house is surrounded by woods and a creek, we are visited almost nightly by raccoons. They are certainly a nuisance when they raid our garbage cans, but my husband, Mark, and I have decided that we’re impinging on their lives just as much as they are on ours. So we’ve taken measures to keep our other pets safe and our garbage contained, but otherwise we just let them go about their business. The same goes for the deer that sometimes visit our neighborhood. Losing an occasional plant seems a small loss for the encounters we’ve had with these beautiful creatures.

Get involved. Pay attention to environmental issues within your community. Have your family take part in projects that are being done to help the environment, such as cleanup days at the local park or planting flowers at your parish.

Check your footprint. An ecological footprint is a resource-management tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology. Visit and estimate what your ecological footprint is. You can also check out the ecological footprints of countries throughout the world.

I’m well aware that the environment is a hot-button issue and we all have our own take on it. But this mom will be taking on the issue for a most basic reason—my three kids who love to play outside.


For Teens: The Three R's

Do you know what the three R’s are? If so, good for you. If not, consider this your wake-up call. The three R’s stand for reduce, reuse and recycle. These are all ways that you can help the environment.

For instance, do you leave the water running while you brush your teeth? If so, you’re wasting a lot of water—not to mention increasing your family’s water bill. Turn off the water except for when you need it. And make sure you turn off appliances you aren’t using or lights when you leave a room.

For the second R, instead of just getting rid of things, such as clothes or furniture, see if someone else could use them. If you’re planning to get rid of some of your clothes, ask some of your friends if they might want them. Invite them over and tell them to bring some items they no longer want and have an exchange. You may get some new outfits in the process.

Finally, recycle. Try to get it into your head to throw your soft-drink or beverage can, soup can, shampoo bottle, milk jug or newspaper into the recycling bin instead of the garbage can. Eventually, you will change your whole way of thinking.

Once you start to get the hang of the three R’s for yourself, share your experience with others. Hold a recycling drive or rummage sale at your school or parish.

For Kids: Care for the Creatures

Just as St. Francis welcomed and loved all creatures, you can invite animals into your yard. If you have a water source nearby, create a toad house in your garden. You can do this by turning a clay pot on its side and burying it halfway in the ground. Or combat all those pesky mosquitoes by building a bat house and hanging it on a tree. Did you know that one bat can eat 200 mosquito eggs in one night?

And don’t forget the birds. Equip your yard with plenty of bird feeders and water for them to drink. If you don’t have a bird feeder, you can make one with an empty plastic bottle, such as a soda bottle. Drill holes through the bottle and put wood dowels into the holes so the birds have something to stand on. Then drill holes above each perch for the seed to escape. Fill the bottle with birdseed and hang the feeder with wire wrapped around the top of the bottle.


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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