What you can do to quit your addiction
Is pollution causing harm? Pollution is all around us and it is harming us, not just people thousands of miles away, but us right here, right now. If you are really honest with yourself, you know it. And you know that we are all addicted. Yes, you included.
Let’s think of some examples to start:
Picture the noise level at an urban restaurant that has no sound-deadening material and causes people to scream at each other over their favorite pasta dish. The consumption of alcohol — typically for fun and often serving as an escape from the stressors of life — only escalates the noise level.
Imagine the sound of thousands of fuel-injected cars buzzing by on a nearby freeway or the muscle car, beefed up with extra exhaust pipes, in our neighborhoods. Even my neighbor’s electric vehicle makes a sound when backing up so as not to scare people who are not expecting a quiet-moving vehicle.
Or what about the airplane flying overhead, which not only makes your windows rattle, but breaks the sound of birds chirping in your backyard.
Or how about this one: Since working from home, many are realizing the sound of construction nearby or the leaf blower in the yard next door.
There are countless other examples of noise pollution such as firecrackers, concerts, engines of any sort, honking horns, you name it.
Do we ever make the connection to this noise being harmful, though? Think about it, the global hearing aid market was estimated to be $7.4 billion in 2021 according to the CDC. What if no one actually needed hearing aids? What if our environments were honoring our health and there was no need to solve the problem of hearing loss? Are we focusing on the wrong problem?
Trash and Packaging, a.k.a. Plastic
Have you seen the mountains of trash in our landfills? Have you ever visited a landfill? I have; it’s a shocking sight that can’t be unseen.
Have you noticed the litter on the side of our roads and along our walkways that we ignore every day on our way to work?
Have you seen the plastic pollution that inevitably travels from our urban and rural neighborhoods into streams and the oceans?
How about an image closer to home: When is the last time you have taken inventory of the content of your own trash can? Why do we have trash to begin with? Maybe because we package everything in plastic? Have you ever tried to go to the grocery store attempting to walk out without plastic packaging? A colleague of mine, Joshua Spodek, calls it DOOF, FOOD spelled backwards.
When is the last time you took a really deep breath? Where were you? Inside? Outside? Was the air clean? Did you notice? It’s amazing how much we take clean air for granted. Gas stoves and fireplaces pollute our inside air. And outside air is polluted by fossil fuel automobiles, exhaust of any kind and, here in California, wildfires. In the United Kingdom, air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health:
The annual mortality of human-made air pollution in the UK is roughly equivalent to between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths every year. It is estimated that between 2017 and 2025 the total cost to the NHS and social care system of air pollutants (fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide), for which there is more robust evidence for an association, will be £1.6 billion.
We are doing it to ourselves. Even if we can’t smell the air pollution, small particle matters are harmful to our lungs, essential for human life.
Remember Flint, Michigan? Or do you recall images of jumbled houses after Hurricane Ian? What about the drought in California that makes it so perfectly clear that we are dependent on clean, drinkable water? We don’t have enough of it and what precious water sources we have, we seem to pollute anyhow.
Why is it that we behave and act as if we weren’t dependent on clean air, clean water, and a symbiotic relationship with our environment? We keep polluting, harming ourselves and others in the process. It’s fascinating, albeit often frustrating. It’s much like continually scrolling on our devices. We know that’s not good for our mental health either.
So what is it that keeps us behaving this way? It’s almost as if we are addicted. But to what? Addicted to social interaction — even if it hurts our ears? Addicted to packaged goods and consumption — just because it’s convenient? Addicted to comfort — because flying and driving is easier than sailing or walking?
If it’s too uncomfortable to look in the mirror and examine our own actions, we tend to blame others — the government for having not enough or too much regulation; corporations for profiting from our addiction to comfort and convenience; the neighbor who is still growing a lawn during a drought, blowing his leaves with a noisy, gas-powered leaf blower; or even our own family members for dropping trash or not getting the agency of the situation.
So, what can you do that will make a difference?
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Ask yourself what the environment and nature mean to you. What relationship do you have with nature? What experiences have you had that were blissful, joyful in conjunction with nature? A few examples: The millions of little sparkly diamonds in fresh powder snow on a mountaintop. Or the millions of sparkly diamonds when the sun is reflected on the ocean and just seems mesmerizing. It might be the feeling you have when you reach the mountaintop after a strenuous hike. Maybe the connection you made with a hummingbird who hovers and stares straight at you. All of these examples provide a sensation of bliss, joy, connection to something bigger, if we only pay attention. Those are intrinsic motivations.
Extrinsic motivations on the other hand are ‘shoulds.’ Things that others want you to do, things that society or your employer or your spouse is expecting of you. Those are easy to dismiss and not act on. You miss a sense of connection to those.
Intrinsic motivations, however, make it worthwhile for you to pay attention. Acting on those gives you a sense of peace and satisfaction, delight and fulfillment. Who wouldn’t want that?
So, challenge yourself to think of something meaningful to you as you reflect on nature; then act on it. But not just any action. It must meet the following criteria:
1. Do something you have never done before.
2. Do something that only you can do, ideally even with your own hands (no delegating permitted).
3. Do something that will improve life on earth for humans, animals, flora or fauna.
Send me an email to tell me what you have decided to do and put HOLD ME ACCOUNTABLE TO ____ in the subject line. I will respond to every such email — I promise!
As you take action (make it simple and attainable, SMART Goals work well), notice what it feels like to you. Even if it’s only a small action you are taking, notice how much fun it is, how joyful. Then do it again. Get addicted to that and marvel at how simple actions can uplift you and, as a result, anyone you encounter. Marvel at turning things around, from harming yourself and others to caring for yourself and others. You deserve nothing less.
That is true sustainable leadership. Caring for others and sustaining life on earth is a shift from exploiting and harming what’s around you. By making personal changes, you are by default making systemic changes. You are creating a new relationship with yourself, others and your environment that never leaves you feeling lonely.
To avoid feeling lonely at the top you must take brave action, even if only in baby steps at first.