How I answer “What’s one thing everyone can do to start acting more sustainably?”

April 14, 2023 by Joshua
in Addiction, Nature

Every interviewer asks like a robot: “What’s one thing everyone can start with?”

For context, people don’t pollute and deplete because they want to pollute. We do things we value and enjoy that our culture has made polluting and depleting necessary to do. Our culture has also engineered those activities to trigger the mechanisms of addiction. We are addicted to doof, social media, flying, etc. We don’t think of flying as taking us away from families, making businesses less secure, or homogenizing cultures, but it does. Nonetheless, being addicted, we protect it, feeling like it helps what it hurts.

My point, answering what simple things people can start with is like asking what simple things an addict can do to get off heroin or cigarettes. The question frames the problem in a way doomed to fail as much as “Just say no” failed. People weren’t saying yes to drugs that ultimately hurt them because they didn’t know they could say no. They said yes to them because they anticipated they’d solve a problem.

It’s more challenging with polluting and depleting because the person flying or using disposable diapers gets the benefit while someone on the other side of the world suffers. It’s like smoking where you get the joy and someone else gets cancer, or heroin where you get the euphoria and someone else gets HIV and hepatitis. Also, literally every person I’ve spoken to in years pollutes and depletes more than I do and promotes polluting and depleting more. It’s like trying to kick an addiction while everyone I know is a pusher.

Framed with something more comfortable than addiction is how to change behavior at the lifestyle level. Say someone wants to learn to play basketball or piano. You don’t look for one little trick. You know you have to practice, practice, practice, and that’s just the start. You need role models and a supportive community. You have to figure out diet, sleep, and how to handle injuries, periods of depression or discouragement, poor performances, and other setbacks. You have to learn to connect hard work today and for weeks with the rewards of a great performance, self-awareness, teamwork, and reaching your potential.

In the case of polluting and depleting, it helps to connect your sustainability work with benefiting others. I call helping innocent people through your own work love, so it helps to see that what feels like deprivation and sacrifice are actually love, but people who are addicted see it as withdrawal and pain.

For the record, I started this post as a response to Eugene’s post Starting Sustainable – Suggestions on where to start when looking for new, sustainable actions to take.

Here is LeBron James practicing. Does he practice the crazy moves you see in competition? No, he practices the basics—over and over until they’re unconscious. Then he doesn’t work when he plays. He does something he loves. Want to live sustainably? Practice, practice, practice. You don’t need a coach, but acting with others makes it easier and more fun.

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