Green issues from the perspective of a worker with addictions: John
Myhill, Wilkinson House, Wymondham Norfolk
Saving the Planet
Human beings are addicted to unnecessary consumption of materials whose
production and use cause global warming.
In each individual case, we can to discover what stimulates the person
to crave a particular object.
For example seeing a travel programme, may lead a person to want to take
a plane to that destination. Just as some salty crisps may stimulate a
person to have another alcoholic drink, so the smell of food may
stimulate the craving for beef (the most polluting food). What are the
triggers which make you give up your good intentions? (E.g. the
anniversary of bereavement; or the depressing feeling of late January.)
We may enable the person to build up a resistance: starting with books
about exotic locations and working up to the full force of films,
without ever feeling the craving to travel to those places.
The person can develop a sense of the growing desire as naturally
limiting, like the sinking temperature in winter. It will reach a
point, where it will not get worse, and then the craving will start to
retreat. Surviving the winter may be a good symbol for the person
avoiding unnecessary consumption. They can use the resources they
already have and take pride in their success at overcoming temptation.
Always they will need to be on the look out for distorted thinking. It
is so easy to think: "I have been good not going anywhere by air for
twelve months; I will reward myself with a trip to New Zealand." Or,
"It has been such a terrible winter, there can be no harm turning the
By persuading an individual to talk about the history of their misuse of
carbon; we may discover that it was part of a family pattern ("we always
flew to holiday destinations", "my father flew hundreds of thousands of
miles a year with his job").
When was the first time you realised your carbon use was unnecessary?
What made you get a bigger car? What aspect of your picture of yourself
would be changed if you drove a more fuel efficient vehicle? What made
you go back on your good intentions last time?
And this is where opinion really divides:
There are those who say that the individual needs to take a pledge to
cut out carbon use in every aspect of their daily lives. They must
surrender control of their lives to a higher power, and accept
continuing help. They will then have to watch; one day at a time, to
avoid a relapse. As long as they know what caused them to fail in the
past, they can guard against a similar failure this time. They must
accept that they are addicted, and the slightest slip could send them
back to serious carbon misuse. They will meet other people who seem to
be able to use carbon moderately, for only the most useful purposes; but
they must realise that such a route is not possible for them. It is all
or nothing and they need to be ever vigilant for triggers and cravings.
One way to do this is to keep a daily self-monitoring log: listing each
use of carbon, the excuse for its use, and the cravings that led to it.
The excuses can then be rubbished and the craving avoided the next day.
However we cannot expect everyone to take the pledge in this way. For
others, a "solution-based" method may be more effective.
This concentrates on occasions when the individual could have taken the
plane, but went by train instead; when they could have turned up the
heating, but put on a thicker pullover; when they could have blown their
money on a holiday at the other end of the earth, but bought solar
Starting from that success, you can ask them how they managed to do
that. Who was pleased that they had succeeded? What it had felt like.
What do they think they will need to do to avoid sliding back to the old
ways? Had they felt like giving in to temptation but managed to resist?
This approach assumes that each one of us already has ways of making a
contribution to saving the planet. It is just a matter of encouraging
them. They do not need to understand the deep causes of their desire
for pleasure, as this will only distract them from seeking personal
solutions to reducing their carbon footprint. It often only takes a
small first step to start the ball rolling towards a complete change of
lifestyle. If by some miracle you could be the person you really want
to be: what would it be like? Practical steps can then be discussed to
help the person get from where they are towards their goal. The
direction of change, away from carbon use, is decided by the individual,
our role is simply to suggest practical steps. The individual who
appears to be resistant to change, is told that they are clearly working
on the problem, and encouraged to go on doing so.
If something works, carry on with it; if it doesn't, try something else.
All this applies equally to our approach to governments and other large
There has been a lot of concentration on getting nations to take the
pledge to reduce carbon emissions by a certain amount. But, just as the
rich person can afford the solar panels, the electric racing car or the
three month sea voyage; so some governments can afford to outsource
their pollutant industries to poorer countries, and balance the air
miles of those commodities against the planting of forests at home. By
concentrating on the successes, some environmentalists hope to persuade
those rich nations to go further, and make real sacrifices for the
future. Only the poorest nations are likely to accept that they are
carbon junkies, because their economies have hit rock bottom, they live
on home grown vegetables, and virtue is the only thing anyone is
If people feel forced to give up a way of life they loved, in order to
make life possible for future generations, they may follow the example
of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and destroy themselves. The reason we are
not seeing a huge rise in suicide, is that most people are not taking
this choice seriously. Most people have not accepted that they are
junkies dependent on the next hit of carbon; nor have they accepted that
their way of life is destroying the planet.