Guest post - our Friend John Myhill on how to address carbon addiction

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
heating up.

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
panels instead.

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
offering them.

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.

Views: 134

Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 19, 2009 at 7:48pm
The logic of this is very tight; casual air travel (& military flights!) should be illegal. (Unlike in the case of "drugs," I can't see much of a black market developing...)

But to my mind, it's a mistake to make the Quaker thing a matter of eschewing personal "sins," boycotting this or that in the effort to Stop Evil Now!

There was an old photo of Dorothy Day on the cover of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker paper last year, puffing away over the caption, "Don't call me a saint" ["I don't want to be dismissed that easily."]

An article about her, from a long-time resident in her CW house, says that she ought to be "the patron saint of people who lose their tempers." Every year, he says, she would give up smoking for Lent. And become impossible, not just her usual "impossible" but really impossible. Eventually she followed someone's suggestion, to pray to have the habit taken away from her. After some time, she woke up one day to find that she simply didn't want a cigarette.

The logic of "Give up all bad habits" would have had her stop smoking altogether long before. Maybe this would have been a good thing. My point is, it evidently was not what God demanded of her.

The threat of our carbon use is altogether real. But the ultimate cause behind all such threats is that we have, by and large, lost or failed to develop that connection to God which we need far more than most of us can realise.

I was grateful when God took my car. (I'd told Anne: "When the gas tank goes to empty, that's a more expensive repair than we can afford." She didn't believe me, but when I went in to have the brakes fixed, and an utterly trustworthy mechanic listed $1000 of other essential repairs, I sold the carcass for enough to buy a decent bike.) It wasn't so clear when we were offered a free trip to Europe to see an old friend of hers and donate her viola da gamba to his musical instrument-for-use museum. Actually it was altogether clear, no matter what I think about plane travel; there was no other way to get there. She hadn't seen him since they played together, decades ago. She had offered the instrument for sale because she wasn't keeping up the physical strength it took to play. And it had sat in a dealer's storeroom until he was begging us to take it home, because it wasn't a type popular in American early music groups. When I sent him an email from her, he was on the phone to her before I was done reading my messages. "Can you pay for shipping?" she asked, and he said, "You two bring it!" God was at work in all this, and I knew that considerations of 'good habits' would have to come in second this time.

We are not Quakers because we give up our wicked ways. We give up our wicked ways when God tells us to.
Comment by Rachel Findley on 4th mo. 24, 2009 at 4:43pm
What am I hungry and thirsty for, when I turn to drugs, food, travel and experiences that are unwholesome for my soul, body, relationships, communities, and earth?

Am I yearning for spirit, for nourishment, for connection, for beauty, for novelty, for comfort?

Am I yielding to a culture that answers the thirst for living waters with spiritous liquors?
That fills the hungry soul with sugar and grease?
That places my loved ones so far away?
That generates humdrum routine ugliness in daily life, and cannot create freshness and beauty here and now?
That coddles me so that I cannot tolerate a range of temperature, light, and space?

Am I yielding to the demons (of history, inequity, and oppression) that deprive me and others of basic food, shelter, respect, and love?

Can I ask to be healed of unwholesome desire, and filled with good things, spiritually and materially?

[I can’t think of how to end this post. I want to back off, to say that I usually forget to ask… writing and re-reading, I’m getting a bit of a jolt.]


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